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WTF IKE XLB DFW

My Hurricane Ike damage so far: 18 days in 5 hotels in 2 cities and counting. Broken fence, toppled tree, still no power. Two three missed Tenacity dinners. Way too many take out meals. Things are far worse for people in Galveston, but everyone has their own sad story and this one is mine. Even as Houston seems almost normal again and 88% of people have power, I am digging in for a long haul at the Extended Stay America. My new home.

The Ike experience started off as little more than an innocuous diversion. My work requires that I stay connected 24/7 and being without power is not an option, so every time there is even a remote possibility of a hurricane we pack up a team of network security superheroes and leave town.

I would have preferred Austin to ride out the storm (I really want to go to Uchi), but the models had Ike heading through the center of Texas, so Dallas was the lucky winner of the shelter city grand prize. No worries. Life could be worse than slumming it in a city with York Street, where I had an exceptional dinner about a year ago. Getting out of Houston less than 48 hours before Ike made landfall was dead easy. Not even a hint of Rita sized traffic. Things were looking up.

By the time I arrived the Dallas the reality began to set in. Ike wasn’t going away and looked like a real bitch of a hurricane. My dogs were so stressed out that leaving them in the hotel room to go out for dinner was impractical. I was a north side of the city by DFW, which looked like no mans land.

It took a while but I found a shopping center by the Galleria that seemed to have a wealth of independently owned restaurants. Not all were great, but they beat the hotel restaurant by a wide margin. Shanghai Restaurant was by far the best of the lot. So good, in fact, that I went back there before I left Dallas.

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I don’t get all best around the axle about xiaolongbao, but I felt obligated to order it for the sake my friends in Houston, who take such matters seriously. Besides, they were called something like “steam pork juice bun” on the menu, which sounds like a most delicious mess of poorly chosen English words. Who can refuse pork juice? The lady taking my order looked at me like was from another planet when I ordered it using a half-way recognizable pronunciation, which only added to the experience.

I liked the xiaolongbao at Shanghai Restaurant quite a bit, although they may not make the mark with purists looking for the thinnest possible wrapper and a delicate flavor of the broth that doesn’t overwhelm the dumpling. The dough was far from thin, but I really liked the gooey texture the broth left on the inside of the dumpling.

The whole thing got me thinking – is there such a thing as a definitive soup dumpling? I am assuming xiaolongbao is a little like gumbo or cassoulet. Each family has their own recipe and everyone is convinced their version is superior to the rest. If that’s the case, is there really a point in looking for a perfect soup dumpling? Doesn’t it make more sense to try to eat at many varieties as you can and enjoy them all?

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The menu at Shanghai Restaurant is littered with dishes I would love to try, but I barely scratched the surface on my two visits. The scallion pancake was pretty tough by the time I got back to the hotel, but the chicken dish called “crispy young chicken” was absolutely stellar – perfectly fried and laced with chile peppers. The “rice wine fish filet” turned out to be a very delicate and subtly flavored fish preparation.  

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Shanghai Restaurant wasn’t the only outstanding Chinese restaurant I came across in Dallas. First Chinese BBQ served up some outstanding roast duck and noodle soups, on par with some of the best I have found in Houston. The cash only operation seems to turn their meat around fast enough that nothing ever sees the inside of the microwave, which is more than I can say for our own Hong Kong Street Food – and they should know better

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Chinese roasted duck – the very definition of comfort food. Kills hurricane blues dead.  This stuff was tender and crisp in all the right places.

I eventually did make it out of the hotel hell and ended up visiting a few of the nicer restaurants in Dallas, but that’s a story for another post.

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