A Touch of Class & Authenticity at Yao Fuzi

7 Sep

I went to Yao FuZi in Plano with the sole intention of comparing their xiaolongbao (better known as soup dumplings to the populace of NYC and San Fran Chinatowns) to those at Shanghai Restaurant and Jeng Chi.  To my current knowledge, these are the only three restaurants in the DFW area that serve these delightful little Shanghai dumplings. 

Xiaolongbao, though extremely popular in NYC thanks to Joe’s Shanghai, are still a rarity in Texas.  It’s a tragedy because those who have sampled good xiaolongbao (often while living in or traveling to Shanghai or Taiwan) will find them addictive.  The bite-sized dumplings have a thin, steamed, unleavened outer skin that hold in the meat filling (most often ground pork, sometimes pork with crab) and the savory broth.  The proper way to consume xiaolongbao involves picking one out of the steamer with chopsticks, careful not to break the skin so the broth doesn’t leak (once the broth has leaked, a xiaolongbao is just like any other dumpling, an ordinary dry dumpling, and that’s just no fun), placing the dumpling on a Chinese soup spoon, adorning the dumpling with a few drops of the ginger vinegar sauce, and carefully taking a small bite (not big enough to actually get to the meat filling) into one side of the dumpling to allow the hot broth to run into your mouth.  This is the origin of the addiction, the delight of hot savory soup squirting out of the dumpling with just a hint of sour from the ginger vinegar.  The rest is simply a bite of steamed ground meat dumpling.  But the extremely brief sensation of the hot soup is enough to cause a cult-like following of this little dumpling.  Just Google “xiaolongbao” and witness the passionate confessions of love and obsession.

Having a Shanghai-native dad is definitely why I’m obsessed with xiaolongbao.  It was, in my childhood, my favorite food.  It was one of the only dishes my dad could not replicate at home.  He could whip up plate after plate of down-home regional dishes or haute Chinese cuisine, but could never compare to the Shanghai street vendors when it came to xiaolongbao making skills.  The infrequency of consumption only furthered the addiction.  A trip to Shanghai only translates to one thing in my culinary world: xiaolongbao for breakfast every day.

Ok, enough with the borderline psychotic professing of love.  Back to Yao FuZi.  Having no prior knowledge of the restaurant and a simple desire to sample the soup dumplings, I met up with my better half for lunch at this west Plano spot on a weekday. 

I was surprised when I walked into this elegant restaurant whose exterior is generic and plain, especially given its strip mall location.  Inside, old time wooden Chinese tables and chairs are arranged in a deep red dining room with glass screens to enhance the privacy for each table.  I spotted two other tables during this weekday lunch, who were all ordering from the lunch specials.  Attractive presentations of the typical Chinese lunch combos scattered across the tables.

Yao FuZi offers three menus: a lunch menu, a dinner menu in English, and a dinner menu in Chinese.  The lunch menu, predictably, lists your usual rice plate combination deals with soup and eggroll.  Nothing special there.  I asked the waiter to recommend a couple of dishes off of the Chinese dinner menu, and he pointed me to a few items on the English dinner menu.  Not all, but most of the items on the Chinese dinner menu were indeed on the English dinner menu.  I perused and became confused.  I saw dishes like ma po tofu (Sichuanese) and chow fun (Cantonese) along with an array of Shanghai specialties.  “Where is the chef from?” I inquired.  The answer, as I had suspected from the considerable list of seafood dishes, was Shanghai.  So naturally, we had Shanghainese dishes for lunch.

First up, an appetizer steamer of xiaolongbao ($6)

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As you can see from the sallow look of the steamed dough, these were not the juiciest soup dumplings.  At $6 for the steamer, these were higher priced than the ones at Shanghai Restaurant and Jeng Chi, so I was disappointed to see that the merely average xiaolongbao at Shanghai Restaurant still rank supreme in Dallas.  One positive aspect of these xiaolongbao was that the broth had excellent flavor, not too oily/rich and not too bland (the ones at Jeng Chi suffer from bland broth syndrome).  But, as my partner complained and I agreed to, a plump juicy xiaolongbao is what makes it so much more fun to eat than a regular dumpling. 

We split an entree of Braised Pork ($17) and steamed rice.

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Naming this dish “Braised Pork” is misleading.  The common Mandarin name for this dish in Shanghai is “hong shao rou”, or literally, red cooked meat.  In most cases, the meat refers to pork belly, as was the case here.  Red cooking, or hong shao, is a technique frequently used in Shanghainese cuisine.  The name comes from the color of the soy sauce/crystallized sugar combination in which the meat is slow cooked.  Yao FuZi’s version of hong shao rou was actually one of the best I’ve had in my life (sorry, dad), with a subtly sweet sauce that’s just thick enough to be a gorgeous tasty glaze.  It’s a fatty dish, but with pork belly making a come back in haute cuisine (as I’ve had it at both Abacus and the now closed Luqa in the past few months), I think this is a dish that has a lot of popular potential, even in Dallas.  The pork belly was balanced by the baby bok choy on the plate, providing a bit of crunchiness and bitterness to contrast with the very rich and tender meat dish.

Yao FuZi’s excellent rendition of hong shao rou intrigues me to come back and explore other Shanghai specialties on the menu.  I’ll probably pass on the xiaolongbao, though, unless they change up that recipe.  Yao FuZi is a bit more expensive than the other Chinese restaurants in town, but it also offers a better atmosphere.  Just check out the beautiful stemware and dinnerware presented to us at lunch.

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The only other Chinese restaurant (and no, P.F. Chang’s doesn’t count as real Chinese food) in the DFW area that is on par with Yao FuZi as far as atomsphere goes is New San Dor, but that’s Cantonese, not Shanghainese.

Service was impeccable on this visit.  I also appreciated that the waitstaff spoke fluent English so there were no communication problems.

If you’re interested in exploring Shanghai cuisine, Yao Fuzi is an excellent place to start.  With a full service bar and non-disposable chopsticks, it’s the kind of place that even your “scared of hole in the wall, shabby chic, mom and pop joints” friends can appreciate. 

Rating: 4 / 5

Yao FuZi
4757 Park Blvd (across the parking lot from Studio Movie Grill)
Plano, TX 75093

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14 Responses to “A Touch of Class & Authenticity at Yao Fuzi”

  1. Kelly 09/09/2007 at 12:33 pm #

    I’m dying to get my hands on some xlb. I’ve never had them, but I really need to get to Jeng Chi. Thanks so much for your reviews!

    Kelly
    (QueenB)

  2. Ben Jacobs-Swearingen 09/14/2007 at 4:20 pm #

    Yep, I remember both times I was in Shanghai I ended up having xlb and xian2dou4jiang1 for breakfast every morning. It was just some random chain joint but the xlb were still fantastic…

    Next time you’re in New York you should try the xlb at Qiao2Jia1Shan1 / Shanghai Cafe in the Manhattan Chinatown (100 Mott St., if I remember correctly). The xlb are SUPERB, the best I’ve had outside of Shanghai, the other dishes are great, and the atmosphere is uber-cool while staying authentically gritty. Comes close to being the One True Chinese Restaurant, at least for non-Sichuan/Hunan stuff…

  3. donnaaries 10/25/2007 at 8:53 am #

    Bill Addison gives Yao Fuzi a 4-star rating in the latest DMN review: http://www.guidelive.com/portal/page?_pageid=33,97400&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&item_id=60863

    Glad to see that this little gem will be getting more business.

  4. luniz 10/25/2007 at 12:28 pm #

    how do I pronounce xiaolongbao

  5. donnaaries 10/25/2007 at 1:38 pm #

    xiao – pronounced like shee-ow, means “small”
    long – pronounced like loon, means “steamer”
    bao – pronounced as ba-ow, means “buns”
    so literally, small steamer buns.
    You can get a lesson in person at any future Chowhound gathering 🙂

    As a follow up:
    I was recently corrected that the “long” in “xiaolongbao” means “dragon” and not “steamer” (the two characters are phonetically identical in Mandarin) Ah yes, little dragon buns do sound more elegant than little steamer buns. Although my translation makes perfect sense!

  6. donnaaries 11/23/2007 at 11:55 pm #

    Went back to Yao Fuzi for lunch today and was told they no longer carry the Chinese menu, just the regular menu and a daily specials menu. With the exception of the edamame appetizer being WAY oversalted, the remaining dishes were generally good. Soy sauce braised duck dish was a little fattier than I prefer and oddly paired with fried slices of crinkle cut potatoes. Favorite dish at lunch was the black pepper beef, which had a pungent, penetrating freshly ground pepper flavor. Chicken yaki udon was a solid rendition and the spare ribs appetizer were a good texture (crispy edges, mostly tender meat) but could have been marinated a little longer to allow the five spice flavor to penetrate beneath the surface. Service was still impeccable. In short, avoid the edamame and everything else seems fine.

  7. donnaaries 12/14/2007 at 8:09 am #

    Had the pleasure of dining in Yao Fuzi’s lovely semi-private dining area with some fellow Chowhounds last night. Started off with traditional Shanghai cold dishes as appetizers, including the drunken chicken, soy roasted beef slices, kaofu (a porous flour puff with bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, and wood ear), and “jellyfish” (a clear seaweed in marinade with radish cubes). I’ve never been a huge fan of drunken chicken but thought Yao Fuzi’s version had a nice light taste on the skin, the soy roasted beef slices were oddly hard (Dad, yours are a gazillion times better), the kaofu had not been soaked long enough (it was hard and chewey) but should be fluffly and soft (Jeng Chi sells pretty good kaofu in their deli/bakery section), but the “jellyfish” dish was right on with the right intensity of marinade. Everyone also sampled the xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), which were consistent with the ones I had on my first visit (pictured in the original review). One of mine had leaked in the steaming. Oh, sadness. Mourn the loss of the juiciness.

    For the main dishes, we tried some traditional Shanghai dishes as well as some not so traditional items. The run down:

    Shanghai style shrimp in lobster sauce and scallions – shrimp so delicate and soft that you can eat the shell. The sauce was amazing.

    Rice cake with napa cabbage and pork: Nian gao, which literally translates to Yearly Cake (or Annual Cake?) is a traditional food eaten during a Chinese New Year’s celebration. It’s densely compacted rice flour sliced into thin slices with a sticky texture. Yao Fuzi’s version was heavy on white pepper but very tasty.

    Crispy duck: Nice and moist deep fried duck, yummy. Batter could’ve used a touch more seasoning.

    The red cooked pork discussed in the original review was also consistently fantastic this evening, and turned out to be many of the group’s favorite dish of the night.

    What surprised me the most is how well Yao Fuzi also does other Chinese regional dishes. In the case during this dinner, Sichuanese. Native Shanghainese people are famous for their intolerance of spicy food, so I thought the Sichuanese dishes here would lack heat. Not so! Both the ma po tofu and the water boiled fish were just as spicy if not spicier than renditions at Sichuanese restaurants in town. Another glass of water, please! For more information about the spicy and numbing nature of “ma po” or the water boil preparation, refer to this review of Sichuanese Cuisine.

    We also ordered Lamb with Scallions, which I had doubts about as lamb is consumed in very limited quantities in China, typically only in the western provinces. But the slices were tender and didn’t have an overwhelming “lamb-y” taste. Very enjoyable!

    For dessert, we had “alcohol soaked rice,” sweet rice soaked in rice wine with sugar and then diluted. Yao Fuzi’s version had a lot of excess ingredients not typical to this dish (tapioca and egg drop) which I found greatly detracted from the dish’s intent. Plus the alcohol was extremely diluted to the point where you can barely taste it. Another item we tried for dessert was “8 Jewel Rice,” ba bao fan, a traditional Chinese New Year’s dessert that is suppose to be sticky rice steamed with red bean paste studded with at least 8 different kinds of dried fruits and/or nuts (hence, 8-jewel). The Chinese fruit cake, so to speak (and in my opinion, tastier than fruit cake). Yao Fuzi’s version consisted solely of rice and the red bean paste, no jewels to be found.

    Overall a mighty impressive meal, another confirmation that this is a top notch dining destination. Maybe skip the desserts next time though.

  8. kuidaore 12/14/2007 at 10:28 am #

    I didn’t know the shrimp was in lobster sauce. The shell was so soft that I ate the whole thing including the head and shell.

    I (as well as other chowhounds on our end of the table) loved the soy roasted beef slices (I liked them hard.) Is your dad’s version even better?! So kaofu wasn’t fried tofu???

    I noticed Nian Gao was a little spicy. The ma po tofu and water boiled fish was so hot that I couldn’t eat. Did our host order the dishes to be spicier than normal???

    I didn’t taste alcohol in “alcohol soaked rice” at all–I’m very sensitive to alcohol since I’m a non-drinker.

  9. donnaaries 12/14/2007 at 10:57 am #

    kuidaore,

    The soy roasted beef is cooked in a high pressure cooker, so it is usually tender. Now, at home we do use a different cut of beef than at restaurants because my mom doesn’t like tendons and such, so the texture of my dad’s soy roasted beef is different, but even restaurant versions of this dish in Shanghai is usually tender, not hard.

    Kaofu is not a soy product, it is wheat-gluten. For a detailed description and a method for cooking the dried then reconstituted kind, try this recipe.

    Do you think the spiciness in the Nian Gao came from the heavy dose of white pepper? I didn’t taste any chili-pepper kind of spice in the Nian Gao, but then again, I am not as sensitive to spicy food since I eat a lot of it.

    I am not sure if the host ordered the Sichuan dishes more spicy than normal. From experience, Sichuan dishes are intensely fiery with theme “spicier is better.” Though tasty, you really have to love spicy food to love Sichuan cuisine.

    Agree with your last comment about the “alcohol soaked rice.” I could only get a hint of the rice wine taste if I scooped up only the bottom pieces (with the bits of rice).

  10. luniz 12/14/2007 at 11:27 am #

    I noticed the rice wine like you said only at the bottom of the bowl. And I also think you’re right about the heat in the Nian Gao coming from white pepper rather than chili which was abundant in the tofu and water boiled fish. I thought the crispy duck was absolutely perfect, I like that the breading wasn’t strongly flavored so that all it really provided was a textural contrast to the delicious, delicious duck inside. Also when I ate the duck I added that little bit of tangerine or whatever to my bite – perfect. Wood ear mushrooms sure do taste better than they sound 🙂

  11. kuidaore 12/14/2007 at 6:56 pm #

    When I go back to Yao Fuzi, I’m going to ask white pepper not to be used on my Nian Gao 🙂

    And how do you make the lamb taste like beef?

    I do NOT like Sichuan at all. I stay away from Sichuan restaurants. I like (non-spicy) Hunan dishes, though, and if we could have a Hunan version of Yao Fuzi in Dallas, I could live in Dallas a little longer 🙂

  12. donnaaries 12/15/2007 at 12:37 am #

    “And how do you make the lamb taste like beef?”

    I wish I knew the answer to that question. I have absolutely zero experience with stir frying lamb.

  13. kuidaore 12/16/2007 at 3:05 pm #

    My Chinese friend who grew up in Pakistan says the lamb in Pakistan does not smell at all and is also very tender, very different from the kind of lamb you get here or in China. She says it’s the meat itself (how the sheep is raised?), not the way it’s cooked.

    I sampled her Pakistani garlic chicken (almost like curry) and Chinese green onion pancake (fresh!) today–both tasty!

  14. donnaaries 02/04/2008 at 9:22 am #

    Dined at Yao Fuzi again last Friday. Red cooked pork belly continues to be the group favorite at every meal. Also had an outstanding scallop dish (in some kind of light broth that was just addictive) and a specialty I’ll be coming back for, salted (cured) duck egg yolk coated soft shell crab. Too many of the xiaolongbao on this visit had broken skin (and thus leaked soup) before arriving at the table on this visit.

    Paying $7 for a basket of 6 xiaolongbao (particularly when half of them are broken) just isn’t cutting it for me anymore. Wei-Chuan USA (brand by Taiwanese cookbook fame) actually makes excellent frozen xiaolongbao for a quick fix. Place the frozen dumplings on lettuce lined steamer baskets and steam for approximately 12-14 minutes. They’re called “pork mini bun” and “pork mini bun with crab meat” on the packaging and I’ve found them at both May Hua in Plano and sometimes at Carrollton Plaza. Haven’t checked at Asia World yet.

    Prime Food also makes frozen xiaolongbao. They’re generally acceptable but the skin is thicker and chewier than the Wei-Chuan ones.

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