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I couldn’t wait to get back to Shwe Mandalay for a second go-round after my first visit. This second visit didn’t go as smoothly – we were the only table in there on a Friday night and service was slow and a bit disjointed. The food is still fabulous, though I’m worried about how little business I’ve seen in Shwe Mandalay. Please, people – get in the doors of Shwe Mandalay. It’s delicious, cheap, and a new realm of flavors for the Cap Region!

Another order of fried squash above. Bu Tee Kyaw $5.
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Southern Shan Sausage, $5. Perfect little beef & pork sausage balls.
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Fried sliced onion, $5. I love the batter at Shwe Mandalay – very light, like a combination of beer batter & tempura. Great for frying. Light and crunchy.
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Side dish of dried salted fish, $7, which I think is mostly an Albany Jane love. I ate most of this dish. They changed the presentation from the first time I had this – instead of flat strips the fish was broken up into more bite-sized or smaller pieces.
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Butter Rice & Chicken Curry, $7. All this for SEVEN DOLLARS! Super rich rice with a hearty chicken curry.
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La Phat Thote. Tea leaf salad, $6.50. This time it was covered in dried shrimp, which was unfortunate because one of the folks in our party had a shellfish allergy. The shrimp itself were tasty – crunchy and not too salty or briny, though the salad didn’t really need it.
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Rice & Tea Leaf Salad $6. This was more of a rice dish than a salad type dish, but tasty all the same.
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Black Curry, $8. Pork curry with black bean paste (this is Chinese-style fermented black beans, not black beans). This was a rich dish, but so good (also came with large plate of rice).
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Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup, $6.00. A light, but filling broth with a lightly boiled egg (the yellow is from the yolk).

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Grab 5 of your friends, and get a table for 6 at Shwe Mandalay. Six is the perfect amount of people to try a significant amount of Shwe Mandalay’s menu without taking up half of the restaurant. Albany John, Daniel, Chopsticks Optional, and 2 other friends made up our table of 6. It’s right on Central Ave next to Taiwan Noodle, and as I remember: “The old Hong Kong Bakery space”.  There’s a small parking lot for a few cars. The service is polite and efficient.

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Bu Tee Kyaw. Fried squash. This had a great shell  – like tempura meets beer batter. Very light and airy, and so crisp.
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Bayar Kyaw – fried lentil balls with onions & curry leaves. I’m pretty sure frying makes everything delicious. I’m not an enjoyer of dal in any form other than fried. This were nice and crispy little nuggets.
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Southern Shan Sausage. Adorable little sausage balls filled with a mix of beef/pork and rice. Served with a whole lot of super hot chili peppers (they’re in the back, there). These were great! A nice texture to them. Kind of like Vietnamese sausages, or boudin.
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Some dishes come with a simple beef soup (free). Nice, light little soup.

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Chicken Biryani, filled with deliciousness. Cinnamons, raisins, cardamom pods, and Burmese chicken curry. This was fantastic.
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Chicken Curry in the back there. We also ordered pork curry. The curries come with sides of veggies and condiments. And massive plates of basmati rice. The curry bases are really enjoyable (not too much turmeric for me). The chicken was mainly white meat, so I’d likely skip it in the future and go for the fattier pork curry.
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Samosa triangles. Tasty triangles. They seasoned a touch lighter than Indian samosas. While potato was a large part of the filling, there was also a nice amount of cabbage (and the lightness the cabbage lent).
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Hey, pork curry and massive plate of basmati rice!
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I think this was the Mom’s taste salad. Oh, those crunchy peanutty bits. So good. Along with everything else in there.
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Now, this dish. this could be a very polarizing dish. This is the dried salted fish dish. Fried, dried salted fish. It’s like salty fish jerky and I love it. If you’re not a fish person or have issues with sodium, then this dish isn’t for you. But if you love fish & salt like I do… well, you are in for a treat!
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Another polarizing dish was the tea leaf salad. This was another one of my favorite dishes, though others at the table didn’t feel as much love for this salad as I did. It didn’t taste like you were eating raw/crunchy tea leaves. They had a texture that went well with a salad, kind of like blanched kale.
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Pe’ Paratha. A flaky coconutty-tasting paratha with a very large bowl of vatana puree. Holy flakiness, in that paratha.
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Mandalay Myee-Shay salad. Fat rice noodles with pork/chicken, pickled mustard leaves, and bean sprouts.
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This was a soupier noodle dish, which I’m blanking on right now. Thick noodles with some pork, greens, beans, and carb-y sliced bits on top. Nice, but we got these at the end of our eating spree, so they probably didn’t get the full appreciation from our table that they deserved.
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Dinner for 6 for $85 before tip! Can’t beat that!

So this was my first time eating Burmese food, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s a delicious combination of a lot of aspects of subtle Indian & Chinese flavors. I can’t wait to go back and try some of their other dishes, like the paratha salad.

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Want fresh handmade dumplings? Northeast Dumpling House is your bet for freshly made squidgy dumplings. I think they still have some kinks to work out, but overall they’re a nice new addition to the Chinese food scene in Albany. Here are my experiences on two recent visits:

First visit:

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Woodear and cucumber on the left (aka cucumber & black fungus $5.99) and boiled dumplings on the right.

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I went with about 6 other people on this first trip – you want to bring a large group when you go to Northeast Dumpling House because there are 15 dumplings to each order. It’s kind of a crazy-large amount and it’s kind of weird that there isn’t a smaller amount available. Boiled dumplings are $7.99-8.99 and fried are $8.99-$9.99 per order. There’s beef, pork, and lamb options, and they are all pretty solid. I think my favorite so far are the pork and chive boiled dumplings.

 

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We got an order of the spiced potato and special pancakes on Jeff’s recommendation from All Over Albany’s Eat This article. They didn’t ask us how we wanted the potatoes done (hot or cold) and they came out hot. Eh, they were okay, but they tasted pretty bland to me, even with the occasional pepper slice in there to jazz things up.

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BAOS. BAOS. Get the baos when you go here. We got several orders (2 per order, $2.99) of beef baos and lamb baos. These buns were nice and squidgy (squidgy is very good when it comes to baos and dumplings), tender, fluffy soft baos, and there was a bit of juice inside each bao. They also weren’t stingy with the meat inside! I hate it when you get a big bao, and you’re all like “YEAH, bao!” and then it winds up being 90% bun with a dollop of meat inside.

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You also really, REALLY want to get the Spicy Sauce & Squid ($6.99). Most of their side dish items are cold, and this is no exception. Hot pepper slices, chili oil, chili flakes, and perfectly cooked squid.

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The fried beef dumplings were some of my favorite fried dumplings. I think the meat in the dumplings is a little smooth for my liking, but this is just my personal preference. I generally prefer coarse grinds of meat.

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2nd Visit:

Daniel B. came up for a weekend away from New Jersey and had Northeast Dumpling House on his list. Albany John, Jon in Albany, Chef Brian Bowden and his gal, and another pair of friends joined us on a Saturday night for a festival of eating.

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Daniel wanted to try the spicy potato & special pancake. I passed since it wasn’t my jam the first time around. The pancakes are cool, but I’m just not down with the potato.

We also got to try the pork & pickled veggie soup. That was really rockin’ soup, and I’m willing to bet the noodles are hand made since they’re making the dumplings to order. They were tender, but still had that delicate chew fresh noodles get. The broth was also solidly porky and balanced, although a jab of sriracha didn’t hurt.


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Cucumber & dried tofu ($5.99). This was sheet bean curd, and I think this should be easy to recreate at home. Basically just tofu sheet, cucumber, carrots, chili flakes, and a dash of chili oil and vinegar. Pretty refreshing to me, but meh to others.

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The beef omasum ($6.99) was another awesome dish from their cold side dishes menu. The tripe was very well prepared  with just enough heat to make it interesting (I wouldn’t really call it spicy. Yes, there was a little heat occasionally, but nothing that had me reaching for the tea). The texture was both tender and chewy, if that makes any sense. Sometimes tripe can be chewy almost to the point of being like chewing gum, but this was not like that. This had something more of a tendon amount of chew to it.

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The fry job on the dumplings was pretty heavy this time, lots of slick oil on the plates. We pretty much ordered one of each dumpling this time.

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More spicy squid!

Another new thing we tried was the shrimp and egg boiled dumpling, which I enjoyed. The egg was pretty muted, it was more like a shrimp and veggie dumpling.

NE Dumps (my nickname for them) is still in the “new” phase. Both times I went in they were pretty dead. Which is kind of crazy for a weekend.

Here’s some areas for improvement:
Customer service – both times we had to flag down the waiter to order, then to get the checks. Tea refill on the first visit was inattentive on the first visit, and nonexistent on the 2nd visit, even though I did the “move the lid” trick to signal that we were empty. This slowness in service is also mind boggling to me, because Chinese service is usually quick, quick, quick. The dishes came out quickly once we ordered, this seems to just be a FOH issue. I’m guessing they are new to owning a restaurant and still learning the ropes as service was a little better on the 2nd visit.

Some specials listed only in Chinese. I am a “bad Chinese” and can’t read most characters, so like many of their other non-Chinese customers, I have no idea what the specials are on the board.
Consistency. The fried dumplings on the first visit were much less greasy than on the 2nd visit. The baos on the 2nd visit weren’t quite as tender as the first visit, and there was no soupy goodness inside.

Dumpling orders in quantities of 15. Orders of 8-10 would be easier for smaller groups of people to try more variety. The “Bull Paddywack” aka beef tendon is already crossed off the menu.

Cool Stuff they have going on :
BYOB

No huge rush, which is different from the “turn-n-burn” style most other Chinese restaurants have, so you’ll be fine to linger at the moment.

Some really delicious dishes on the “Side Dishes” menu that aren’t on any other menu in the Captial Region. I’ve never been much of a tripe fan, but NE Dump’s take on tripe (omasum) will bring me back here to try it out.

Cheap. If you go with a group, you can order most of the menu and still walk out for under $20 per person with tip.

Hand made to order dumplings!

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Want to know a great place to go out for a meal with a group without breaking your budget? Parivar! Parivar the grocery store on Central Ave also has a kitchen/cafe in the back where you can order a bunch of Indian dishes made to order.

I went with a bunch of folks, and not only was it a breeze to order, but they even will break up the bill however you want and accept credit cards. It’s counter service, so no need to worry about tipping, and you pay at the register for the grocery store.

I got a pista falooda ($4.99) to enjoy with my dinner – it’s like dessert in a cup, or an Indian version of a milkshake. So good. It’s a rich milky drink with sweet noodles and nuts. So thick, and a great complement to the food.

Pictured above is Pani Puri ($3.99) which are super awesome and fun to eat if you’ve never had them – They’re crisp round shells that are stuffed with awesomeness and slathered in a mint sauce with tamarind sauce on the bottom of the plate. They are one-bite affairs and best eaten quickly.

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Next up was a fried bread dish. Fried bread stuffed with things, then fried, and mint and tamarind sauces for dipping!

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Closer shot

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DOSA TIME! $7 for a massive masala dosa, and the entire crepe was wonderfully crisp and tender. It’s filled with potatoes and served with masala sambar (the big cup on the right – seriously, so much sambar), and mint and ginger chutneys on the left. The ginger chutney was no shrinking daisy – that was SUPER hot. Woah.

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Onion Uttapam ($5.99, which reminded me of scallion pancakes, but way more tender because they are made of rice flour batter.

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And then we got a paneer paratha. Oh, so good (but really, what doesn’t paneer go with?).

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And then we tried Indian Chinese! Gobi Manchurian. It was like an Indian take on General Tso’s, haha! This was SUPER salty, which is saying a lot since I love salt. But I liked the crisp texture of the cauliflower, and how it wasn’t too cloying. This was a fun dish to try that I’ve only heard about and not seen in any restaurants locally. At dinner, one of our friends said that this is the only place to come for Indian home-style cooking, and most of the sit-down restaurants in the area are a more formal/heavy/banquet type restaurant.

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We ended dinner on a bit of a dud with gulab jamun. They tasted more like fried dough balls in syrup than milky gulab jamun. Could just be their recipe, but I’ll skip this in the future in favor of more savory dishes.

Our group wound up paying about $14 per person for all of this food. It was awesome to try so many dishes, and all of them were vegetarian. Man, this is vegetarian food done right – so much flavor and seasoning and awesome cooking that it enhances the veggies (and if you’re a carinvore like me, you don’t miss the meat one bit). Great for kids, great for groups, great flavors, great for the celiac/gf friends in your life – grab some friends and get over to Parivar!

P1030032I usually suck at making bread pudding. But for some reason I lucked out with this iteration. Something like 2 cups of milk, 3 eggs, splash of vanilla extract and about 1/2 c of sugar all whisked together. Then toss in some unsweetened shredded coconut, and pour all over your cubed bread.

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I let them all sit together overnight, then popped it in the oven until it all set. About 350F for something like 30 minutes (covered).

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I think the overnight soak is what helped nail this. It gave the bread enough time to absorb all of the liquid. Also, use a lot of liquid. I think in the past I’ve been skimpy with the liquid, which resulted in not-really-bread-pudding crunchy results.

The loaf I used was a green tea swirled tea cake. It was okay as it was, but better as bread pudding.

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Go to Phoenicians Restaurant with a group. Seriously. 8 people and you’ve got yourself set up for quite the meal. Of course, it also helps if the main meal organizer is a charismatic and the owner loves him right off the bat.

Luscious labneh on the left, and creamy hummus on the right. Both topped with olive oil and paprika. I like how thick the labneh is – it’s kind of like a hung curd yogurt, but it’s less tart while still being light.

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Here’s where our group got adventurous – Kebbeh Nayeh. Raw beef tenderloin with some bulgur and onions, topped with olive oil. These plates were massive – larger than a forearm. And note I said plates – we got served two of these gigantic platters for 8 people for $29.99. We made some good progress, but wow, if we had known we were getting so much, I would have just skipped ordering an entree.

Texture-wise, it’s smooth. Flavor-wise, it’s actually quite mild. This might be due to it being filet mignon, which is pretty flavor-lite when compared to other cuts of the cow. It’s quite different from beef tartare, which is the only other ground/minced raw beef dish I have to compare this to.

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One of our group of 8 was a vegetarian, so the plates of raw meat were off the menu for him. When the owner heard that there was a vegetarian at the table, he brought out vegetarian cheese made from coconut milk. It was topped with zatar and olive oil. The coconut made it just a bit sweet, kind of like a dryer and less tart cream cheese.

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I tried an order of fatayer ($4.99), which are baked spinach pies. The pastry was more bread-like and a bit tough than a flaky pie crust. Spinach filling was good, though. This was great slathered in labneh, or paired with some of the raw kibbeh.

And then evidently I entered a photo coma and forgot to take a picture of my lamb shawarma ($7.99) with cous cous. Which I managed to eat about 3/4 of because of all of the raw kibbeh nayeh I had eaten. I swear I had at least 1/4 of that plate of raw beef.

Any way, the shawarma was good – tender lamb slices wrapped in a pita with some veggies and just a few dabs of garlic sauce. Yum.

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And then it was dessert time. They already had the crepe cooking for us – it was a special of the day, filled with bananas and hazelnut. Cute presentation. I’m not a huge banana dessert fan, so I just tried a nibble.

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Oh, and then there was the coffee, which was much less bitter than Turkish coffee, but boy is it ever full of caffeine. I had about 1/3 of a small cup, and I was up until about 2 am (but that was a productive housework night).

Word of warning – if the owner likes you, you are gonna get fed to death. I’m not even sure what we were charged for or not charged for because we ordered so much food and the bill just comes out as a bunch of line item charges without detailing what they’re for. But we all got out of there for under $40 for all of the food we ate.

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Creme brulee for me. Not bad, pretty decent brulee and a rich custard underneath that was just barely warm (yum).

We also ordered a rice pudding, and haleweh (aka halva). So many sweet delights.

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And here is a sure sign of my sugar high – this blurry photo of mhallabiyeh. Mhallabiyeh is a milk pudding layered with pomegranate syrup, rose syrup, pistachios, roasted coconut, and honey. That rose adds just the right amount of lightness, and the pomegranate, and the…. oh, just order this. It’s rich, sweet, and such a great way to end your meal.

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Husbear and I just closed on a house, and the only way I could think of celebrating was enjoying a meal at Ala Shanghai the very night we closed. Seafood Siu Mai (shrimp & scallops $6). A little spongy, but nice bits of scallops in the mix.

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Albany John got the spiciest dish he’s tried yet at Ala Shanghai – M14 Sliced Pork in Spicy Broth ($14). Slices of pork and napa cabbage on top of vermicelli noodles, swimming in a flavorful and very spicy broth. I could only manage a few bites! I like the flavor, but I could only tolerate a little bit!

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It’s such a gigantic bowl, we were relieved that there was a pile of vermicelli noodles underneath. They were also great for sopping up the spicy broth.

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Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli, $11) for a veggie. This was amazing! So fresh and gently cooked. If you are craving something green, this is the dish to get. The stalks are my favorite part, and these were cooked perfectly for me: lightly cooked through so they still retained a bit of a crunch, but were also just a little bit of fresh sweetness. This is the way I wish I could cook them at home.The flavor was pure gai lan and garlic, nothing else. Simplicity. Perfect veggies.

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I thought a whole fish would be a good dish to get to celebrate this big, new step in our lives. One steamed whole flounder ($24) with ginger, scallions, and light soy sauce It came out whole.

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…And the bones were removed table-side with lightning speed. This both fillets the fish efficiently, maximizing the amount of fish available, while leaving the whole fish intact.

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The flounder was soft, tender, and cooked just enough. It had a clean salinity to it, which was complemented by the light soy sauce. I want to stress that this was a light soy sauce, and not too salty or overpowering for this delightfully delicate fish. The meat was downright buttery, especially with some of the soy sauce.

And don’t forget to nibble on the tail, head, and all of the fins! There is tons of flavor in those sections, you just have to spit out some small bones. Trust me, it’s worth it.

So that was the first night we bought the house. For me it was a nice, hearty yet healthy celebration dinner. I mean, I had mostly the dumplings, flounder, and veggies.

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A few days later, my home repair instructor (Dad) came up to teach me some new skills. He’s pretty cheap as far as a teacher and plumber go – meals and a lodging. He even bought me a few tools. The night he came up we went to Ala Shanghai again for a quick dinner when he heard how close our new house is to Ala Shanghai. Yes, Albany John and I are now Living La Vida Latham. Spicy 8 Jewels as a freebie appetizer.

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Crab Xiao Long Bao ($8). Very soupy, and very thin skins. Joe’s Shanghai – eat your heart out.

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My dad has enjoyed all of Ala Shanghai’s dishes, but he has an especially fond place in his heart for their soups. He got the smoked fish soup ($8), which serves up a really hearty portion of smoked, bony fish. The smoked fish is quite the Shanghaiese dish. It’s very smoky and sweet for Cantonese palates, which are used to… some may say “blander”, but I will say “simpler” flavors, hee hee. Dad wasn’t a fan of all of the bones in the fish, and thought it was a lot of flavors going on. But those noodles and that soup broth – just perfect.

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Bok choy for dad’s veggie choice of the night! Again, like the gai lan above, just perfectly cooked. Little bit of crunch, little bit of fresh sweetness, and very refreshing.

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