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Aug 21, 2008 01:17 AM

SD’s “SDs” @ Shanghai House, San Francisco

Last fall a friend alerted me to the question posed in Sara Deseran’s piece in 7x7, .

“ . . . But I have to wonder: Does Melanie Wong know about the spicy dumplings? They’re a delicious Shanghai House off-the-menu specialty that my friends tipped me off to the other night.

Melanie probably does. The Chowhounds have probably written a manifesto about them and there’s probably a correct Chinese name for them that I don’t know about. But until someone lets me know otherwise, I'm going to call them SD for short.”

I had to confess that “SDs” were news to me. Further, I hadn’t been to Shanghai House at all yet, possibly the greater failing given its popularity among chowhounds.

This tip sat on the back burner until a few weeks ago when Sunday brunch plans in NOPA fell apart at the last minute. Standing on Anza Street trying to decide what to do now, I remembered Shanghai House and we made a journey to the west for a dumpling adventure. Scanning the menu, I saw that plain shui jiao (boiled dumplings) were among the offerings and asked if they were available with red oil. Our server said, “You want spicy dumplings?” Bingo.

We started with a basket of xiao long bao (XLB). As others have described, good flavor but juicy rather than soupy filling, and the skins were just a shade too thick but enjoyable nonetheless.

Next was a green onion pancake that was just dreadful, wet and doughy in the middle. Even the exterior was soggy and tough, so my usual trick of peeling away the outer layer and discarding an undercooked middle portion was of no use.

Then the knife-cut noodles, ordered as a stir-fry version. The noodles themselves were as good as any, chewy and firm with wavy, ragged edges and uneven widths and lengths for a most satisfying textural play. Good seasonings, but the palate impact suffered because the carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, and scallions were not cooked enough to release their flavor. As can be seen in the photo, the veggies weren’t even wilted, staying crunchy and raw, barely warmed through. Too bad the cook rushed these out of the wok, as this dish could have been a contender. While we agreed that Joy’s version is tastier, we still fought over the last of the toothsome noodle fragments.

Knife-cut, handmade noodles

The spicy dumplings were a good call. Our batch looked like the skins were just a little thicker than the ones in the 7x7 shot, and had a good bite to them. Made fresh, the dumplings’ pork filling was juicy and richly flavored. Bathed in the complex red oil and topped with minced garlic, these revved-up shui jiao turned into something even more delectable. These won’t make me forget the dumplings at Albany’s China Village, however, I think Shanghai House does a better job with shui jiao than San Tung here in the City.

Shui jiao in red oil -

So, thank you, Ms. Deseran for finding the SDs and calling me out. Now I have a question: isn’t it just a wee bit vainglorious to name a chow find after oneself?

Joy Restaurant
1489 Beach Park Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404

China Village
1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

San Tung Chinese Restaurant
1031 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

Shanghai House
3641 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

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  1. Shanghai House's version of dumplings in chili oil trumps those of Shanghai Dumpling King's down the street, mostly because of the generous garnishing (the naked shui jiao are a push, in my book). I had these at SDK a couple of weekends ago and had to add chili paste from the chili paste pot.

    SD will want to know the "correct" Chinese name is "hong you chao shou" which can refer to either a shui jiao-based or a won ton-based version. (I actually prefer the latter because the won tons provide more places for the spicy oil to hide).

    2 Replies
    1. re: Xiao Yang

      If SD wants to be sure of getting this style of dumpling, I'd suggest asking for "hong you shui jiao". That's how it's listed on the menus of restaurants that offer both styles of red oil dumplings. One time I recall ordering hong you chao shou, and then the waiter asked me if I wanted shui jiao or wontons, and then pointed to hong you shui jiao's line on the menu. Otherwise, around here, I can't remember another time where wontons weren't the default for hong you chao shao.

      Like you, I generally prefer the won ton style of dumpling for this prep, but for a different reason. There are so many frozen and/or bad shiu jiao out there, the quality of the won tons is usually a better bet.

      Shanghai Dumpling King
      3319 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Actually you are right, when I think about it. I was thinking about the difference between Sichuan-style folded wontons (which have no fluttering tail) and southern style "yun tun." They say "chao shou" translates as "folded hands" and refer to the way one corner of the wrapper overlaps another (I think Syle 7 in the linked tutorial). The real confusion is in the English menu, where both wontons and shuijiao are sometimes referred to as "dumplings" in chili oil.

    2. You know I saw something similar at Little Sichuan in Newark, except the dumplings were the size of pan fried chive dumplings, all drenched in plenty of red oil. I'd imagine they'd be pretty good, especially after taking a bite then drenching the inside of one with even more red oil.

      1 Reply
      1. re: DezzerSF

        Probably the same thing. These dumplings at Shanghai House were a bit stubby and rounded. Shui jiao are usually a bit more ingot-like. And, yes, I think that getting the oil on the meat is where you can get "wow" factor.

      2. Yes, I agree that Shanghai House does a better job than San Tung with shui jiao. However, I like the shrimp and leek filling at San Tung, which I didn't see on the menu at Shanghai House. SH's shui jiao are heartier and have a thicker wrapper, while San Tung's have, IMO, gone downhill in flavor since 1999.

        The green onion pancake was indeed horrid. Not worth a second bite.

        I thought the handmade noodles were great in texture for all the reasons you mentioned, but thought the seasonings lacked depth and/or salt, in addition to the green-ness of the undercooked veggies. Still, Joy's seafood noodles w/XO sauce are my favorite in the bay area.

        1 Reply
        1. re: felice

          Hey felice, the red oil was spicier and more complex than I expected, based on the other few times I've tried to get something "hot" at other Shanghainese restaurants.

          Invitation to Chowing with the Hounds picnic, 9/27