(UPDATE 5/15: Sheng Wang is as reliably excellent as ever, and the prices are unchanged. It's nice to know there are some things in this world one can count on. Still my favorite Manhattan Chinatown spot.)
I have Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice to thank for putting me onto this little gem: Sheng Wang is now my favorite joint in Manhattan's Chinatown.
This Fujianese place specializes in noodles, but they make the best dumplings I've tried in Chinatown. On the menu they're called steamed dumplings (水餃 - shuǐ jiǎo - these characters mean "boiled dumplings" in Northern Chinese places, but if you actually boiled these, they would surely disintegrate). Wrapped in skins much more delicate than their northern-style counterparts, the pork and chive filling is so tasty it seems like there must be some trick involved. (Really - I sit there eating them wondering the whole time, "how do they do it?") And at $3.00 for 10 huge dumplings... that's a trick worth experiencing.
Their Potato Ball in Soup (馬鈴薯丸 - mǎ ling shǔ wán) is equally wonderful: ten handmade balls of potato dough filled with seasoned ground pork in a light chicken broth. If you happen to go there late in the afternoon, you can often watch the staff sitting around forming them by hand.
Wonton Soup Fuzhou Style (福州扁肉湯 - fú zhōu biǎn ròu tāng) is a medium-sized bowl of at least 30 ultra-delicate "wontons" - 扁肉 (biǎn ròu) actually refers to a stuffed thin dumpling of Southern China - in Sheng Wang's equally delicate chicken broth. A minor miracle at $2.00.
But the bulk of the menu is noodles, and there are two types here: the hand-pulled, Lanzhou style, and "peel noodle". These are fun to watch being made--I have not yet been able to see them do it at Sheng Wang, but I happened to catch the episode of "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern" where he visited a restaurant in China that served every imaginable kind of noodle, and Mr. Zimmern tried his hand at making these, holding a block of dough in one hand, shaving a knife along the top and flipping the noodle into a pot of boiling water. (Come to think of it, that episode the food wasn't so bizarre... there was only one thing he ate that I hadn't already tried--and he was in CHINA!). Anyway, both kinds are great, although I might give peel noodle the edge (boom-CHING!). I'm particularly partial to the soups with bones in them--the pork bone soup has five or six big hunks of pork bones with bits of meat still clinging to them, and the added bonus of often-intact marrow. The broth of the beef bone soup is richer and tastier, but the bones aren't quite as much fun. And all the meat soups come with greens, some minced sour cabbage, and a meat-filled potato ball. All for 5 bucks or less.
27 Eldridge St., New York 10002