Ala Shanghai – Lunch Date
Just came in from a lunch date at Ala Shanghai in Latham with my good ole husbear, Albany John. We’re heading out of town in a bit and figured some good Chinese food would be hard to find where we’re headed.
We got two lunch specials. The lunch specials are in the $6-7 range at Ala Shanghai and include white or brown rice and a soup. We both got egg drop. They were fine, but a little on the cornstarch/gummy side and could have used a swift kick of white pepper. Generic cheap Chinese egg drop soup here, but it’s a lunch special egg drop soup, so I wasn’t expecting anything mindblowing.
Ala Shanghai’s friendly owner brought out a sample of Aster Salad to try. He said the aster is like a small chrysanthemum, which was finely minced and served with minced dried tofu, and was a pretty typical Shanghaiese dish.
I really enjoyed it – it was a little oily, sweet, and deeply flavored. All characteristics of Shanghaiese cuisine. The dried tofu added a nice chewiness (dried tofu isn’t completely dried, it’s just got more of a dark skin on the outside and less water in it. So it’s dried more than fresh tofu) that went well with the minced veggie. I’d think about
This dish is served cold, and I would order it as a side/palate refresher for heavier flavored dishes.
If you love XLB, you know what this signifies!!!
A saucer of dark vinegar, dark soy sauce, and ginger came out to our table shortly after ordering Xiao Long Bao. I love how thin they got their ginger – it was almost as thin as hair, which I thought was awesome. It still adds plenty of ginger flavor, but without the often overly aggressive flavor of matchstick-sized slices of ginger. Mmmm!
Pork Xiao Long Bao ($4)! There isn’t a question about ordering these at Ala Shanghai. You get the soup dumplings. Period. Unlike the last time we ordered XLB, we just got one order of six since we were also getting lunch specials. Although I think next time we should just get four orders of XLB – who doesn’t love a good dumpling?
The skins are still on the thick side, but each dumpling I had had some juice in it.
You have a few attack options when it comes to XLB. You can nibble off the top and add your vinegar and ginger. I like to eat it all in one bite when I nibble off the top. Otherwise it gets to be quite messy. You can already see some of those precious XLB juices dripping out of this dumpling. You can also just poke a tiny hole in with your chopstick and add your magic sauce.
I prefer a side bite method. Nibble off a bit of dumpling skin from the thinnest looking side like so.
Then add a little spoonful of the dark vinegar and dark soy sauce (for an even soupier soup dumpling!) and top it off with some of those beautifully thin slices of ginger. Slurp away! When I use this method, the Xiao Long Bao are two-bite affairs. Mmm. Just add more soy sauce/vinegar and ginger to that 2nd bite. You can totally “double dip” your spoon when it comes to XLB!
Albany John told me I look and sound like The Predator when I eat soup dumplings. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s really a bad thing. I figure I don’t care what I look or sound like when I’m eating soup dumplings because, hello! I’M EATING SOUP DUMPLINGS!
If your XLB squirts out a bit of soup when you bite into it you first lament your poor nibbling skills, and then recognize it as a quality sign of a good soup dumpling. My last little dumpling was a juicy one!
On to the mains! I got shrimp and tofu ($7), and it was just that. Shrimp and tofu served in a light cornstarch-y sauce. It was on the bland side after having just eaten the soup dumplings. The shrimp were small but very plentiful. I the whole portion size was quite large. There was that flavor/texture of preservatives in the small shrimp that I most often associate with supermarket shrimp that I wasn’t really digging, though. I mean, don’t get me wrong. They’re shrimp. Even when they’re not great I’m still going to eat them because they’re shrimp. I don’t think I’d order this particular dish again, but it struck me as something good to eat when you’re sick. Not too flavorful or anything, and the soft tofu had a sweet flavor and fluffy-soft texture.
Albany John got the double cooked pork ($6). It had a little spicy flame next to it, these are dishes that have a bit of heat, but nothing to make you sweat. There were thin, firm slices of pork belly and some veggies mixed in. Very porky and good, but it’s not going to do a thing for helping me wedge my butt into an airplane seat tomorrow, haha.
This dish actually made me enjoy the shrimp and tofu dish more. They were both such polar opposites, I think they worked well to match each other. Albany John disagrees and just didn’t like the texture of my dish very much, but I thought the kinda spicy pork was pretty good with a bite of soft and creamy tofu and shrimp to follow.
They also had several soups available ($5-9). I was waffling about trying them, but after blasting the AC on the drive over I wasn’t quite keen on soups. Next time soup. Next time.
Service was great, as always. Albany John’s a heavy water drinker and his cup was always filled. You know, I don’t get why some places make you wait 45 minutes for a dish to come out. Go to a Chinese restaurant and it can be a packed house and you’ll still be in and out within an hour!