The golden standard: Joe's Shanghai crab and soup dumplings
Buddakan's General Tso's Dumplings
If I could subsist on one dish, it could quite possibly be Joe's Shanghai's crab and pork soup dumplings. There is nothing more satisfying than slurping up the piping hot savory soup seasoned with a splash of soy sauce and ginger, then biting into the juicy crab and pork filling. Heaven.
So I've long been curious about how Buddakan's very own soup dumplings measure up. I never considered that the haute version would dethrone my favorite, but was curious nonetheless about how elite chefs would interpret the Chinatown gem. As most would guess, the haute interpretation is smaller and more expensive. At Joe's Shanghai, you get 8 fat dumplings for the price of $6.65. At Buddakan, you get 5 sad looking ones for $11. That's understandable since Buddakan obviously has a much, much, much higher overhead with its opulent interiors and top notch service--versus Joe's Shanghai's economical seating where 4 couples share one round table, and servers slam dishes down in front of you in haphazard fashion. As far as taste goes, Buddakan thankfully did not try to mimic the taste of Joe's Shanghai's dumplings. Their General Tso's Dumplings uses chicken seasoned with garlic and ginger as its filling. The soup is rather tart--something like what the broth at Joe's Shanghai might taste like after being heavily seasoned with the soy sauce concoction. Sonu and I agreed that we prefer being able to control the seasoning in our dumpling as this was a tad too cloying. I also thought that Buddakan should consider giving their customers spoons when they order soup dumplings. I am an expert soup dumpling eater so I knew to ask for spoons to catch the soup dripping from the dumplings, but I cringe to think how other patrons would fare with just chopsticks and forks. Final verdict: Buddakan makes a decent soup dumpling, but I will not be craving for them anytime in this lifetime.
Dessert, however, is another matter. Buddakan's Crying Chocolate totally trumps Joe's Shanghai's free orange slices. The chocolate cake breaks to reveal thick chocolate ganache that is simply to die for. One bite of the scumptious chocolate topped with a swipe of coffee ice cream, Buddakan just may inch out Joe's Shanghai a wee bit in your foodie dreams.
Suggested itinerary: start the evening at Joe's Shanghai for a hearty and extremely easy on the pocket dinner (save the money for alchie, I always say). Then, go for a nightcap at Buddakan and enjoy their yummy prosecco cocktails and to-die-for desserts. Tough times call for judicious spending!
Where: Joe's Shanghai is located at Pell Street between Doyers and Bowery, as well as at West 56th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Buddakan is located at 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets.