Perfect for: A quick lunch with a friend, but why not go elsewhere in Chinatown?
Price range: $ Cheap
My rating: 5/10
Food: 4/10 Service: 7/10 Ambience: 5/10
It's very rare to find a Chinese joint that has better service than food. You'd bet that it's definitely a fairly inauthentic Chinese restaurant if that's the case (ahem, Chinese fusion restaurants, I'm looking at you). After all the things I heard about the soup dumplings / xiao long bao at Joe's Shanghai, was disappointed to find that this is exactly a restaurant that offers better service than food.
I consider myself well-versed in the soup dumpling world, having not only consumed hundreds of dollars worth when I lived near the Chinatown area of Sydney, more specifically, I was within 5 walking minutes of a Ding Tai Fung. Joe's Shanghai's xiao long baos do not compare, not even close.
I ordered one set (8) of the crab and pork xiao long bao - highly hyped, surely can't go wrong. Soon after my order, the waiter diligently brought out the tea pot and the vinegar & soy dipping sauce (this is excellent service for a Chinese restaurant). And my tray of soup dumplings came out within five minutes of that.
The recount of the story, soup dumpling by soup dumpling:
1. My first dumpling was disappointing to say the least. The dough was too tough and thick, the soup had far too much gelatin in it, and the flavour of the filling was overwhelmingly shrimpy - not even the crab and pork flavour I was expecting.
2. The second dumpling got worse. At this point, the soup in the dumpling was now overpowering and tasted like I was slurping liquid fat, and not even the good kind.
3-4. The third and fourth dumplings were only memories of me trying to drown the dumplings in the vinegar & soy concoction.
5-6. The fifth and six dumplings are what I would call "the point of no return" where I felt committed to finishing these bad boys (bad, being the keyword here). I don't even know why I was so committed.
7-8. The seventh and eighth dumplings: when I saw the light. I gave up. This completely wasn't worth it. There are far better calories to be consumed elsewhere in Chinatown (which is exactly what I did).
All eight torturous soup dumplings came to $10 including tax and tip. You know what I can get for $10 in Chinatown? A lot of good Chinese food, that is not from Joe's Shanghai. You can get a duck sesame pancake from Vanessa's ($2.50), 8 pork and chive fried dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling ($2), a plate of steaming peanut sauce noodles from Shu Jiao Fu Zhou ($2), a takeaway container of steamed ho fun from a hole in the wall joint on Henry and Market ($1.75), and a piece of freshly made beef jerky from Malaysia Beef Jerky ($1) and you still have $0.75 for a rainy day. That's what I call a proper Chinatown experience.
My key learning from this experience: don't buy into the hype - it's not worth the dollars and the calories.