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Monday, January 30, 2012

Celebrating a Higher Year at Bund Shanghai

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 3:30 PM

Nian gao, or stir-fried rice cakes, at Bund Shanghai. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Nian gao, or stir-fried rice cakes, at Bund Shanghai.

​Rice Plate Journal is a yearlong project to canvass Chinatown, block by block, discovering the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price: $10.

It had been a while since I'd eaten at Chinatown's only Shanghai-style restaurant, so I wasn't sure how much of Bund Shanghai's menu would fit into Rice Plate Journal's price range. But, seeing as how it was Chinese New Year, I already knew about one dish I was going to have to order: nian gao, or rice cakes. Rice cakes are everywhere right now, since the name of the dish is a homophone for "higher year." And who wouldn't want a higher year?

Some nian gao are sticky rice cakes, but in Shanghai, they're oval, chewy rice noodles that are often stir-fried or eaten in soup. Bund serves stir-fried nian gao with several different combinations of pork and vegetables.

Sterile and pleasant, the lemon-yellow restaurant is better known for dinner: smoked fish, red-braised carp or pork leg, giant lion's head meatballs, sea bass with salted cabbage. And in fact, it was starkly populated at lunch; the Cantonese-speaking elders who throng the dim sum restaurants and rice-plate points weren't so interested, it seemd, in pork belly with tofu-skin knots or noodle soup with pork and preserved vegetable. Getting a seat at noon was easy. Catching the attention of the waiters was easier. And the xiao long bao we ordered come to the table within just a few minutes.

Bund's xiao long bao, or soup dumplings. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Bund's xiao long bao, or soup dumplings.

The dumpling skins didn't have quite the same improbable thinness of the xiaolongbao at Yank Sing or Wo Hing, but they might be Chinatown's best, pregnant with broth, their tops pinched into a thin, tight ring of dough. I'd lift a dumpling onto my soup spoon, bite off the top, and drizzle in a little of the black vinegar and ginger -- the vinegar's mellow bite kept the melted broth and pork fat that gushed out from tasting too rich.

As for the nian gao, which were stir-fried with shredded pork and pickled mustard greens, well, a little more seasoning would have given their flavor some heft. I gathered the flecks of greens onto each bite, willing their musky, earthy, saline kick to coalesce around the noodles. And even if it wasn't a flavor bomb, this higher year, it was as slippery and chewy as I'd hoped for. Certainly better tasting than a New Year's resolution.

Bund Shanghai: 640 Jackson (at Kearny), 982-0618.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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