Dear Food Diary:
After Happy Hour at Elevate the other day, I suddenly felt really homesick. One of the best cures for that is having a good “home cooked” meal, so I dragged my ChubbyBuddies over to 456 Shanghai Cuisine for some family style feast. There’s nothing like ChubbyMama’s cooking, but the dishes here did the job. From crab soup dumplings, Shanghainese rice cakes to drunken chicken, smoked fish and stewed pork with tofu sheets… it sorta hit home.
It’s a shorter ride to Chinatown than PVG, that’s for sure…
Crabmeat & Pork Soup dumplings (xiao long bao)
Back home, this is usually a breakfast dish, offered only by specialty restaurants. In NYC however, no Shanghainese restaurant would be complete without it. We eat it for lunch, dinner, late night and whenever we can get it. And why not!? these pockets of umami filled soupy goodness are awesome!
Here at 456, they make a pretty decent version. The skin (wrap) isn’t too thick nor thin enough, but it holds the soup well. Nice balance of savory and sweet in the pork filling. Generous amount of crab and roe. Not the best I’ve ever had, but certainly good. As we finished one batch, we ordered another… never let it sit around and get cold!
This was a request by the ChubbyBuddies and one I would skip next time around. Not enough scallion. Lacked the crispy golden brown finish, even though it was quite oily. Nor did it have enough layers in the center. I saw it as a carb failure.
A proper Shanghainese meal usually starts with a couple small appetizers/dim sum and cold dishes. 456 has a good variety, though not all the ones I love, the most typical are present. Since we were a large group, I got us a COLD DISH COMBO with FOUR:
Braised Bamboo Shoots
A nice crunch to this sweet soy sauce braided bamboo. It’s light and tender.
Deep fired, then simmered in sweet soy. Meaty and slightly smoky with that sweetness absorbed down to the bones. Fried edge all around, not crispy, but a nice bite to it.
Shanghai Kao Fu
Kao Fu is a wheat gluten, a staple in Shanghainese cuisine. ChubbyMama use to make this all the time. You can buy it pre-made then braised it with peanuts, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, soy, sugar and cooking wine. It has the characteristics of sponge and as you chew on it (soft with a bite, sorta “meaty”), it releases a burst of all that sweet soy and aromatic flavors from the mushrooms. This is pretty close to what I had at home. I can see this could be an acquired texture, but if you’re into soy proteins and alternative vegetarian proteins, this is a good one to try.
We Shanghainese people seem to enjoy a lot of things “drunken”. Crabs, snails, shrimp…you name it. Drunk Chicken is one of the most common. The chicken is usually fresh, never frozen and whole. First boiled then dunk into a mixture of ShaoXing Wine, salt, and spices. This results in a tender chicken with strong hints of that aromatic rice wine. Slightly salty. Eat it with skin and all, which is one of the best parts, though some of you might cringe at the idea, it gives you nice skin (maybe that’ll change your mind?).
Shanghainese Rice cakes with Preserved Vegetables and Pork
Rice cakes are one of my favorites. 456’s version is excellent and one of my favorite dishes of the night. Theirs is cooked perfectly, each slice sits individually on top of another without being a sticky mush (which typically happens). The texture is slightly chewy like good mochi, soft, slippery to the tongue. The right amount of preserved vegetables adds salt and a bright, clean finish. The pork adds flavor to the dish. It’s not as strong flavored as the other soy dishes, but a much needed break for the palate. I’ll be back for this. Best Shanghainese rice cake I’ve had in NYC thus far.
Stewed Pork with Tofu Sheet
Tender pieces of fatty pork belly swim in this thick sweet and sticky soy sauce, falling apart completely in my mouth. Scallions, ginger and hints of anise. Knotted pieces of tofu sheets in strips. The layers of tofu sheet have completely soaked up all the flavors from the sauce and pork. My kind of comfort food. Not as good as ChubbyMama’s recipe, but good enough.
Sauteed loofah squash with gluten
Loofah is one of my veggies of choice. It’s like a cross between cooked cucumber and zucchini. Mild in flavor and tender flesh. The fried gluten balls are a Shanghainese kitchen staple. They are deep friend then rehydrated while cooking. It has a hollow inside and a stretchy exterior. Not much flavor, but I grew up eating them and love that weird texture of soft mushy friend dough. Plus, they remind me of my grandma. My ChubbyBuddies didn’t really know what to make of them, I’d say give it a try and let me know what you think?!
Whole Yellow Fish with Pine nuts
As a ChubbyToddler, this was the ONLY way I ate fish. The yellow fish is mostly deboned and skillfully slit, without breaking it. Once in hot oil, it retains its whole shape. The sauce is then poured on, flowing into each little space the knife created. Sweet sour sauce and deep fried tender delicate flesh. Pops of aroma from the distinct pine nuts here and there. Love. Though, not the healthiest way to eat fish, it is a great way. The cheeks are of course the best part, but no eyeballs for me.
Overall, everyone enjoyed the meal. A lot of dishes weren’t the usual dishes my ChubbyBuddies would of ordered, but then again, I opted for the more homey ones. Dishes I would enjoy at any given meal while visiting.
456 Shanghai Cuisine took my tastebuds home for a short while. Not totally, but somewhat made it there…at very reasonable prices.