Until Anita Lo (Annisa) opens her long-awaited Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on 23rd Street later this month, Dumpling Man, in the East Village, is the place for a whole variety of inventive pot stickers made by tag teams of reassuringly surly dumpling ladies (good dumpling ladies, in my experience, are always surly) from locations as distant as Shanghai. Jean-Georges’s 66 is still my favorite place in town for a bite of antiseptic, highly inauthentic, perfectly tasty Sunday-morning dim sum, and for a fancy Shanghai feast, this year’s choice is Shanghai Pavilion, on the Upper East Side. My discerning banker friends always call the day before to order the Beggar’s Chicken, although when I wandered in off the street not long ago with a friend from Shanghai, a feast materialized before our eyes. It was composed of an opening salvo of soup dumplings, followed by tender pieces of carp belly served up in a slightly peppery red sauce. There were nuggets of sugary, crispy-fried baby chicken, that great Shanghai specialty, sautéed snow-pea leaves, and, for dessert, a bite or two of fried soup, made with cubes of jellied water chestnuts, which look like candy but turn to liquid as they dissolve in the mouth.
“I enjoy the pig’s-blood cakes and chives, but I don’t think you will,” piped the sweet lady who took my order at the old Queens standby Spicy & Tasty, which recently reopened in fancy new digs on a quiet back street in Flushing. She was right, although my dish of cold chili-soaked rabbit was good enough, as were the wontons, poured with a strangely sweet chili sauce infused with mouth-numbing amounts of the famous Sichuan pepper called ma. The fractious Grand Sichuan International empire has a new East Village branch, although my favorite outlet is still the one on Ninth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets. If you work close to midtown, however, and desire a quick fix of sinus-clearing tripe loaded with fresh cilantro, I commend Szechuan Gourmet, the new Manhattan outpost of another well-known restaurant in Queens. There’s a separate menu for devotees of obscure local specialties like duck tongues in chili pepper or sliced fish with pork blood pudding, so squeamish diners should stick to old standards like spicy lamb and delicious ribbons of twice-cooked pork tossed with fresh scallions in the classic Chen Du style.