Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lines too long at Din Tai Fung? Try Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao

Cold Sliced Pork with Cucumber and Garlic - the BEST appetizer!
I have my favorite Shanghai Dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung, but for other Shanghaiese delights my other secret hangout would be the Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao Restaurant.  They specialize in 'La Mian' or 'Ramen' in Japanese, which are literally 'pulled noodles' but I tried their dim sum and main courses this time around.

Before Din Tai Fung hit our shores, this chain of noodles and Shanghai Dumpling shop had hoards of hungry customers waiting for a table for at least 45 minutes.  Now that the crowds have died down, it's quite nice because I can savor my food without the staff breathing down my neck. The quality is still good, the menu is more extensive and the service is less rushed.

Nice ambience especially in our private booth
The setting is excellent, we were seated in a half-circle booth, a tastefully decorated restaurant reminiscent of 1930s Shanghai art-deco.  It is quiet by Cantonese standards, which means that you don't have to share a table with strangers and in the booth, we were quite immune from the conversations around us.

The lunch and dinner menus are identical. They are bilingual and some of the stores most famous dishes are photographed.  They have a special page for noodles, one for Shanghaiese dim sum and a few for main courses and desserts.

We started off with the Cold Sliced Pork Roll with Cucumber and Garlic ($50), it is quite delicious as the cucumber and carrot sticks inside were raw so they gave a nice crunch to the roll.  The wrapping of the thinly sliced pork was not fatty and gave great flavor as did the chili sauce topping.  This can get a little spicy so ask for a glass of water.

Sauteed Shrimp and Tomato Sauce with Rice Crackers
Individual Serving
If you have out of town guests who are new to Cantonese food, you may consider the Sauteed Shrimp and Tomato Sauce with Rice Cracker ($68). The tomato sauce is light and inoffensive and the rice crackers are salted and tastes like popcorn.  This would be a wonderful for kids. In fact, they can hold the cracker with their fingers and dip it in the sauce in their bowl.

Sweet and sour chicken - a very good version
In fact, another one for your guest that is a sure favorite would be the Sweet and Sour Chicken ($58).  Under unexperienced hands, this can be a disaster as the batter could be too thick, bready or even gummy.  But our experience here was great!  Their batter was crispy still eventhough it's smothered in the S.S.Sauce.  The chef knows what he's doing, thank goodness.

Tastes like a savory donut
The Deep Fried Scallion Pastry ($24) are fragrant and the shell is crispy and light.  Filled with scallions/spring onions but not overly so that you feel it's too much or too strong.

One portion has three buns, this is a double portion
Similar to the Char Siu Bau (BBQ Pork Buns), these are the Shanghaiese version - Pan-fried Shanghai Pork Bun ($24 for 3). Filled with minced pork, these are smaller and are twice cooked.  After steaming, these are put on a skillet so that their bottoms would brown and turn crispy.  Delicious!

Red bean features prominently in Chinese desserts.  This is our version of chocolate. We mix it with sugar to make it sweet and make it into pudding, popsicles, sweet soups and into paste so we can fill pockets and buns with them.

Dusted with powdered sugar
If you would like to try red bean paste, this is a good place to test the waters.  Deep Fried Souffle Ball with Red Bean Paste ($36) are spongy little balls of souffle. Very soft and fun to hold and eat.  The texture of the red bean paste takes a little getting used to if you are not used to tasting it in a dessert but the flavor is sweet.
Flat spring roll?
Another good one to try is the Pancake Stuffed with Red Bean ($35).  It looks and tastes like a flat spring roll.  Crispy but not oily or greasy at all.

This serving can feed two
If you'd like to play it safe, why not try the Almond Bean curd with Mixed Fruit.  It's extremely refreshing!  The Bean curd is actually a jelly (made with gelatin) and has a slightly bitter almond taste so my companion suggested that you eat it  along with a piece of soup and some syrup and it greatly improves.

All the dishes were excellent!  Not one was disappointing in the least.  My companions each had a different favorite, that tells me that the chefs had done a great job with each and the cuisine was consistent.  With so many dishes and three desserts, our bill came to less than $100 per person.

Entrance from inside the mall

Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao
Shop 310, Level 3, Tai Yau Plaza
Wanchai, Hong Kong
Tel: 2573-8844
Hours: 11 am - 11 pm
Reservations welcome
Click on their name to see their many other locations around town.