Monday, February 4, 2008

Flying Fish Balls

I tend to be much more of an outer boroughs exploratory eater. You might say I'm a snob in this regard, but I've found my eating adventures of the ethnic variety have been more fruitful outside of the high rents of Manhattan (my apologies to Tulcingo del Valle, I love you so).

On Saturday night though, after it became clear that plans to finally go out to Little Pepper in Flushing were just not going to work out, Daniel, our friend Ben, and I headed to the other Chinatown in Lower Manhattan. We decided on Shangainese over Cantonese, and went to Shanghai Café on Mott Street, about which I had heard good things.

As always, we tried to order way too much, and the waitress, using hand signals and nods and shakes of the head, indicated to us that we needed to cool it. We had ordered too much. So we cut out one noodle dish. Our ordering was also challenged by eating restrictions so we ordered in what Ben calls "Katie Style." Meaning Ben doesn't eat meat, but eats all types of seafood. Daniel eats chicken, fish, and beef, but not pork or shellfish. I eat everything. So Daniel and I get a meat dish. Ben and I get a shellfish dish. And then we all get some veggie dishes. Clearly, I am the victor. Here's what we ate:

-Steamed Vegetable Dumplings – eight of them, served in the bamboo steam basket

The verdict: Very fresh; made to order; wouldn't say they were the best dumplings I've had, but honestly I love most any dumpling

-Fish Ball w. Noodles in Soup – several whitish fish balls, floating in broth, with greens and the aforementioned noodles (for some reason, we ended up with two very large bowls of this)
The verdict: as I've said before, I really love soup these days, so I was excited for this. It was a tad disappointing. The broth was very, very salty, saltier even then Thai soup, which I generally find to be the saltiest. The greens were very yummy, as were the noodles. The fish balls on the other hand were inedible. Not because they tasted bad (they tasted like standard fish balls), but because they were literally impossible to eat. On my first attempt, I threw one at myself, and it went rolling onto the ground beneath our feet (similar to my recent display of dexterity at the much less forgiving Ouest, where I sent a sausage flying into the air). The only way I was able to get the fish balls into my mouth was by stabbing them with a solitary chopstick and biting them as one would a candy apple.

-Black Mushroom over rice – self-explanatory, black (and other mushrooms) in a sweet-salty sauce, over rice

The verdict: may have been my favorite dish of the evening. When I was in China, the food I loved the most was veggies in sauce on rice. This brought that all back. Twas subtle and comforting and delicious.

-Spicy Stewed Beef w. Brown sauce – moist, almost brisketlike beef with, you guessed it, brown sauce

The verdict: Daniel's favorite of course; not so spicy, but definitely stewed for a real long time; I could only eat a little bit of it, for stomachache avoidance purposes, but it really was delicious. Came with what seemed like a lot of tendon. This was avoided by our party.

-Stir Fried Eel Ninplo Style: sautéed eel and chives, with lots of pepper and garlic
The verdict: I've just recently learned to like eel, and it's been through sushi, and especially the fine work of Yoshi over at Sushi Yasuda that I've done so. I really like it, but if I think much about it, I still have a little trouble getting the first bite down. It was in spite of this and in an effort to overcome this sorry fact that I suggested to Ben that we order it. Those first couple of bits still took some coaxing, but I'm glad I pushed myself. Very peppery, very garlicy, very oily, very eely, very tasty.

Overall, we had nice time sitting around drinking Tsing Tao and talking about the election. It certainly doesn't compare to the culinary experiences I've had at Spicy Mina or Sri or even Mingsali, but it was solid. And it's nice to have a good exciting meal and then be able to walk to the Lower East Side for a drink. That is, if one could find a Lower East Side establishment on a Saturday evening that isn't so overrun as to be unappealing. But that's another story…

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