Sacramento, CA 95814
Shanghai soup dumplings are a craving of epic proportions. Also known as xiao long bao, they compel diners to drive long distances and wait hours for perfectly pleated pockets filled with hot soup and a quarter-sized morsel of pork. So when I-Shanghai Delight opened last year in a hidden basement in Old Sac, promising handmade dumplings, it didn’t take long before the place was mobbed.
My first visit to I-Shanghai Delight was a good one. After making our way down a mysterious staircase and ending up in what looked like a giant broom closet, we were surprised to find a large, brightly lit restaurant and a bank of women making dumplings behind a glass window. The Pork Soup Dumplings ($8.95 for eight) were the first thing we ordered, and we were not disappointed. The dumpling skin was delicately thin and the soup perfectly seasoned. The Shrimp Pork Dumplings ($12.95) were equally solid.
The Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs ($8.95) were on the sweet side but the texture was spot-on, complete with nibbly little bones that required sucking for every bit of meat. While we came for—and loved—the dumplings, the surprising winners of the night were the Fried Turnip Pies ($8.95), deep-fried balls of shredded turnip that hit all the right salty, savory veggie notes without being greasy.
A second visit to I-Shanghai Delight wasn’t as successful. The Beef Soup ($10.25) was good, with a generous amount of beef, though the “handmade” noodles tasted like store-bought spaghetti. The Fried Rice ($10.95) was pretty tasty, but the meat was overcooked. The soup dumplings were still thin-skinned but weren’t pleated well, leaving a pointy hat of twisted dough at the top that got stuck in our teeth. Soup dumplings are supposed to be pleated in such a way that there’s a small hole near the top to reduce excess dough, but these were twisted like a kid twists a straw wrapper.
Hopeful for another stellar dumpling experience like the first, I made one more trek back to I-Shanghai Delight. This time a quarter of the menu was crossed out with a sharpie, because the restaurant was closed the day before and they apparently did not have time to prep. (Mental note: Don’t eat here on a Wednesday, since they’re closed Tuesdays.) The dumplings now had so much twisted dough that the tops were inedible; a glance around the restaurant showed many diners had left a mound of uneaten dumpling tops on their plates. The Hot and Sour Soup ($3.95) was neither hot nor sour. My once-beloved turnip pies were now deep-fried balls of mush, which the server comped, because they were terribly unappetizing. The one saving grace of that final meal was the plate of Fried Noodles Shanghai-Style ($8.25) which were incredibly meaty and had a lovely toothsome quality.
What’s the final word on I-Shanghai Delight? It’s tough to say. That one amazing meal continues to give me hope, but the following two were disappointing enough that I have my reservations. If you’re madly craving soup dumplings, it’s worth a stop. If you’re picky about your dumplings, though, go somewhere else.