It was 12:00pm on a Friday and I had just walked out of the gym. After a grueling workout, I decided to destroy all the progress I made and...

Joe's Shanghai

It was 12:00pm on a Friday and I had just walked out of the gym. After a grueling workout, I decided to destroy all the progress I made and treat myself to a nice dinner. As I road my bike home, I went over the plans for the night. I was going to get a penne vodka pie from the local pizza joint and then proceed to watch every season of Californication. Of course, later that day, my plans would change. While sitting on the beach, a friend of mine asked me the dangerous question, “what’s for dinner tonight?”

Being the indecisive person that I am, I blurted out a couple of choices: Bauhaus or Joe’s Shanghai. After describing both restaurants to my friend, we decided to go to Bauhaus, a Taiwanese sandwich place on the Lower East Side. Bauhaus had recently introduced a new sandwich and I had to try it. Later that day, however, while on our way to pick-up a third accomplice, I had a change of heart. Joe’s Shanghai actually sounded really good. I had read a lot about the place and wanted to check it out.

Joe’s Shanghai is a Chinese restaurant located in Chinatown, and is famous for its soup dumplings (basic dumplings filled with some sort of soupy liquid.) Being that I love dumplings more than my right arm, I tried to convince my friend that we should go there instead. No luck. So after picking-up our friend, we informed her that she would be the tie-breaker on where to go. Luckily, before I could finish saying soup dumplings, all we heard was “mmm soup dumplings.” We were on our way to Joe’s!

A quick zip over the Manhattan bridge and we arrived in Chinatown. Joe’s is located at 9 Pell Street, which I like to call Kung Fu Alley. As we arrived at the front door, there were a few groups of people waiting: some Asians, which is a good sign; some tourists, which is a bad sign; and some hipsters, which means they serve Pabst Blue Ribbon. As we walked in, we were rudely greeted by an Asian girl listening to her iPod. “How many?” she asked, while giving us a dirty look and a carnival ticket with the number 54 on it. Either I had won a teddy bear or that was my number in line. Either way I would be happy. After handing us the ticket, we were told it would be a 30 minute wait.

As we waited in Kung Fu Alley, the pungent smell of garbage truck juice filled the air. Across the street was another Chinese Szechuan restaurant, with a 42 inch TV strategically placed in the window, displaying the various cooking methods for their dishes. Smart move. After waiting an hour, most people (when I say most people, I mean stupid tourists who visit NYC. Actually, tourists aren’t people. They’re more like mutants from the planet Ritard.) say ‘Chinese food is Chinese food, right? Fuck this, let’s go across the street.’ Which is what I hope happens, as it speeds up my waiting time! The girl who gave us the ticket came out and yelled “48, 49, 52, 54.” Yes! 54, right here! I presented her my ticket and she informed us that she just wanted to check if we were still there. Was she serious?! What the hell was going on here? I felt like I was in that episode of Seinfeld where they went for Chinese food and had a problem getting a table.

Our number was eventually called again and we were escorted to a table in the back. I hadn’t eaten in Chinatown since I was 16 years old. My friend and I use to cut school and head down to the neighborhood to buy spray caps for our street art. We both wanted to try the Chinese food in Chinatown, but were weirded out by the communal tables we kept encountering. Remembering this, I was hoping we would get our own table, but of course we did not. As we sat down, three tourists joined us, as well as three Asian girls (one of whom, I might add, had the most incredible cleavage I’ve ever seen on an Asian girl) and one Asian guy, who was eating alone. This freaked me out. I believe people who eat out alone in public are either serial killers or buy irregular underwear on purpose.

I started to scan the menu for the soup dumplings and our waiter came over and shouted something in Chinese. I just shook my head and said “Tsingtao,” which is a Chinese beer. At every other restaurant we go to, we’re asked if we’d like to start with a drink, so I figured it wouldn’t be any different here. And if I was wrong, fuck ‘em. While we waited for our beers, I took a few glances at the girl’s cleavage and hoped I didn’t get the white boy menu. Scallops and prawns caught my eye but, of course, I ended up ordering the eggplant with pork, and my friend suggested we get the chicken and shrimp in plum sauce.

The waiter arrived with our beers, then proceeded to take the Asian girls’ orders and, as I looked on, kept yelling “9, 10, 9, 10.” I didn’t really pay attention as to why he was yelling numbers because we were next up to order and heaven forbid someone else orders for the group. We placed our entrée orders and, again, the waiter started yelling “9, 10, 9, 10.” I’m sitting there like, what the fuck? I looked at the menu and saw that # 9 was pork soup dumplings and # 10 was shrimp soup dumplings. Ah, now it all made sense! I yelled out “give me one of each!” Each order came with nine dumplings, so we figured 18 would be enough for three people.

The décor at Joe’s isn’t anything snazzy; a lot of tables and chairs, no decorations, really. There were a few framed articles about the place and some Asian pictures hung about, I think. I have a terrible memory and I never write anything down. While we waited for our food, I checked out the restaurant’s web page. They had a little how-to video on eating soup dumplings. This came in very handy, as I never had a soup dumpling before. Instead of acting like the stupid white boy and biting right into the dumpling, I know knew the correct technique. First, you pick-up the dumpling with the tongs, place it on your spoon and nibble on the skin to make a small hole. Next, grab your dumpling and, using the hole you made, pour out the soup that’s inside into your bowl. Finally, blow on the inside of the dumpling to cool it off, then eat it, sip the soup, and ta-daa. You’ve mastered the art of eating a soup dumpling.

Our pork dumplings finally made their way to the table. Served in a bamboo steam bowl, and on a bed of lettuce, were eight hand-rolled dumplings. I grabbed the pot closest to us, took two dumplings and went to town. I performed like a finely tuned soup dumpling eating machine. Step by step, I made my way through. I was in dumpling ecstasy. They were perfectly tender, the pork was impeccably cooked, and the skin was thin while slightly chewy. The soup was a simple, plain broth, but had a hearty texture to it.

Finally, our entrées had arrived: a big plate of shrimp and chicken, an array of Chinese vegetables and a plate with a large amaount of baby eggplant, glazed in a sweet sauce with pork. We were given 3 bowls of white rice. I was going to ask for brown rice but I had gotten enough dirty looks from the waiter as it was. I started out with the shrimp and chicken in plum sauce. Eh, what can I say? It was good. Honestly, it reminded me of sesame chicken. Good, but doesn’t really blow you out of the water. As for the eggplant dish, it was soft and tasty but I had a hard time finding the pork.

While eating the eggplant, a pot of shrimp dumplings was placed in front of us. Without a second thought, I quickly grabbed the pot, pushed aside the eggplant and placed three dumplings on my plate. Yeah, that’s right; three out of eight. It’s not my fault they were unevenly distributed. The mixture of chives, pork and shrimp was great! The taste of shrimp stood out but didn’t overpower the pork and chives. I thought the soup would taste a little different because of the shrimp, but it was the same taste and texture as in the pork dumplings.

I was full, sadly. The food was so good, I could have kept eating until the button on my jeans flew off and took out some tourist’s eye. The bill was quickly rushed to us, two orders of dumplings, two entrées, and three beers for $60, and that included an automatic 15% tip. Not bad, considering Joe’s is somewhat of a tourist attraction with all the press it has received over the past 15 years. If you’re looking for good, somewhat authentic Chinese food, check out Joe’s as soon as possible. Just be ready for a long wait time, which, I’m sure you’ll agree is well worth it.