Little Alley, takes its name from the Shanghai “Long Tang” neighborhoods of Chef Yuchun Cheung’s youth, and is dedicated to the cuisine of Shanghai. Long Tang are narrow, interconnected mazes of alleyways that form neighborhoods unique to old Shanghai, but are now disappearing as the city modernizes and gentrifies. Chef Cheung is an alum of the excellent China Blue (and here) in Tribeca and, in his dedication to Shanghaiese cuisine, claims to have a kitchen staff made up of only Shanghaiese locals.
With a history of over 400 years, Shanghai cuisine is the youngest among the ten major cuisines of China. The cuisine is known for its “red stewing” technique which involves heavily-seasoned proteins which are first browned and then cooked low and slow for hours. At Little Alley this technique is used for several dishes, including the Dong Po Pork belly dish and the Lion’s Head Meatball, which is prepared Scotch Egg style with a salted duck egg in the middle.
The Dumplings: Little Alley offers 9 dumpling varieties of which we tried five. The thing that connected a lot of the dumplings we tried was Little Alley’s expert use of ginger. Too many places use ginger in their dumplings filling that is under-cocked and creates a harsh, sometimes metallic flavor. Here the ginger is well cooked, which tones down its harsh edges but still leaves ginger notes infused into the meat.
The Crab Soup Dumpling are filled with pork, crab meat, ginger, oyster oil, and sesame oil and were very well prepared and flavorful, but I was hoping for more soup than was packed into these dumplings. I was also hoping for bigger flavor contribution from the crab. The Pork Potstickers, filled with pork, Chinese vegetables (the menu doesn’t say which one), ginger and oyster oil, were very flavorful and juicy and had a wrapper thickness perfectly in proportion to the size of the filling. There was just the right amount of chew from the wrapper dough. The Pan Fried Buns, filled with pork, ginger, oyster oil and sesame oil, were delicious with caramel notes from the bronzed/blackened bottom surfaces of the buns. But despite their excellent flavor, I am always disappointed when there is no soup in these buns, and Little Alley’s Pan Fried Buns were soup free. The Shanghai Shu Mai however were perfect pockets of umami infused dirty rice. The Shanghai style of Shu Mai uses sticky dirty rice and flakes of Chinese sausage as the filling, and Little Alley adds bamboo shoot, Shiitake mushroom, and oyster oil to the traditional mix. I think Little Alley nailed it with their Shu Mai. Last, we tried the Vegetable Postickers, which, like the Pork Potstickers, could have used a little more time on the griddle getting seared and crispy fried. These mouse shaped dumplings were filled with wild greens, bok choy, and Shiitake mushrooms. The flavor of the wild greens was hauntingly familiar but I couldn’t quite place, it was a deja vu moment for sure. I liked the flavor of these dumplings a lot and had the sense they were packed with nutrients.
The Location: Little Alley is in the Murray Hill neighborhood which is on the East side of Manhattan in the 30s and 40s, which is pretty much a pain to get to via subway. It is on 3rd ave between 36th and 37th streets.