Soupy surprise

Illustration by Mark Stivers

On trend: The Shanghainese soup dumpling craze has officially arrived in Sacramento now that there are a few options for eating them, including a restaurant in our tourist zone of Old Sac.

I-Shanghai Delight (1115 Front Street) opened in December in the former space of the fondly remembered Cellar Bistro, a Cantonese restaurant that served some of the most traditional jook and egg flour sauce in town. It remains to be seen whether I-Shanghai will inspire the same devotion as the building’s previous tenant or other soup dumpling restaurants in the area, such as Elk Grove’s well-regarded Journey to the Dumpling.

The owners of Cellar Bistro didn’t share details of the reasons for the closure, according to Jim Wu, co-owner of I-Shanghai Delight. But the new owners say they hope to take advantage of their prime location with its foot traffic along the Sacramento River.

“We’re pretty well known in Bay Area, so that’s why we decided to open up a second location here,” Wu says. “There’s a lot of population, there’s a lot of demand for Shanghainese.”

I-Shanghai Delight has another location in Fremont, which has been successful during its first year of business, Wu says. For the second outpost, they kept the pre-existing brick arches along the walls, repainted them gray and filled the space with photos of Shanghai from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s stirred up memories in some customers.

“I saw one old lady was crying,” Wu says. “She said, ’Oh wow, that’s the same as my childhood neighborhood, the picture.’”

The food also brings back glimpses of home, he says. “When they taste the food, they say, ’When I was a little kid in Shanghai it tasted exactly the same.”

The menu includes not just the soup pork dumplings, but also Shanghai-style dishes such as crab roe dumplings and braised duck in brown sauce, deep-fried shrimp balls and sauteed shredded eel. Wu’s favorite is the pan-fried pork bun because of its mix of textures.

“Pan fried pork bun is crispy with a soupy inside and the top is soft, so it’s kind of crispy, soft and juicy,” he says.

Beside the cash register, a clear window shows chefs in paper hats pinching dumpling dough into dainty pinwheels. Each dumpling is housemade upon ordering, so don’t be surprised if an order takes 20 minutes during the lunch-hour rush.

But for Wu, the restaurant’s unique selling point is its long list of Shanghainese dishes aside from the dumplings.

“We have a lot of traditional items that I don’t see other Sacramento restaurants having,” Wu says. “We’re pretty much the first ones.”