Google “New York best soup dumplings” and you soon realise that many of the results show Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant; the name just keeps popping up everywhere. After a lot of review reading my own consensus was formed that Joe’s was definitely on the cards as a must visit in New York City. Yes, it was only a matter of time that this particular dumpling freak needed a dose of the soup dumpling. Bugger the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and tacky Times Square, xiao long bao have far more importance and relevance in my world.
One little problem. Joe’s has three outlets across the city – Chinatown, Midtown and Flushing and having just two weeks in the city meant that, realistically, I could choose just one if I wanted to fit everything else into our two-week eating schedule. Including another dumpling house that many locals claim as New Yorks best, but more on that in another post. Talk about stressful!
Re-examining various reviews, descriptions and photos led me to believe the Chinatown outlet was the best out of the three; more reviews, longer queues of people … this has to be it.
It was a little odd walking up Pell Street and seeing a multitude of restaurants with loads of empty tables. Being Sunday night may explain the lack of humans but it wasn’t until we got to Joe’s that things started to flurry up a tad. First thing I thought was “OMDG this place is tourist city!” and rather than allow the hoards in before us we left our name with the dumpling door bitch (she was quite sweet, really), grabbed our raffle ticket and waited. A bit of pacing up and down Pell Street, and a little more waiting. The D stands for dumpling, by the way.
Ding ding ding it’s dumpling time!
The dining room set-up is beautifully kitsch, down to the fuschia and green neon in the ceiling bulkheads. Service is of the kind that you get in many Chinatown restaurants across the globe; you sit, you wait, you drink your tea, you eat, you pay, you get out. I know all I am is a mouth and a wallet but would it hurt to smile at your guests? If you’re a couple you get sat at one of the large round communal tables with your own table letter; the menu is deposited and …
“You like tea?
“You like soup dumpring?”
I didn’t actually say that. The folk at Joe’s presume you’re there for the soup dumplings so rather than impatiently wait for you to faf around with the menu they make assumptions and return for the rest of your order. Good plan. I’d like to know the ratio of non-dumpling consumers in a joint like this.
Within a few sips of tea and a few glugs of not-the-coldest Tsingtao we’re greeted with two steamers – pork steamed buns ($4.95) and crab & pork steamed buns ($6.95). We just had to try both incase we were missing something, and I’m glad we did. Thin translucent skins, puckered top not too dry, ample slumpage, no fissures, all visuals were in check. First the pork steamed buns … nibble, sip, scoff. Nice. Very nice. Not a great deal of collagen going on but instantly up there with some of the best I’ve had. Next come the crab & pork steamed buns … nibble, sip, scoff, warm fuzzy feeling, tingles. Am I about to do a Meg Ryan in the middle of Joe’s?
In the history of my dumpling infatuation I’ve always found the regular pork xlb to be better than the crab and pork variety. The pork dumpling is much like the pretty older sister with a killer pout that everyone loves and adores, over-shadowing the frumpy unfortunate sibling that just keeps on trying, no matter how much she pouts. Joe’s is the first place, for me, where the frumpy one ought to be put on a pedestal for her much better flavour. Distict flavours of pork and crab and that warming surge of soup that hit all the right places.
Aside from the dumplings I took it upon myself to order a couple of other dishes, like one of my favourites – fried rice cake with pork ($7.95). First of all the plates are average in size yet piled high with whatever you’re choosing. $7.95 for that much rice cake and pork? You bet. Gorgeous smoky flavour from the wok, soft and yeilding discs of rice cake, some token greenery and strips of tenderised pork. I reckon I ate most of it. In fact, I know I did. Chicken & eggplant ($13.95) wasn’t actually on the menu but I asked for it anyway. It isn’t swimming in a slick of oil like the Northern Chinese version I adore, but there was enough to make your arteries twitch occasionally.
Searing hot slabs of silky purple and white eggplant with tenderised chicken bits, the odd surprise cashew and green onions. Slightly sweet, salty from black bean and just way too much for me to finish. Too oily for Mr Health-conscious sitting to my right. And the photo of the Szechuan string beans? Not our dish. The Japanese girls next to us ordered them and barely touched them. Poor dears were too full from the dumplings.
Oh man those dumplings!