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Monday, October 7, 2013

Mei Li Wah (羙麗華)

Roast pork buns are truly beautiful things, and my favorite baked ones (焗叉燒包 - jú chā shāo bāo) in the city are available all day until 10:30 p.m. at Mei Li Wah (羙麗華茶餐廳).

The filling is rich with chunks of pork and pork fat, and - most importantly - not too sweet. The yeasty dough always makes me happy. Their product is utterly consistent, making it one of the few things in life I can really count on. And they're under a buck apiece.

Another great thing here is the large steamed bun containing chicken, pork and salted egg (三星大包 - sān xīng dà bāo). A small meal for $1.60. Although I haven't tried any of the others, I'm told that all of the dim-sum-like offerings here - and there are quite a few - are very good. The "crispy egg shatters" (鬆化蛋散 - sōng huà dàn sǎn) - essentially a twist of fried wonton-wrapper-like dough drizzled with honey - makes a nice post-prandial treat after a Chinatown feast.

And because I'm fascinated by these things, the normal character for the měi of their name (beautiful) is 美 (and all of the on-line listings for this place have it as 美麗華). But the sign and menu definitely have the more archaic "羙".

Mei Li Wah (羙麗華茶餐廳)
64 Bayard St., New York 10013

(between Mott & Elizabeth)

Shanghai Café (上海喬家柵)

I had been curious to try Shanghai Café (上海喬家柵 - shàng hǎi qiáo jiā shān), in Manhattan's Chinatown, for quite some time now because of one dish I had read about on Lau's excellent blog.

I'm delighted to able to say the dish did not disappoint. "Stewed Pork and Tofu Skin in Brown Sauce" (百葉結烤肉 - bǎi yè jiē kǎo ròu) is, essentially knots of tofu skin added to braised pork belly. It's braised hóng shāo (紅燒) style - that is, in soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, ginger, and star anise. The result is rich and complex, and the tofu skin knots are the perfect foil for the tender chunks of delightfully fatty pork. I've had similar dishes in a couple of other Shanghai-style joints, and Shanghai Café's is by far the best. It's worth the trip here just for this dish, I think. (Photos courtesy of Jose - his turned out WAY better than mine did. Terrible lighting.)

The xiǎo lóng bāo (小龍包 - soup dumplings) here, as Lau rightly observes, are not particularly distinguished. If you must have them, do yourself a favor and just go out to Flushing and get some at Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao.

The "Braised Whole Fish with Ginger and Scallion" (蔥烤鰂魚 - cōng kǎo zéi yú), however, is distinguished. A whole tilapia is braised in a relatively rich - for fish - brown sauce (in fact, it's a lighter first cousin to the hóng shāo sauce of the previously mentioned pork dish) with a dozen or so whole scallions. One of the best new (to me) fish dishes I've had in quite a while.

Those "stripes" in the picture are whole scallions. I find the use of kǎo (烤) a bit puzzling here. Normally, it has the sense of "baked" or "barbecued". But as used in the names of both this and the pork dish, it seems to pretty clearly mean "braised". I have no idea - perhaps it's just Shanghai usage.

"Pork with Mustard Green and Salted Egg Soup" (鹹蛋芥菜肉片湯 - xián dàn jiè cài ròu piàn tāng) is a soup of pretty much what it says: sliced pork, mustard greens and egg, although we were expecting the egg to be salted preserved egg (it's just egg drop - perhaps the 鹹 in the name of the dish is merited simply because they salt the egg before pouring it into the soup). No matter - the flavors are clear and delicious.  (This photo was taken by Seth, who spotted this soup on the menu.)

"Seafood Pan Fried Noodles" (海鮮兩面黄 - hǎi xiān liǎng miàn huáng) is a solid take on this dish: a sauce of shrimp, scallop, fake crab, snow peas - and quite a bit of broccoli - poured over crispy thin egg noodles. Quite tasty.

The takeout menu calls the restaurant "Shanghai Café Déluxé" (sic), having little to do with its Chinese name 喬家柵 (qiáo jiā shān), which seems to be a well-known restaurant name in Shanghai. This is the best Shanghainese restaurant in Manhattan, and, since their menu is much larger and more varied than that of Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao, if you order carefully, perhaps the best in the city. Now if they would only add a pig intestine dish like the fabulous one up at Ala Shanghai near Albany.

Shanghai Café (上海喬家柵)
100 Mott St., New York 10013

(just north of Canal St.)