After reading about the opening of Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine in Latham, NY on Steve’s Table Hopping Blog last Thursday, and checking out Ala’s menu on facebook, I knew I’d have to get over as SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE to try their food.
There are no other Shanghaiese restaurants in the area, and guess what they have – SOUP DUMPLINGS! That’s right, xiao long bao!
Ala Shanghai is located at 468 Troy-Schenectady Rd, Latham, NY on Route 2 just off of the circle. If you’re coming from the circle, it will be on your right after the first light. If you’re coming from Route 2/Troy area, it will be on your left about 2 lights before the circle.
It’s a little off of the beaten path for me, but not very hard to find at all. In fact, I noticed the sign last week, but didn’t think much more of it until Steve’s post. Here’s a view from the parking lot of the sign you’ll see from the street.
As it would turn out “As soon as humanly possible” would be Saturday a little after noon, because let’s face it, it’s not like I’m going to wake up and be functional much earlier than that.
First off, the owner is also one of the waiters and beyond nice. He’s so congenial and nice to talk to. I got to explain that while I’m Cantonese and Albany John is white, he’s the one that speaks conversational Chinese and I speak… well, nada. They told us to come and practice Chinese with them whenever we want – it’s nice that they’ll put up with me trying to not butcher the Chinese language too much!
From talking with him, he really wanted to bring authentic Shanghaiese cuisine to the Albany area. It’s so great to see such a passionate owner, who really wants to bring in new food for everyone to try. And trust me, it’s worth a try.
We got one order each of the soup dumplings, and had the requisite black vinegar and ginger slices put in front of us.
We really liked the interior of the place – some warm orange tones painted on the walls. A few low hanging lamps, and my fave – a good luck kitty with the perpetually moving arm. There are some booth/bench table combos and some regular circular tables. I thought the chairs were quite comfy.
It wasn’t long before two stacked bamboo steamers came out. On top were the pork and crab xiao long bao ($6 for 6). You can tell it has crab because they have the yellow stuff on top to differentiate it from just pork.
They were a nice mix of crab and pork flavor – neither too much of one or the other, and made for a very soft, tender (and almost fluffy – in a very good way) filling.
The pork and crab soup dumplings were not very soupy per se, but more like the literal Chinese translation of xiao long bao meaning ‘little juicy dumpling’. These were much more juicy and moist than your average wonton/dumpling, had more filling, and a thicker skin to contain it all.
I also ordered the scallion pancake ($3), which came with a slightly spicy dipping sauce that you can kind of see in the top left corner of this picture. The scallion pancake was very good and scalliony when it first came out, but became a slightly tough and chewy after it cooled off a bit.
I wonder if they use a scallion oil or something in the layers, because I can never get my scallion pancakes at home to have so scallion flavor.
Round two of XLB (the bottom steamer) had the pork-only soup dumplings ($4 for 6).
These were truer to soup dumplings – more liquid in them, and you really did need to use that spoon, otherwise you’d lose some of those precious soup juices from the dumpling.
I love the pork soup dumplings. I personally love pork flavor alone when it’s cooked right, and these were cooked oh-so-right. The skins are thick enough that you can dunk your dumplings into the vinegar before biting in to it without fear of it breaking, or you can nibble a hole in the top and spoon some in like usual.
If I were to pick nits, I’d say the skins could have a little more chew to them, but that’s just picking nits. I mean, remember when I made Xiao Long Bao at home? Not such a great endeavor, and very time consuming. I am incredibly happy there is a restaurant I can go to and get soup dumplings from for such reasonable prices!
Trust me, go to Ala Shanghai and order yourself some soup dumplings.
The tofu was incredibly soft and jiggly, and the sauce over it had some ground pork and chili peppers. I think it also had some crushed peppercorns in it too (maybe ma la pepper?). This tasted… healthy!? There was no grease or oil in it. When I’ve had it at Cantonese or Beijing style restaurants they usually make it mind numbingly hot and it’s usually slicked with grease and oil (probably a good portion of that is just chili oil to make it both oily and hot). I really liked this version a lot better. The pork and tofu flavors and textures complimented each other very well. The tofu was very creamy, too.
I had a wonderful dining experience – There’s something about dining out in the winter that feels so right. I felt like I was wrapped in tastiness and warmth. The lighting, the food, the tea, the service – all were so warming.