Monday, January 9, 2012

Loads of dumplings (Shanghai Asian Manor)

Some soup dumplings

I'll admit it - my neglect of this blog is as palpable as the sexual tension in a retirement home, which in case you weren't aware is very. I've mentioned this before in passing, but work has definitely started to get in the way of my blogging. It's not so much that what I do is particularly difficult, or even that stressful, but the fact that I have to think about something as mundane as ad serving is filling my head full of fuck. My creativity is zapped, my energy is nonexistent, and my level of apathy is raging harder than... well, a lot of things. As a result, I find that I'm more or less uninspired by food - and when I write about places that aren't dope as shit... I'm pretty sure my low quality writing reflects my feelings more than the actual taste (or maybe this is just a cop out for being a piss-poor writer). But something that I've gradually come to grasp is that there's a place in this world for mediocrity too. Yin without yang, good without evil, whole-fat milk without skim - that kinda thing.

Think of low-fat ice cream. It's not so revolting that I'll never eat it (although the premise is kind of stupid when you end up eating the entire carton anyway), it's just that I know I'm eating some lame-ass half-baked version of the full-fat stuff. It's close, but not quite there... not rich enough, not creamy enough, not sweet enough. That's how Shanghai Asian Manor is. They serve dumplings of various kinds - small tiny fried ones, soup-filled ones, and ones covered with spicy oil, and they do each one of them well enough, but there's something inherently off about each. Not enough to stop me from eating there, but only if I can't think of something better first.

Stupid nubs on top though

Some of you might be saying "shit son, did you say soup dumplings? I stopped listening to you once I got to those words." Yeah, I did. While I'm mainly of the camp that every soup dumpling in existence is a 'good' soup dumpling (i.e. I'd eat it), these aren't really that great. Flavorwise they're pretty okay - not overwhelmingly pork flavored, subtle sweetness, savory and rich soup juices - the issue mainly exists with inconsistency and texture. There's little nubbins at the top of each and every one of them. Not that that should really be a deal breaker, but when I'm eating a soup dumpling, I basically want the thing to be so delicate that it'll break with the smallest of provocation, not built like a tank with hemorrhoids of dough at the pinch point. Past that... they're not uniform in their soup content. Some of them are literally bitches waiting to burst in your face, but the rest are disappointing shells of dry pork balls. Yes - I know, these are Asian first world problem.

Dat sauce...

Their 紅油抄手 actually aren't that bad. The wontons are decent enough (not that it really matters in a dish like this) and the sauce... oh dat sauce [bites lip seductively]. If you want a non-food analogy, it's kind of like the standard Asian family - there's the older, better looking, more successful doctor sibling... then you have the asshole, precocious, still talented, but slightly less awesome younger sibling. These can't hold a candle to their elder brethren at White Bear, but for all intents and purposes they're not bad. While they're not blessed with the "melt your face off" kind of heat that you'd normally expect from something bathed in chili oil, these have a pleasant sweetness that grows on you with each and every bite. Not the prototypical 紅油抄手, but good in their own little sibling demented way.

Fried rice cake

There was also 'fried rice cake.' What a load of crap. When you fry something, it gets sexually crispy. These weren't sexual or crispy - they were really just flaccid disks of rice flour coated in oil. If I wanted something flaccid and covered in oil, let me tell you something... ಠ_ಠ I could do that at home by myself. And it would be free. In all seriousness, it tasted fine, but if I see the word 'fried' on a menu, I expect that it will have a certain crustiness - I guess I just felt fraüded.

Balls o' pork w/mushrooms

Holy shit bro, this dish was actually dope as hell. If you've never had 'lion's head meatballs' otherwise known as 獅子頭, you should probably remedy that ASAP. Apparently these fuckers got their name because they look like lion's heads. That doesn't make much sense to me, because lion's don't look like oversized and prune-like balls marinated in soy sauce and steamed with cabbage. Regardless of how they were named, or if they look like wrinkly old-man balls, when it comes to taste - they're straight sick. Just put them in your mouth and forget about it. Shanghai Asian Manor's probably aren't the best in Chinatown, but goddamn if they aren't good enough. If you're drunk, these are probably the camel's tits - 'nuff said.

Tiny fried dumplings

And finally, the reason why I even went here at all - fried tiny buns. My friend has had a non-weird obsession with these things recently, and for good reason, they taste like Jesus knocking out robo-Mohammed Ali with a single punch 10 seconds into a grudge match. Thin skins, crispy undersides, pork balls, and juices - oh my. Plus... look at those bitches, they come in a boat. It's like Ellis Island and buns that are immigrants... I'm liberating them from Fascism into my stomach. So really, I'm also a hero.


BUT WAIT. Why am I raging yet again? Is it because I have a hormonal imbalance that makes me the equivalent of Asian Bruce Banner? Maybe - I do turn flush yellow when angry (but not really any more muscular). The more likely reason is that these things are barely fried. Look at that bottom crusting, it looks more like it rusted over time than it was fried. Also, the bun part is epicly bread-like. In my mind, 生煎包 should essentially be a soup dumpling with a fried base... a certain crispness to the texture, but at the same time delicate and laden with soup content. A compromise between a potsticker and a pure soup dumpling essentially. Theirs was like a ball of pork sodomized into a bready exterior that happened to be toasted a little in oil. The boat? Nice touch. The actual buns... not so great.

What does this all mean for Shanghai Asian Manor? Well, aside from having a majestically sick name, they do everything just alright. It's not that their dishes are offensive to me, but they could be better. Part of me is glad for that - it's a pleasant enough dining experience that I could see myself going back and enjoying it time and time again, but at the same time, it's so underwhelming from the broader picture that it really helps me appreciate when other places just wafflestomp their dishes by comparison. Does that even make sense? Probably not, but I don't really care.

tl;dr - Shanghai Asian Manor sounds like a place that a diplomat would go to (or possibly the most absurdly overrated thing ever). They make soup dumplings and fried tiny buns that are kinda 'meh,' but good enough where you don't continuously have that "what have I done?" sort of regret. Don't get the fried rice cake shits... those aren't fried. They are fraud'ing hardcore on that one.

Shanghai Asian Manor
21 Mott St # A, New York, NY 10013


Melissa Zhang said...

Those "lions' heads" don't make sense because they're not suspended in soup so that the cabbage "mane" billows out. Hey, it's a more poetic name than "doughy pork balls hiding under soggy leaf."

Danny said...

i always though those fried buns are supposed to be bready? are they instead supposed to be thin all around like the soup dumplings and then fried crispy on the bottom?

Nicholas said...

Melissa Zhang - maybe they don't make sense, but they still tasted pretty good. I think I actually prefer their oil-laden ones than the ones in cabbage soup. I think it's worse for me. On an unrelated note, I think I would order something called "doughy pork balls hiding under soggy leaf." That just sounds awesome.

Danny - not according to Taiwanese people... 生煎包 skins are super thin there. Kinda like soup dumplings, but moderately thicker, and sometimes filled with more cabbage than pork. I think the definition might be different for Shanghainese peeps and Taiwanese peeps. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

fried just means "cooked in oil." in this case, the dish was stir-fried, not deep fried.

live and learn

Nicholas said...

Anonymous - subconsciously I knew that, but I always want to assume that something is the awesome-r version of whatever is possible. Don't lie, the idea of deep-fried rice cakes is dope as shit to you too :p

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