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Jun 20, 2008 10:35 AM

Little Shanghai San Mateo dinner report

Tried this place last night with family, and first time dine-in. A previous take-out experience wasn't bad either but not as mindblowing as sit down dinner.

1) Shung Fung Er - nice way to re-label pig's ear. Giant slices but thin. Lightly crispy but smooth. Heavy hints of soy sauce, but not salty, but even heavier was the sesame paste marination (a different interpretation that I am used to) which gave it a peanut butter like feel. Big plate so we had leftovers. This was the cilantro version, supposedly not spicy but they did add some pepper to it. I believe they have a very very spicy version of this.
So far the best pig's ear cold appetizer I've had is at Every Beijing, but sadly they make it too spicy by default for some.

2) Yen Du Xien - claypot soup with bow tie tofu skin, salted pork belly, bamboo shoots. I've been pretty disappointed with a lot of renditions, and the last good one I had was Su Hong in Palo Alto. I dare say LS did the best one and even topped theirs and definitely trumped Joy in Foster City. The soup was unbelieveably good (arguably from the cured/salted pork belly and bones that gave it a good hint of smokey) and had a creamier texture than most other versions. The salted pork belly was not salty either, and it was like Dong Bor Rou melt in your mouth goodness (but in soup and not stewed/fried/steamed). A+++.

3) Xiao Long Bao - I took a bite of the first piece, and ate about half of it. Stared at my spoon for a sec and noticed a 4 inch hair sticking out of the pork (good thing I did not eat the whole thing in one bite). Showed the waiter who took away my spoon and notified the folks behind the counter. Immediately they took away the remaining XLB (without apology) and proceeded to have the kitchen re-do the order. Perhaps it is a cultural thing that they don't show admission of guilt per se (and this can be debated to death) and show actions rather than words. Luckily mom's XLB from the intiial batch was hairless. And lucky for me the hair was not the "other" kind, so let's leave it at that. We got our re-do order about 3/4 of the way through the meal, and without hesistation I dug in as if nothing happened. The skins were maybe a micron-ish thick but the overall experience was excellent and now Shanghai East up the street is totally forgettable (even if they make it a bit more refined and a little smaller in appearance). Simple broth/soup on the inside that was just right and not fatty or greasy, but not flavorless either. So much tastier after dipping in black vinegar. I still think Su Hong Palo Alto does a better rendition, but for San Mateo I have to say this is the best (yes better than Happy Cafe).

4) Ji Kuo Hwei Mien - chicken and salted ham noodle soup, bottom line. Absolutely nothing like the versions in Hong Kong where the noodle is soggy and absorbed the broth of the soup and where bak choy is finely diced to pair with small chicken cubes. But LS's version had a nice broth, pretty decent noodles. Had we not ordered the YDX, this chicken broth would have been great on its own.

5) Bamboo, dried tofu strips, and julienne pork stir fried - great rendition. They have another version stir fried with yellow chive instead of bamboo for $1 or so more. But this was good enough.

Way more than enough food for 3 adults and 1 young 'un, so there were lots of leftovers.

Other than the hairy XLB which was forgiveable due to the quality of the food, I like this place enough to come back again, especially since some of the standards were done very nicely.

And which is also why I'm curious how this place stacks up with Sunny Shanghai.

LS has two menus. One 2 pager that is cold appetizers, northern "dim sum" and noodle/rice dishes. "dim sum" section mentions nothing about which items are weekends only. The other menu is the standard one which explains the cuisine of the restaurant (nothing in English that I recall) on the first page, then all the other dishes. Some items categorized as Shanghainese, some as Jiangsu.

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  1. Good report KK - so am I understanding that perhaps this is another place that you really need a Chinese-speaker/reader to get the "good stuff"???

    Little Shanghai
    17 E 25th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403

    4 Replies
    1. re: RWCFoodie

      I have eaten there a number of times for lunch; everything's on the standard menu and it's easy to read. The place is quite accessible to the non-chinese speaker; one must simply be adventurous.

      Oh, and great review. Little shanghai has not taken the place of Shanghai East in my heart, but your points are all good, and I love having two joints that close, that good. KK gravitates to different references dishes than I, I must start ordering the Yen du Xien, sounds like a great dish.

      1. re: bbulkow

        Thanks bb: For sure, I'm an adventurous eater - especially when it comes to foods of Asia - haven't run into too many dishes I won't try - including stinky tofu (had a waitress literally stand over me to see if I was going to eat it or not - I think she was disappointed because I did eat it, with gusto at that!)

      2. re: RWCFoodie

        There is no hidden or Chinese written menu only, but as with most Chinese menus you have to understand what the English translation mean. After all there years I still misread/misunderstand the English.

        The magic word is adventurous in your selections.

        1. re: yimster

          Glad to hear there's no hidden or Chinese written only menu. I look forward to enjoying this place!

      3. Thanks for the report. Did the yan du xian have fresh pork as well as the pork belly in it, as is traditional?

        A little off-topic, but is Happy Cafe in San Mateo still around? They made excellent xiaolong bao as of a couple of years ago.

        1. The regular menu has English translations to the dishes. There is nothing "hidden" that I am aware of, although of course it does not hurt to come here with a Chinese reader/Mandarin speaker.

          I believe the side menu (cold appetizers) does as well. No white board Chinese only specials type of thing like Happy Cafe (which to answer XY's question is still around to my knowledge since walking by that place, open for dinner Wednesdays only and the best xiao chir small plates are off the white board Chinese only specials).

          About the YDX soup, I could not tell if there was fresh pork in it other than by guess, because I did not study the contents other than what was scooped into my own soup bowl. Whatever was scooped that has pork just happened to be cured pork belly.

          When the weather is warmer I hope to come back on a weekend to try the brunch classics and see how they do those. For those curious, they also have beef brisket noodle soup (and one that has tendons). When I have a moment I will post my first ever experience which was takeout, from a few months ago.

          2 Replies
          1. re: K K

            I guess you answered the age-old question "Warm enough for ya?"

            The fresh pork in the YDX is mostly for symbolism and often just small slivers. It's the pork belly that gets credit for both the "yan" (salty) and"xian" delicious characteristics. It's traditionally a Spring Festival dish, and the pairing of cured and fresh pork represents the bounty of the old year meeting the fresh promise of the new.

            1. re: K K

              KK, you just said the magic word: tendon! Love dishes that include them so will have to try this...

            2. As for the first experience, that was takeout:

              I had this cold appetizer dish. I do not recall the name and I also forgot to look it up on the regular menu. Basically very thin noodle like strands of tofu with other seasonings as well as extremely finely diced and marinated spinach (?). There was definitely sesame oil in the seasoning.

              Tsong Yoh Bahn Mien - classic Shanghainese noodle dish where it's cooked noodles served with oil and finely diced scallion mix (and in some cases shallots and soy sauce). Toss that up like a salad for the flavors to sink in, and ideally do it as soon as it arrives at your table (or when you get home) to prevent further clumping of the noodles. Highly recommend is to request low or no sodium/salt, no MSG (yep they were cool even with that request) for healthier yet still fairly tasty results. Went well with the appetizer. So yeah I like it. Although if you are a fan of the salt and MSG, you probably want to go hardcore and head down to Shanghai Flavor Shop for their version which is heartburn and food coma delicious. Avoid the rendition from China Bee in San Mateo, for some reason their noodles are like Italian style thin fettucine and I tasted butter in the mix....

              Sahn Sien Ti Jeen - literal translation is three "freshes" hock tendon. I must say that I was disappointed with this dish, having had it a week after coming back from Taiwan where the pig feet from the butchers in Taiwan includes the tendons and are way more meatier (or porkier) in texture. The tendons here seemed to be deep fried first before the next one or two cooking processes, to buff it up and give it volume. Unfortunately much of the original texture and flavors were lost. This was served with shrimp, pork, and mushrooms and carrots. I couldn't taste the tendon flavor, and it ended up being like a chewy gelatin. Decent but forgettable and replaceable with another oder in the next visit.

              As far as the other comments on this thread:

              - Not all translations of the menu are 100% accurate, but at least you know what the dish entails or their themes. You might need to have some idea (or ask) before ordering, especially if you have preference or worst case allergies. Like how would you know if the pig's ear was thinly sliced like tendons (texture wise too) and seasoned with sesame oil and paste etc until you try it?

              - I'd say Little Shanghai is currently where Shanghai East was when they first opened in terms of "novelty" and quality. LS just seems a little more down home to me. And yes LS has Shen Jian Bao, though haven't had the chance to try them yet.

              - YDX is probably the closest thing to Cantonese "old fire" slow cooked soup in terms of texture and flavor, or at least in parallel, and I can see why it has a wider appeal to some than other soups that could be potentially quick fixes (in preparation) with not as much material and quality of result. All I can say is that the salted pork belly melt in your mouth goodness that are the YDX's from Su Hong Palo Alto and Little Shanghai, just make this worth ordering and sharing with at least 4 people (and for the price they charge which is very reasonable, it is a steal).

              This is not a fancy place like Shanghai 1930 or PF Chang's (in decor). It is just down home simple, no nonsense. Arguably Shanghai East up the street is a bit more mainstream especially with a more established presence, but to me Little Shanghai has more character in their cooking and seemingly less greasy or heavy which I can certainly appreciate.

              1 Reply
              1. re: K K

                Stopped in tonight after the reservation I had up the street (from open table) yielded a shuttered and dark restaurant.

                Was about to go home when I spotted Little Shanghai with the light still on - unfortunately as I was walking in (about 10:10) they switched the open light off, but the friendly staff agreed to give me a take out order even tho they were closed:)

                I got the rice cake dish based on recom. from this thread and shanghai pork ?chops ( Don't know if this is authentic but it was a real treat) I really liked them both - but probably the rice cake would have been better without the 5 minute drive home - or perhaps not at closing would have yielded a bit more wok time? The other dish was something I'd never had before - even with dishes with the same name - almost braised extremely soft and flavorful pork, in small pieces, some with bone, with an extremely flavorful and well balanced rich sauce. I'm really looking forward to eating there again and trying more when I get there while they are still open!

              2. I don't know if these are traditional Shanghai snacks or not, but listed under "daikon pancake" under the "Dim Sum" menu. Very interesting (to me) shredded daikon stuffed inside a seasme-crusted shell - best eaten if you let these sit and cool down a bit.

                I've tried their sheng jian bao - can't recall much other than them being extremely temperature-hot and not too greasy. I do remember them being juicy inside.

                My family prefers Little Shanghai over Shanghai East a teeny bit due to LS being less greasy.

                3 Replies
                1. re: manda

                  Definitely Shanghainese, but "daikon pancake" is an odd name for it because it's not flat, though it is pan-fried. It's often called a "crab shell dumpling" because the shell is supposed to resemble a crab shell. In Chinese it's "xie ke huang." There's a sweet version filled with black bean, but the daikon-filled version is delicious.

                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                    What manda described sounds more like a "luo buo si bing" to me, or "daikon shreds pastry". The "crab shell dumpling" traditionally has green onions in it I think?

                    1. re: madoka

                      Acually, I think you are right; I was perhaps having a senior moment when I wrote the above. the two are very similar in appearance, but if the stuffing is shredded daikon (lobok) it's most likely luo bo si bing. The traditional fillings for savory xie ke huang are shallot oil and pork, crab, or shrimp; while the sweet ones would have sugar, roses, sweetened bean paste, or Chinese date paste. I think of xie ke huang as more characteristically Shanghainese than luo bo si bing.