Manhattan's Chinatown is a huge tourist attraction - sometimes there's even more white people than Chinese people (ok... maybe just a slight exaggeration... but there's at least equal amounts of both), and the truth is, Chinatown's really not the best place for Chinese food in New York. That honor generally goes to Flushing. However, on hot and humid days like today, it's impossible to motivate myself to make the 45-minute trek from east 33rd street all the way to Queens, and we end up just settling for something sub-par but closer to home. Lured by the tempting thought of Chinese pastries, my friend Tiff agreed to accompany me for a brunch excursion that brought us to Bayard street, at an itsy-bitsy restaurant next door to the Chinatown Ice cream Factory, called Shanghai Kitchen.
Every time I'm here, it reminds me of an anecdote that a friend shared with me a few years back. She was waiting for her boyfriend outside their favorite dim-sum place in Seattle's Chinatown, when a stranger about to enter the restaurant turned to her and asked: "Isn't this great? When you're here, does it remind you of home?"
Her response was: "I'm VIETNAMESE, you fool." Maybe he was just trying to be friendly and make conversation, but seriously... what kind of question is that?! I'm Chinese, and I've never even been to China. As for Chinatown "being like home...?" not a chance. When I was a kid, my elementary school had 4 Asian students total.
Anyway, I digressed. Shanghai Kitchen is a place that I've passed by many times, and previously have always been struck by their sign advertising "tinny buns." Today, Tiff and I were gratified to see that the sign has since been revised, and now encourages people to try their "tiny buns." Which is exactly what we did. Their Tiny Pork Buns were actually not tiny at all. Each one was about 6cm in diameter, and there were 8. The buns were a size that would fit well in my palm, perfectly pan-fried and crispy on the bottom, but otherwise spongy through-out. Inside the buns was a small amount of soup surrounding the pork, but amazingly nothing was soggy. The dough of the buns had a hint of sweetness, which I thought balanced well with the slight saltiness of the pork. If I had one compliant, it would be that the pork-to-bun ratio was a bit low.
We also ordered the Pork Steamed Buns, which we expected to simply be a steamed version of their "tiny buns," and were surprised to see that they weren't. Instead, they were Shanghai soup-dumplings, similar to the ones that Joe Shanghai is so popular for. The soup-dumplings at Shanghai Kitchen were smaller than those at Joe Shanghai, both because there was a smaller volume of soup inside each, as well as a smaller amount of pork. Each dumpling had only about 3 teaspoons of soup. The wrap was also a bit thicker, and neither Tiff nor I had any "accidents" with our dumplings breaking. However, I personally feel that half the fun of having soup-dumplings is the gamble that you take each time you lift one up to eat. You ask yourself: "Do I feel lucky? Or is this going to pop and make a mess all over my plate - leaving me with a feeling of emptiness as I look at the wasted soup pooling on the table (that I won't get to drink)?" In regards to flavor, neither Tiff nor I could tell the difference between these dumplings and those that we've had at Joe Shanghai.
Prices were insanely cheap, but what else would you expect from Chinatown? Each dish was $3.95, and we left feeling full. After we finished, I made a stop at the Chinatown Ice cream Factory for a scoop of their red bean flavor, and then called it a day.
Overall rating: 5/10