Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fun Playing With Shanghai-ese Food

Now that trips and cooking events are over for a while, I hope to catch up on a backlog of photos and food adventures. For this segment, travel with me if you will to the wild and far reaches of Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Having recently read about Petite Soo Show on blogger Jason Perlow's Off the Broiler, I inquired as to whether any of the usual suspects would be willing to change the venue for an authentic Chinese meal on our first 2010 trip to NY from Sichuan cuisine to the foods of Shanghai. I was delighted that my companions were willing!

And so, after a seven-ish hour trek through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and rural New Jersey, we were the first to arrive at the restaurant.

Petite Soochow
607 Gorge Rd, Cliffside Park, NJ
(201) 313-1666 
(No website.) 

Ah - a wonderful sign. After seating us a communal table and staking out 7 places for us, our hostess brought us this dish of peanuts. All too often, even in very "Authentic Chinese" restaurants, the first item placed on the table in front of me is a dish of fried wonton wrappers. The dish of peanuts says to me: "we are prepared to give you authentic Chinese food if that is what you desire."  And boy oh boy did PSC deliver!

The first order of business was getting the kitchen started on two large steamers of Xiao Long Bao, with pork and crab (8 pieces per steamer). Since  Cleveland's C&Y Restaurant closed in 2008, we have been starved of these soupy, chewy delicacies. However, since they take a while to make (from scratch, as you will see), and since the Chinese don't distinguish courses outside of a banquet (each dish of food is served as it is ready) - the first item to our table was actually this:

Snow Pea Leaf with Garlic 

We all greatly appreciated that this dish came out first. Often, when ordering a Chinese meal including a vegetable dish like this, the vegetable comes out last, and we are too full to enjoy it. Here, since it came out first, we all dug in heartily!  The greens were cooked to perfection, and the garlic made the perfect contrast. 

Xiao Long Bao Under Construction 

I loved the plexiglass-enclosed, dumpling-making station right at the restaurant's entrance. I wish I could roll them so well! Made-to-order dumplings of any kind are rare in the restaurant world - having the Xiao Long Bao so freshly prepared meant we were in a special place.


Ok - I became positively giddy at the sight and smell of these, and couldn't hold the camera still enough for a good photo. Oh well.


There is no dumpling so delectable as a Xiao Long Bao. The liquid (which is so much more than just a soup) is so rich and thick that it chills into a jelly-like consistency. This makes it easy to apply a  spoonful of it to the inside of the dumpling, together with a savory ball of crab and pork meat. Sealed and steamed to almost bursting - these jewels were like a little taste of heaven.

Shanghai Style Chow Mein 


Gloppy noodle lovers of the world, unite! True Shanghai Noodles - which are thicker and chewier than even Japanese Udon - are hard to find. The other ingredients in the dish almost didn't matter to me - so long as I could chew those wonderful noodles. Fortunately, the pork and vegetables in the dish were also quite lovely. 

Special: Crab with Ginger and Scallions

This was one of several dishes listed on the door as a special of the day. And special it was! Crab that had to have been alive and kicking before it met the pot was expertly battered and stir-fried, then paired with a light, traditional sauce.

Finger licking good!

Pork Belly with Cabbage

As I sit here looking at the paper menu from PSC, I cannot determine for sure which dish this was. What I can tell you is that it had incredibly tender pork belly, cooked twice (first by braising the pork, then the final stir fry), firm bean curd, very toothy cabbage, mushrooms, and a light-texured but pleasantly spicy sauce. While I'm not a huge cabbage fan, this treatment won me over.

And how can you not love pork belly?

By this point, we were getting full - but we still had one more dish to go. I'd seen it on a table right near ours, and knew I had to have it:

Fish Head in Earthen Casserole

This photo does not do justice to the huge pottery that perched on the edge of the table offering a bounty of goodness - cheek meat is often the most tasty from any animal (if prepared well), yet it is the one that Westerners are most likely to eschew. I learned to love a version of fish head casserole, featuring salmon, at Cleveland's Wonton Gourmet, but it hasn't been on the menu there for a while.

Swimming (you should pardon the expression) in the tasty broth were whole fish heads and even a little collar. They were so tender that very little chopstick action was needed to break them up and make the treasures inside accessible. Also floating in the casserole were hunks of very firm, exquisitely fresh (an  adjective I usually reserve for fish or seafood) tofu, which provided a surprisingly tasty contrast to the fish parts as it absorbed flavors from the broth and everything else in it. As the last dish, unfortunately, we weren't really able to do this casserole full justice - but if you are a little daring, and Northern New Jersey is on your "to visit" list, I can't recommend this delicacy highly enough.

By this point, we were to stuffed to even consider the interesting looking desserts we saw (not really desserts in the Western sense, but a lovely selection of sweet buns). And though we were enjoying lingering at the table to talk and digest, the hostess asked us to please make room for more customers - yes, both dining rooms were full, and there was no place for those next up for a table (and there were several crowding the entrance) to wait. We gladly gave up our seats so others could enjoy. A restaurant this crowded on a Thursday night is a good thing!

For fun playing with authentic, yet approachable, Chinese food, you can't go wrong at Petite Soo Chow. And since it is just a few blocks from the Goerge Washington Bridge - I know that we'll be back!


  1. Your pork belly with cabbage photos look like their Double Sauteed Pork dish. Does that ring any bells? It's one of my favorites also.

    You might want to try their Sliced Beef with Spicy Sauce. It's rich and spicy and served over a bed of juicy cabbage of another sort (not firm and crunchy, but still incredible).

  2. @ Chris - since I didn't order it, I was afraid to label it - but I think you are right! Is the sliced beef a hot or cold dish? I'm hoping to get back to this restaurant for a meal in August - thank you for the tip!