Ala Shanghai – Latham, NY
I’ve actually been exposed to Ala Shanghai a few times, so I went into this experience having a decent idea of the menu at this establishment, so it made things sort of simple. It also helps that local foodie blogs like Albany Eats have featured this restaurant. As a matter of fact, in Ala Shanghai’s menu, they have a number of testimonials referenced, including that Albany Eats review.
After having dined at a number of area Asian restaurants with some of my Asian entourage, places like CCK or Buffalo Wagon, I have a good idea of the concept of “Dim Sum,” a family tapas-style of dining that is traditional for weekends. On this trip, we wanted to sample some of the more popular dim sum style appetizers at Ala Shanghai (namely the soup dumplings) as well as order entrees in hopes of having some leftovers.
Ala Shanghai is located at the east corner of the intersection between Old Loudon Road and Troy-Schenectady road. It’s on your right as you travel through the first traffic light east of the Latham Circle. Ohh what’s that? You missed it? It is actually tucked away behind the building housing Inferno Pizza, so if you drive too fast, yes, you will miss it.
The Capital Region of NY has been inundated by a number of reasonable snow storms in the past couple of weeks. As Ala Shanghai is tucked behind a larger building, the parking is a bit of a mess. Luckily, the lot at the neighboring Korean grocery store is an option for parking, so that clears things up a bit. There is one handicap spot in this whole vicinity, and, to my handicap friends’ chagrin, it was actually taken up by a large pickup truck with no handicap plates or tags. I had no problem finding a park, but I took the last real park in the vicinity, which leads me to my next point…The restaurant, for 1pm on Saturday afternoon, was packed! We got the second to last available table, both of which were four-tops. This was a great sign.
We were promptly seated and given menus. This leads to another point, just to get it out of the way. The service staff is very on top of things, but are also very frantic at times. I am by no means complaining about this, as I am used to dealing with frantic people. I am just saying that if you go there expecting to have a server who is willing to go over all questions you have about the menu in depth, you’re not going to find that here.
Opening the menu, which unfortunately has not been updated for 2011, you are greeted by two insane dishes, both of which are only available upon special order and make you sorry that you didn’t call ahead for both of these dishes. One is a crispy duck, and the other is a sweet ham. After seeing these, the rest of the menu seemed lusterless. I had to seriously repress the memories of those dishes before approaching what kind of dish I wanted.
We settled on Ala Shanghai’s famous soup dumplings. We ordered two varieties, crab/pork and pork [we snuck a crab/pork dumpling before the picture was snapped.], both of which are served with strong soy sauce infused with ginger.
Unless you are familiar with soup dumplings or Xiao Long Bao, you would be confused by the presentation. You may be expecting a broth containing some floury dumpling concoction. These gems are steamed nuggets tightly packed and containing a small amount of meat and broth. The idea is to eat the whole dumpling and taste the wrapper, meat, and broth. Disclaimer: since these are steamed, the wrapper will become deceptively cold prior to the filling. Please allow adequate cooling time prior to enjoying these delights.
I personally preferred the plain pork soup dumplings, as I felt the crab seemed to get lost in the crab/pork analog. Both were very good, and I thought the yellow filler on top to distinguish between the varieties was pretty cool; I even played a fun game with my self where I tried figuring out what that stuff was!
I ordered kung pao chicken extra spicy with brown rice on the side, and Cassie ordered sesame chicken.
The kitchen almost made me sorry for asking for my dish extra spicy. Almost. I was very pleased with the heat level of this dish. The crunch of the celery and peanuts was a great counterpoint for the soft, perfectly sauced chicken. As the portion was reasonably sized for the price ($10), I divided it and my rice (which was cooked nicely) in half and committed to taking half home. I also tried a piece of sesame chicken which was a level above most take out sesame chicken. For me, it was a bit sweet, but very tasty.
If you are in the mood for a solid Asian dining experience, I give Ala Shanghai my stamp of approval. It’s the type of establishment that you are honored to have in your neighborhood. So Like them on Facebook, visit them, and enjoy some soup dumplings!