Phat in NYC: The City’s Best XLB. THE. BEST.

So it’s been awhile since my last proper xiao long bao fix. 8 Months, 27 days, 8 hours, and 27 minutes to be exact. Ok, maybe not that exact. But like a crack fiend jonesin for the next euphoric hit, my craving for a decent xiao long bao in New York City has morphed into a fevered frenzy. Joe’s, Shanghai Cafe, Nanxiang.. just methadone until I can get my hands on the real thing. But luckily for me, I got a guy.

Enter Eddie Huang, aka The Pop Chef, of Baohaus NYC. He tipped me off to a place where I could score some legitimate xiao long bao. I was skeptical, but intrigued. Good XLB in NYC? I dunno man… I mean, first of all the place is called 456 Shanghai. And its not even located at number 456. It’s located at 69 Mott Street! Certainly, if you had the err.. fortune.. of landing an address at #69 whatever street, wouldn’t you go ahead and name it after that? So anyways.. 456 Shanghai.

Eddie and I started off with a sampler plate of your traditional Shanghainese cold dishes – kofu (my favorite), jellyfish, marinated bamboo shoots, and some kind of greens chopped finely with smoked tofu. Okay. So far so good. Pretty authentic. I have to say that kofu is the best I’ve had since Shanghai.

We ordered two baskets of dumplings – one crab and pork, one regular pork. They arrived on our table piping hot and billowing clouds of steam. Upon first glance they looked pretty good.. petite and elegant, unlike the enormous American monstrosities served at Joe’s. Xiao Long Bao are a thing of beauty – perfect little pleats, delicate wrappers, pristine soup… they should be just large enough to fit in the well of your porcelain soup spoon. These did. The wrapper was perfect – sheet thin and just barely chewy and strong enough to hold the gush of porky, full-bodied soup contained inside. YES. This is it. I’m actually high on pork. Let me get another hit!

Another treat you have to try at 456 Shanghai is their Shenjiang bao. I’ve always steered clear of shenjiang bao because they are usually decorated with a slick coating of recycled grease (probably) harvested from the streets of Shanghai. Although I’m sure that same recycled grease is what is flavoring my beloved street xlbs, there is something about seeing the oil on the outside of your food that is so disconcerting to me. But I’m so glad Eddie put in this order of Shenjiang Bao.. they were incredible. The bun was perfectly pan-fried on the bottom, yet fluffy and light on the top. I couldn’t help but give the little suckers a smack just watch them bounce back. And the best part – instead of soggy wet bun surrounding a ball of meat on the inside, 456’s bao magically hold all the juices of the filling intact. Take a bite of a bao and you’ll get the light, resilient bun, which gives way to a rush of warm porky soup surrounding a delicious ball of meat. Amazing.

Enjoy!

456 Shanghai
69 Mott St
(between Bayard St & Canal St)
New York, NY
(212) 964-0003

Phat in NYC: Szechuan Spicy Wontons

Happy New Year Everyone! Hope 2011 is treating you well so far, may the coming months be full of good fortune, good friends, and good FOOD! I got together last night with some of my favorite people and we killed it in the kitchen. I thought for a freezing cold January night, I’d share one of my favorite dishes that I tried in Shanghai – spicy Szechuan Style Wontons, sometimes called Hot Oil Wontons, or Chao Shou (抄手).

A little meat goes a long way. In our mixture, we used pork, shrimp, and woodear fungus, which give the dumplings a fantastic crunch.

We boiled the dumplings and then dressed them in chili oil, a little vinegar, some chopped garlic, and a generous amount of freshly chopped scallions and cilantro. Give them a toss and they are ready to go!

Vanina made an amazing kimchee jigae stew. So perfect for this freezing cold weather we’ve been having in NYC.

A perfect finish to huge dinner – a cup of strong and silky smooth Turkish coffee. My friend Doug heats each cup individually, makes you really appreciate the effort that goes into each precious sip. PS – dark rich Turkish coffee goes perfectly with a sliver of Mast Brothers chocolate, which is made locally just a couple blocks away.

Enjoy!

Szechuan Spicy Wontons
Makes about 50 wontons (Feeds 6)

Filling:
1.5 lbs ground pork (half fatty/half lean)
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Large pieces Woodear Fungus, soaked and chopped finely
1/4 cup green onion, chopped finely
Soy Sauce
Hoisin Sauce
Sesame Oil
Sugar

2 packs Shanghai Style dumpling wrappers, square kind
(they are white, as opposed to the yellow Cantonese-style wrappers)

Dressing:
Chili Oil
Vinegar
Garlic, finely minced
1/4 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
2 stalks scallions, rougly chopped

Combine your pork, shrimp, green onion and woodear fungus. I find that the best way to mix your filling is to lay it all out on large cutting board and mince it up with a cleaver. Incorporate the soy, hoisin, sesame oil, and sugar to taste. Mince until you have a fine paste.

Place a quarter-size amount of meat in the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger in a cup of water and trace the water around half the dumpling, it will act as glue when you press all the edges of the wrapper together. Voila – a wonton!

Boil wontons in hot water until they float. Don’t overcrowd the pot or the wrappers will tear. Drain, and serve in a single layer in a low dish. Dress with chili oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs. Toss and serve!