The first time I ever had soup dumplings was at Joe’s Shanghai in New York, but the first time I ever had great soup dumplings was at Din Tai Fung in Shanghai. The sacs of thin, delicate dumpling wrappers filled with hot, flavorful broth were nothing like the thick, rough buns that were somehow in so much demand in Chinatown. Din Tai Fung is a worldwide chain with locations everywhere but in New York, and Joe’s Shanghai seems to be the only game in town, so eating soup dumplings is a rare occasion for me.
I was talking to a coworker one day, and she was the one who let me in on the little secret that is Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, a restaurant in Chinatown that apparently makes better soup dumplings than the ones at Joe’s, and perhaps even better than the ones at the indomitable Din Tai Fung. I had to get to the bottom of this and headed to the restaurant on a Sunday, where I ordered both the pork and the crab meat & pork soup dumplings. Unlike Joe’s, there isn’t really a line at Shanghai Cafe, and we waited about 5 minutes for a table. Things were off to a good start.
The verdict? The wrapper was a little thicker than I liked, but it wasn’t as bad as Joe’s. It doesn’t hold up too well when it cools, though, and the wrapper starts to get very chewy. So obviously, eat it as soon as you can. The crab meat is the way to go here. The broth has that great, briney flavor that is unmistakably crab roe, which makes it a pleasure to bite into. The pork dumplings are solid, but the broth is a little more one-note. The dipping sauce is horrible. The soy sauce tasted bitter and burnt, like a batch of espresso beans gone bad, and I wonder if the restaurant used a bottle well past the expiration date. The broth is so flavorful, though, that you don’t really need any of the sauce.
When ordering other entrees, proceed with caution. We tried a cabbage with crab meat dish, which Ruoxi wanted because it reminded him of a dish his mom used to make. We were setting ourselves up for failure, one, because nothing can ever compare to your mom’s cooking, and two, sometimes those homestyle, family dishes are a little too authentic, if you get my drift. As expected, the cabbage with crab meat was nothing like the one Ruoxi’s mom made, it was a hot mess that looked like a bowl of leftover egg drop soup. Just tasting it, you knew it was bad. It was probably 90% cornstarch, 5% fake crab meat and 5% other. There were these random heads of baby bok choy that were hard to eat because they were just slipping and sliding everywhere. Morale of the story–stick to what you know, order the crab meat and pork soup dumplings, and make sure to bring some cash!!
Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
100 Mott St (between Hester and Canal St)
New York, NY 10013