XO Taste and its sister restaurant XO Kitchen are two of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown (reviewed here and here). I am not sure is XO refers directly to XO Cognac or to XO Sauce, which itself refers to the Cognac. XO sauce is made of roughly chopped dried seafood, including scallops, fish and shrimp, which have been cooked with chili peppers, onions and garlic. Their menus are truly enormous and seem to continuously expand, especially when you take into account all of the 8.5 x 11 pieces of laminated paper wallpapering the restaurant and advising on off-menu items. The range of dishes at XO Taste includes some of the funkier items in Chinese cuisine (Diced pork with pickles and spicy tofu or Jelly fish with preserved duck egg and ginger), lots of Hong Kong restaurant classics, some Japanese dishes (curry rice) and some items from the canon of American Chinese food (General Tso’s Chicken). Almost all of the menu items are dim sum dishes or served as small plates, so dinner usually involves many different items. I recently returned to XO Taste to see what was new on the menu.
The wall advertisement for pan fried buns with shrimp immediately caught my eye and was our first order. These buns have the pleated twisted tops of soup dumplings and look like soup dumplings that have been fried while being pressed in a panini press. The wrappers appeared to be made of rice dough but they were very much fried so it was difficult to tell, but they were crispy crunchy good. The filling was comprised of shrimp, which had a fresh shrimp sweet saline taste, and chives which added a mildly garlic note. These buns are served doused in a sweetened soy sauce.
We also ordered the soup dumplings, which were also on the wall menu. These soup dumplings were weirdly served in soup, a fact I somehow did not notice from the picture on the wall. The soup was pretty good, but I did not enjoy soup dumplings in soup, because the dumpling wrappers quickly got waterlogged and started to disintegrate. The dumplings were adorned with crispy fried garlic chips which tasted great in the soup.
The pork wontons in noodle soup was a much more successful and flavorful dumplings in soup dish. These pork meatballs covered in wrinkled sheets of noodle were big and dense with a lot of flavor from the well seasoned filling and the soup. The noodles were cooked al dente and initially had a good chew to them, but they absorb the soup quite fast so do not let them sit. The dish is pretty big, and with so many menu options you don’t want to fill up on only noodles, so it is best to share this dish. However, it was really hard to serve the noodles into smaller individual serving bowls. The noodles were very long and just kept coming and coming as I tried to scoop them into individual serving bowls.
The last dumpling dish we tried was the steamed pork and shrimp shumai. The shumai wrappers were stuffed with pork, with a shrimp sitting on top that had been adorned with fish roe. With this dish XO Taste once again showed its prowess in making tasty, well seasoned pork filling, and the shrimp tasted fresh and had a nice pop to them when I took a bite. Across the range of dishes at XO Taste these shumai were further on the American Chinese food side of the spectrum, but they were very tasty.
XO Taste is on Elizabeth street between Canal Street and Hester Street.