A New Place for Soup Dumplings and Shanghai Noodles

Just when I think I've found my favorite dumpling house, a new one pops up and I have to give it a try. New entrant Shanghai Restaurant (9888 Bellaire Blvd # 106; Tel: 713-771-8825), in the same shopping complex as Arco Seafood, has been under new ownership for about a month now, and on first impression, the cosmetic changes are very becoming.

When you walk in, thanks to the pale lemon-colored paint job and some brighter fluorescent lights, the restaurant has a warm and sunny feel. Gone are the hodgepodge of bun-displaying counters (steamed buns, of course), along with the busy TV entertainment center sitting next to the commercial metal shelves that displayed yet more buns and to-go food. In their place are clean, polished tables, providing ample seating for couples and families.

Service was prompt and friendly, an unexpected and welcome surprise, and a big bonus in my book, considering the fact I blogged about not expecting good service in these types of restaurants just last week. You had the sense that they were genuinely very eager to please, and even though the server that greeted me didn't speak English, she immediately flagged down what appeared to be the only English speaker in the place to help.

The menu was handwritten in Chinese and English, and the first items on it were the Shanghai Steamed Dumplings, or xiao long bao, just $5.50 for eight. I told the server that I definitely planned to order those, and to suggest a few more dishes.

We ended up with the Couple's Delight, a slightly spicy cold dish with what appeared to be tripe and a reddish meat that was thinner than beef jerky, but had kind of a tougher dry texture and smoked flavor that my companion very much enjoyed.

Next up were the green beans sauteed with minced shallots. They were bright-green and looked great, but a bit on the overcooked side. The Shanghai noodle dish, which my server had highly recommended as a specialty item, was excellent. The roundish, white noodles were long, with a pleasingly chewy texture and just enough coating of light-brown savory sauce. Eating them transported me to that scene in Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp, when the two dogs are slurping up the noodles, because I found myself doing the same thing, enthusiastically.

Our final course was the xiao long bao, the dish that has been bringing people into this restaurant through word of mouth, which my dining companion had tried just two days before. "Their dumpling wrapper is the thinnest I've had in Houston," he'd told me. The wrapper was, indeed, thinner than the ones you'll find at QQ Cuisine and FuFu Cafe across the street, and the portion of eight was not too shabby either. Unfortunately for me, most of the dumplings had leaked their soup, so the dumplings I had were good flavor-wise, but didn't give me the same satisfaction I get from slurping up the soup inside the dumpling.

"Was it like this last time?" I asked my dining companion, who'd been there just two days before. "The dumplings were much, much better last time, very juicy, just like you'd like them," he replied. While I lamented my misfortune, I was still happy with the overall experience. Good service does make a difference, and small missteps notwithstanding, I definitely plan to go back.

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