Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Why is every out-of-towner determined to patronize good ol' Joe's Shanghai?  Sure, they have good soup dumplings (although a perfunctory Google search shows Nice Green Bo's to be better, and I think I personally prefer Grand Sichuan for their thinner skins).  The rest of their menu is definitely serviceable, but no grand jetes better than many other joints in Chinatown- lo, even your own neighborhood.  That said, I followed my L.A. friends (no chef of name or rapport would pave my route to this Pell Street dive.  I'm in no way wincing in regret, but not overtly enthusiastic either.  It's solid Chinese to sate the craving, but nothing that's gonna catalpult you.)

But Joe's has a somewhat festive conviviality about it.  Much of this stems from the no-reservation policy, so a dense throng of hungry dumpling-seekers chronically mob the entrance, providing that wait-worthy desirability effect.  We are given a number, this time #4 (a foreboding number in Chinese, sounding almost exactly like the word for "death" and superstitiously unlucky).  So with the 45 minute prospected wait time, we ducked across the street to see about foot massages to pass the time, but by the time there were empty salon chairs, our wait time had reduced itself to ten minutes, and we forewent the foot-rubs for our coveted table.  I guess four is only unlucky if you are actually Chinese.  Joe's waitstaff has the reputation of being surly and curt, but I find it to be more a smugness in the knowledge that they have what you want, and are probably profiting marvelously off of it, given the absolutely NO frills digs and service (they don't even have fortune cookies... yeah, I KNOW fortune cookies aren't authentic, but that doesn't make them any less fun.)  So we bark out our orders, always far too much food that somehow practically always all gets consumed regardless.  This time, I got to try crab dumplings, which taste almost exactly like the pork  (and seem to BE mostly pork),but with a subtle hint of ocean.
Pork is the classic, though, and one steamer basket holds eight, big, plush ones.  Two per person of any variety definitely tamp excessive appetite.  The charred green beans are a classic, slick with oil and a hint of sweet, salty soy.  They're great, but this time we went for a seasonal special of bok choy, a brothy saute of greens and garlic, leaves tender and stalks that remained gently crisp and juicy.

There are all the classics and then some, the menu extensive on both the Chinese-American and authentic Chinese offerings.  The food isn't off the charts, but I've never had a truly bad dish here, either.  We got lucky with a splendid mushroom dish: gravy slicked, meaty black mushrooms (like behemoth shiitakes) that got snatched up before I could snap a photo.  Vegetable chow mein is a saucy toss of an ingredient bonanza, and if the noodles taste a little too "spaghetti", the soy-rich sauce and bamboo shoots will put you back, if not to Shanghai proper, at least to Pell Street.  There are all sorts of stir-fries, noodles, rice-based dishes, vegetables and categories of proteins.  Orange chicken are the standard sugary nuggets- not my kind of dish to be sure, but another that of which no leftovers remained.  And that's about the bottom line of Joe's: it's got something for everyone, capable cooks, and is a NYC tourist's delight.  Now if they would only start providing fortune cookies.

9 Pell Street

Phone: 212-233-8888 

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