Certainly the mom & pop proprietors of this miniature version of a restaurant, 20 seats on a good day & apparently Taiwanese despite the menu’s Szechuan/Shanghainese bent, are my new heroes. Middle-aged if you squint, English-speaking if you hallucinate, these senior sweethearts are unstoppable, cooking up a storm & serving up a rainbow complete with pot o’ gold.
Make that bamboo steamer o’ xiao long bao.
Like bagels, martinis, espresso, hot dogs & so on, soup dumplings are one of those things that drive connoisseurs to distraction as they debate & dissect every detail right down to terminology & proper methods of ingestion. To be sure, XLB (to use the popular English abbreviation) are as tricky to eat as they are deceptively simple to deconstruct. Inside these sleek, soft little dough purses are a bite of pork & a single sip of broth (attained by adding aspic to the filling that melts in the heat); the subtle aroma of star anise mesmerizes with each bursting mouthful.
Along with the XLB, the signature potstickers—last week’s Dish of the Week—are an absolute must-order for any 1st-timer. And every timer after that. My encore order was even crisper, gooier & porkier than its predecessor.
To round out the options for pastry-wrapped ground pig, the steamed wontons in spicy peanut sauce are wickedly savory bonbons too.
Though not quite soup, that spoon is in the bowl for a reason—these extremely slippery & delicate little series of liquid-holding folds are a bitch to pick up with chopsticks, liable to rip to shreds.
Better to just scoop them up with lots of that wonderful sauce—not the sweet melted peanut butter of your average Thai parlor but a brothy, sesame-smeared concoction with lots of chopped peanuts & a chili kick.
A similar blend brings the dandan noodles—pictured pre-stir—to glorious life.
Mixed up with the reddish, chilified sauce beneath & the chopped peanuts, ground pork & pickled veggies on top, these chow mein–style wheat noodles are a life-affirming scramble of crunch & slurp, soothe & snap-to. As special as the XLB & potstickers are, it’s this that’s gonna bring me back weekly. (What’s gonna drive me in next, however, are the cold noodles with peanut sauce, sesame dressing & shredded eggs. Can’t freaking wait.)
The menu, it should be noted (& as should come as no surprise), isn’t large or wide-ranging. These folks specialize in noodles (dry or in soup) & dumplings (& their ilk), period. Vegetables per se are limited to sliced cukes marinated in spicy oil,
fettuccine-like seaweed marinated in mild sesame oil (which benefited from liberal splashes of black vinegar),
& cabbage (on the right) marinated in brutally spicy, vinegar-based something or other. Looks so vulnerable in its overexposed plainness, I know, but it’s throat-searing.
All are good, but their role is secondary, serving as palate cleansers, no more, no less. (There is one noodle soup that’s supposedly vegetarian, but the onus would be on you to ask some probing questions about the broth.)
On the left is what’s simply labeled “spiced beef,” belying its complexity. Served cold, it’s got a fascinating texture—firmly chewy rather than tender (which is not to say tough)—& a confident 5-spice touch. I thought it might be pressed & roasted, but delving further, I learned it’s probably beef shank, simmered & cooled.
Despite the narrow repertoire, there’s still so much more I’m dying to try, including tofu jerky, zha jiang mian, & the celebrated beef noodle soup. Untie thyself from the railroad tracks laid by those Kung-Pao villains engineering the glop train. It’s Pow Bang Superhero Noodle House to the rescue.