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Dec 8, 2009 09:03 AM

Shangri La (Belmont): Taiwanese Dim Sum

I had an unexpectedly free morning this weekend and naturally my thoughts turned to breakfast. Drove by Soundbites but the crowd was already lined up 20-strong and it was COLD outside so that was out of the question. Remembered Striperguy's recommendations about the weekend dim sum at Shangri la and decided to head over to check it out.

My friend and I arrived at 11 and were sad to see they don't open until 11:30 but we just wandered up Belmont Ave to the donut shop for a cup of coffee. By the time we wandered back, there was a line of folks waiting. The first promising sign was the line was almost all Asian families looking excited to get inside.

The second promising sign was the precision with which this staff runs this tiny little place. A party of 20 showed up for some kind of birthday party and they were quickly sequestered in one end of the restaurant. By 11:35 every table had a menu, tea, water, and orders were being taken. Despite the fact it was chock full o people, I didn't have that anxious feeling like we were going to be vying for attention or passed over by the staff. Like a good bartender, each waitress would visually acknowledge your presence and you knew they'd get to you as soon as they could. It was orderly and organized and I was at ease.

On to the food. This is where I wish I was with 5 friends. So much to order, and the dishes being brought to other tables (congee, crullers, noodles) looked so tempting. In the end we got a few special dishes and a dud.

Five spice beef in crispy sesame pancake: the pancake on this was outstanding. A lovely flaky pastry crust for the beefy filling. I wished the filling was better, though, it was just kinda meh. Take the filling from the beef with leek pancake at Mulan and stuff it into this pastry and you would be in heaven.

Xiao Long Bao: a solid rendition of the dish. Soup dumpling aficionados would say the skins are too thick and lacked the desirable sag. But the filling was great, the broth nice and more flavorful than others I've tried around town and I managed to eat mine without spraying hot soup all over my DC, so that's a bonus. I think I slightly favor the XLB at Taiwan Cafe.

Pan fried turnip cake: This was delicious. Little triangles of turnip cake perfectly fried and served with a spicy ketchupy dipping sauce. Kinda like Taiwanese tater tots. What's not to love? I might prefer the turnip cake at Winsor by a hair, but it would be close.

Steamed preserved mustard with pork bun: this was the only dish I regretted. It's a large fluffy doughy bun filled with pork belly and supposedly preserved mustard. But I couldn't really detect the mustard in the mix, and the heaviness of the belly combined with the doughiness of the bun almost put me into a coma. Split it in half and the paper stuck to the bottom. Just not great.

Also had pan fried pork buns: 4 largish pork buns fried on one side and filled with chunky pork filling.

I was feeling celebratory so enjoyed a cold Tsingtao too. We managed to eat all the XLB and the sesame beef sandwiches, and much of the steamed bun. I got to take the turnip cakes and pan fried dumplings home for later, and both reheated nicely. All in all a really pleasant way to start the day. Highly recommend.

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  1. Thx for the detailed review-- might have to add this into the Jo Jo Taipei - Chung Shin Yuan weekend rotation!

    3 Replies
    1. re: barleywino

      Thanks for reminding me about Chung Shin Yuan. We are so lucky to have an abundance of Taiwanese options here, aren't we?

        1. re: Prav

          I KNOW!!! Need to get to Newton, stat!

    2. Hi Yum Yum: Nice review. I think the steamed bun should be preserved mustard Greens with pork. This is more of a salty pickly shredded greens that often accompanies pork. Not much of a mustardy flavor but homey vegetable.

      2 Replies
      1. re: gourmaniac

        Hiya gourmaniac -- I love preserved mustard greens in pork soup noodle so I was expecting more of that funky tang, but I tasted none of it. A shame, it would have been a great combo with the belly.

        1. re: yumyum

          i like the chicken w/ mustard green (called "green mustard" on the menu) at Mulan too...some nice edamame in there too

      2. was the bun open or closed?

        if it was a taiwanese pork belly bun (gua bao) then it should have contained crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro in addition to the roast pork belly and pickled mustard greens. the mustard greens should be prominent too. the gua bao at shangri-la are pretty good but i like the ones at taiwan cafe and wisteria house better

        one of my favorite things on the brunch menu is the spicy pig ear salad. the preparation is different than the usual cold pig ear dish found at most chinese restaurants. the pig ears are shredded into long thin strands so they look like a pile of rubber bands. it's tossed in a light spicy dressing and served over lettuce. i like to add a little rice vinegar to it too

        3 Replies
        1. re: galangatron

          Hi galangatron! The bun was closed. I'm pretty sure it was "Steamed Preserved Mustard with Pork Bun" but unfortunately the picture I have of the menu has flash glare right over the chinese characters.

          No peanuts, no cilantro so it must be something else. There is also "Steamed Taiwanese Bun with Pork and Pickle" on the menu.

          Thanks for the tip about the pig ears. Are they chewy like rubber bands too?

          1. re: yumyum

            the texture of the pig ear salad is chewy and slightly crunchy

          2. re: galangatron

            A few days ago, Striperguy took me for a ride through Shangri La, and I came away really quite thrilled with the place. Smoked fish, mung bean noodles with cukes, twice-cooked beef, fried oysters, everything quite spot-on. He'd also been talking up the dim sum to me and, so, when I had to run an errand north of the River, I was glad to have his advice so fresh in my mind.

            I called up yumyum to see if I could wrangle her into some brekkie, and had a feeling she'd be pitching Soundbites or some such place to me, as I get the impression she mainlines hollaindaise at home for fun (or takes a bath in it). Lucky for me there, my plan A became her plan B.

            I'm sad that we couldn't put more of a dent in the offerings as there are about 60 different items on the menu, but from this initial sampling, I'm eager to get back for round 2 and with an army of eaters.

            Galangatron, just to address your question, this was not gua bao 刮包, though they do have that on the menu ("#52, Steamed Taiwanese Bun with Pork and Pickle"). I initially opted for that thinking it was gua bao, but then saw #58 "Steamed Preserved Mustard with Pork Bun" and got confused. We ended up ordering the latter, which came as a closed bun, with very lightly dressed diced pork. Nothing bad about it, but not what I'd hoped for. Having said that, we doubled-down on pork buns as part of the risk mitigation plan.

            I've enjoyed gua bao at Jo Jo Taipei before, though will confess it sometimes falls flat, as does Jo Jo all around on occasion. But when they're on, they've got the sharpest Taiwanese game in town, to my tastes.

            Gua Bao at JoJo Taipei:

            While the XLBs were fine (never met one I truly didn't like), they don't seem to be a particular strength, and I'd probably pass over these on the next visit. I saw lots of folks hunkered down over noodle soups and noodles in general, and about a thousand fried crullers sailed out of the kitchen, so I kinda have an approach in mind for the next go around.

            Lots of good stuff on the menu, would like to hear more from folks as to their favourites.

          3. Tasteeeee. Sounds like the sesame beef bun was a bit off cause it is usually my fav. Glad you liked my local.

            1. Since the "dimsum" (actually special weekend lunch) menu appears to be a rare thing online, I decided to take a picture of it and post it. I have written to the restaurant to offer it for their use on their site also.