I have been to Cafe China several times since it opened and have tried a lot of the dishes which have almost always been excellent – try the fried rice with tea smoked duck. The decor evokes images of 1930s Shanghai but the food seems to have a lot sichuan influences. This year the Michelin Guide gave Cafe China it’s first star, but I am not sure it deserves it. The food is great, but on this most recent visit the service was lacking. After we sat down we realized our table was sticky and we had to ask for it to be cleaned. The bus boys didn’t really clear the table between courses and the servers seemed really harried – while we were eating two waiters tripped over customers and there were a couple of instances of servers dropping glasses or plates. It was also difficult to get our check at the end of the meal.
The Dumplings. Cafe China’s menu has pork pot stickers, vegetable pot stickers, vegetable steamed dumplings, crystal shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings in chili oil and steamed soup buns.
Dumplings in chili oil. These pork dumplings are boiled and served in a small bowl of spicy chili oil. The chili oil is volcanic looking but is not as spicy as you would initially expect. The sauce has a sweetness that prevents it from being overpowering and smothering the taste of the dumplings. I highly recommend these dumplings.
Pork soup dumplings. The soup dumplings are a little smaller than you see at other restaurants, but in a way this a plus becuase it makes them easier to manipulate with chop sticks. However, these dumplings weren’t as flavorful and had less soup than the ones I have had elsewhere (see Shanghai Asian Cuisine). They were good but not great.
The Dipping Sauce. The chili oil dumplings come bathed in their own spicy sauce and the soup dumplings come with the classic black vinegar with slivered ginger.
Location. China Cafe is on 37th street between 5th and Madison Avenues.