Given that this is a New York City based dumpling blog, it is sort of amazing that this is the first review of Joe’s Shanghai. I tried to visit once before but the line was down the block and so I ended up going to their sister restaurant Joe’s Ginger. Joe’s Shanghai opened in 1995 in Flushing Queens and then expanded to Manhattan’s Chinatown and then Mid-town, and in doing so, probably more than any other establishment, popularized the Xia Long Bao (Soup Dumpling) in New York City. As part of a night out to see a showing of a restored copy of Game of Death at MOMA, I hit the Mid-town location for dinner. This location has two floors and a basic, spare design.
The Dumplings: Joe’s sells Pork and Pork and Crab Soup Dumplings, King of the Sea Dumplings and Pork or Vegetable dumplings cooked either pan-fried or steamed.
Pork and Crab Soup Dumplings – As you would expect from Joe’s reputation these soup dumplings were excellent. They took a little time to arrive at our table, but the wait and the reveal of the huge cloud of steam that billowed out of the steamer when the lid was removed added to our anticipation. The dough wrappers had a perfect thickness, not thick and chewy like at lesser places but just exactly thick enough to contain the soup and meat ball. The pork soup was rich and unctuous, with a hint of ginger and crab roe. As the dumplings cooled in the steamer the soup changed consistency, moving from a light soup in the first dumpling to a thicker fattier soup in the last one.
King of the Sea Dumplings – While Joe’s is known for its soup dumplings do not overlook ordering the amazing King of the Sea Dumplings. These steamed dumplings are stuffed with shrimp and scallop and had a scrumptious sweet (shrimp) and salt sea flavor (scallop) flavor. They were quite a light dumpling compared to the soup dumplings, which after a few baskets can feel heavy. These dumplings also went well with the black vinegar and ginger sauce that was served with the soup dumplings.
Pan Fried Vegetable Dumplings – The chefs at Joe’s knows how to pan-fry a dumpling so that it is perfectly crispy, crunchy and golden. But despite the excellent frying technique I thought the wrappers were a little thick and doughy on the inside. These dumplings were filled with finely minced greens and carrots and had a sweet flavor contributed by the carrots. The filling worked really well with the accompanying soy and minced ginger dipping sauce.
The Dipping Sauce: The soup dumplings came with the traditional black vinegar sauce with slivers of ginger. I don’t particularly like this sauce and almost never add it to my soup dumplings but it worked well with the King of the Sea Dumplings. The vegetable dumplings came with a flavorful soy and ginger dipping sauce that I really liked, definitely one of my favorite dipping sauces out there.
The Location: We hit the Mid-Town location which is on 56th street between 5th and 6th avenues. I think this area is a bit of a foodie wasteland, there are a lot of high end expense account restaurants or after work bars slinging bar food. So if you are stuck in Mid-Town for dinner, Joe’s is a good option for reasonably priced, super tasty food. There are also Joe’s Shanghai locations in Flushing Queens and on Pell Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown.