BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so very fortunate to live in the most diverse and delicious destination in all of New York City. Really I’m not royalty though, I’m an ambassador, and a hungry one at that. Today, we take a trip to Shanghai, China, via the International Express—aka the 7 train—to savor xiao long bao and more at the recently reopened Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, widely regarded as one of the best places for the juicy soup filled dumplings in all of New York City.
For more than a decade, the restaurant named for the county in Shanghai where dumplings were invented was a favorite of everyone, from the Michelin Guide to celebrity chef and TV personality Eddie Huang.
In an open kitchen, Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao’s crew of ladies delicately folded the dumplings as they greeted customers happy to wait in line to savor some of the city’s best. For a long while, I took Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao for granted, preferring to frequent the neighborhood’s food courts, where there was less of a wait. And then last May, the neighborhood institution suddenly shut down, leaving both New York City’s foodies and local diners devastated.
“Thirteen years ago I was a Nan Xiang customer,” recalls local businessman Eddie Zheng, the man behind the restaurant’s rebirth. “Every time I would eat two orders of soup dumplings.”
Back then there were only two kinds of soup dumplings: pork and pork and crab. Zheng and his team have added four others—black truffle, Chinese squash, chicken, and foie gras — to the xiao long bao roster at the reborn Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, which opened in One Fulton Square on Nov. 1.
The luxurious dumplings are available as part of “Lucky Six” set that sports jewel toned wrappers. As at the restaurant’s first incarnation, you can watch your dumplings being made in an open kitchen that sits at the center of the 5,000-square-foot space.
“We are so excited to re-open our door to the public and to serve this neighborhood again with a brand-new look,” said Zheng, who personally designed the mountains and trees that grace the restaurant’s lobby. “The original team has dedicated to elevating the menu and the service in the past few months, and it’s finally the time for us to share it with our customers. It’s the new era for this legendary restaurant, and we are so proud to carry the legacy.”
Part of that new era includes a swanky, spacious dining room decorated by a gigantic red lantern and plates with the restaurant’s name in Chinese. Many of the old favorites, including flaky turnip puffs and crisp multilayered scallion pancakes can still be found on the menu, along with traditional Shanghai style fried rice cakes. I particularly enjoyed Shanghai pan fried noodles, thick strands with a slight char from masterful wok cookery. Shot through with shredded pork, bok choy, and house special sauce they are a great accompaniment to the deluxe dumplings. I also really loved an appetizer of four happiness sponge tofu, comforting blocks of wheat gluten and wood ear mushrooms served cold in a sweet sauce.
“The re-opening of Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao means so much to this community,” said Helen Lee, the executive vice president of F&T Group, the newly reborn restaurant’s landlord. “We are proud to work with Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao to bring back this local favorite restaurant and to continue the culture and vibe in our neighborhood.”
With space for more than 100 hungry xiao long bao enthusiasts, there’s unlikely to be a wait and the restaurant will be open until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“When the old Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao closed, many of us feared the special atmosphere we all felt dining there would disappear forever—even if a new restaurant opened up again with the same name and menu,” says John Choe, the executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. “However, the opening of a revived Nan Xiang on Prince and 38th is proving us wrong with the reintroduction of their signature soup dumplings and scallion pancakes as well as hungry fans flocking from around the city, crowding the lobby, glad to be out of the cold, patiently waiting for their small piece of heaven.”