Shanghai Restaurant

If the name sounds familiar, it's because the Yim family helped introduce Austin to dim sum at the original location way back when

Shanghai Restaurant
Photo by John Anderson

Shanghai Restaurant

6718 Middle Fiskville, 458-8088
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-12mid
Dim sum carts: Saturday and Sunday, 11am-3pm

Shanghai Restaurant is our new favorite for dim sum in town. If the name sounds familiar, it's because the Yim family helped introduce Austin to dim sum at the original Shanghai (1980-'96, at the corner of Koenig and Guadalupe) and at Marco Polo before they sold it five years ago. This space is long and bright, with windows lining the west side, warm exposed wood all around, and a few select secluded tables.

Service is refreshingly astute: glasses refilled promptly, empty plates whisked away unobtrusively, servers making eye contact but not hovering, owners on-site and supervising floor and kitchen. There is a steady stream of fresh and varied carts during the dim sum service, and the servers know their stuff.

Cart service happens Saturday and Sunday only, 11am to 3pm. On weekdays from 11am to 2:30pm there is a 43-item dim sum menu from which to order. The regular menu has limited items that can be considered dim sum, as well, but let's face it: It's traditionally a brunch/lunch thing.

For dim sum, we tried a dozen items from the carts one Sunday and were very satisfied, with the tab for 12 dishes and iced tea at $35 -- a little less than $3 per dish on average. The portions are huge, the dishes carefully crafted, and the ingredients impeccably fresh. Depending on what's ordered, there can be anywhere between two and four pieces per item. You definitely get your money's worth.

Here's the rundown on the dim sum Sunday feast. Bean-curd skin rolls: a nutty, chewy wrapper of reconstituted dried tofu skin with a filling of well-seasoned minced (not ground) pork. Rice-cake balls with pork: medium-thick, golden-brown rice exterior and a moist, chunky pork interior. Shrimp-stuffed jalapeños: large unbattered chiles stuffed with shrimp paste. Beef ribs: thin slices cut across the rib bones with lots of clinging gelatinous meat, braised in a soy-based sauce. Shau mai: minced pork and shrimp filling encased in a homemade rice-pastry wrapper and then steamed.

Shrimp and leek dumplings: filled with sweet chunks of shrimp and chopped leek in a delicate steamed wrapper. Shrimp roll in rice pasta: sheets of fresh rice pasta forming a rectangular packet filled with small shrimp. Fried pork belly with ginger-scallion sauce: strips of belly with an exterior skin like a chicharrón, a thin layer of juicy fat, then a layer of lean meat, served with a clear sauce. Braised baby squid: tiny whole squid braised in a brown sauce long enough to be meltingly tender. Chinese broccoli: a carefully stacked block of 6-inch-long stems of Chinese broccoli braised in a nicely balanced, slightly sweet brown sauce. From the dessert cart we chose baked buns with sweet pork: perfectly textured pastry enclosing a sweet filling of pork chunks. A major disappointment was that the soft tofu in warm ginger syrup was sold out by the time we were ready for it. Everything was first-rate and delicious; all wrappers were house-made and had a perfect texture: not too thick, not too thin.

From the menu on a previous visit we had the pan-fried dumplings ($5.75): six huge dumplings that are nicely browned on the bottom, steamed on the top, and stuffed with minced pork, scallion, and cabbage in a medium-thick pastry. These are some of the best in town. Pan-fried turnip cakes (four for $2.10) are rectangles of a wonderful, quasi-gelatinous cake made of turnip and rice flour, dotted with chunks of pork and scallion. The cake is soft on the inside, crispy and browned on the outside.

Crabmeat and fish-maw soup ($5.95/$8.95) was a delight: a rich, thickened stock with lots of sweet crab, toothsome fish maw (dried and reconstituted air bladder of certain species), wispy egg-white strands, and the gentle bite of white pepper. Their ma-po dofu ($7.95, soft tofu with pork) came close to our high standards and was delicious but would have been better with more spicy Sichuan chile bean paste and more Sichuan peppercorn. The salt-and-pepper scallops ($12.95) were covered with a thin, crispy, well-seasoned batter and topped with a slightly salty sauce of minced chiles and scallion -- a nice foil to the plump, sweet scallops.

The 168-item menu contains enough to satisfy any desires, from the basic white-bread dishes seen on pretty much every Chinese restaurant in America to some of the more exotic Cantonese offerings that tickle the fancy of the adventurous gourmand. If you want it spicy, they can modify to suit, or you can use a few dabs of their incendiary hot chile oil. There are also 18 lunch standards ($5.55 to $5.95, served with soup, egg roll, and rice).

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