The last time I had soup dumplings in Orlando was at the now-shuttered Magic Wok on Conroy Road, a restaurant that specialized in the cuisine of Shanghai, which, of course, is the birthplace of xiao long bao as well as its sturdier, more gratifying pan-fried cousin, sheng jian bao. But it was a Taiwanese chain — Din Tai Fung — that whipped people all over the globe into a soup dumpling frenzy, and I have to say I'm a bit surprised that we haven't seen a proliferation of DTF facsimiles spring up all over town. Oh sure, you'll see xiao long bao on dim sum menus at a smattering of places, but my issue with those is that a) they're not very soupy and b) they appear to be frozen, pre-made versions.
Now Shanghai Lane at the Westside Crossing plaza is here to change all that. Their soup dumplings are not only made from scratch, they're a permanent fixture on the small menu. The space itself is small too, but it's not without intrigue. Along with a clock, a rotary dial phone (or "phone," as we used to say back in the day) and a typewriter (it's like a really loud keyboard) are ensconced on the walls. These artifacts seem kinda rando, but they're accompanied by Shanghai street signs and photos of Shanghai lanes.
Another space oddity: It can get unusually quiet in this room, even when it's packed. At one point, a hushed conversation between my two comrades and I seemed ear-shattering. Then the soup dumplings ($6.99) arrived, and all that silence was drowned out by some heavy, heavy slurping. The purses were pierced by a poke of the chopsticks, the soup allowed to drain onto the wide spoon, then the whole porky dis-assemblage noisily ingurgitated. Could the pockets have done with a bit more soup? Maybe. But we were all enjoying the experience too much to really care.
Then came the pan-fried pork buns ($5.99). They're just as delicately wrapped, but slightly larger and crisped on the bottom. They also pose a proper eating hazard for the uninitiated — bite into these liquid-filled purses like a ravenous loon and you'll be startled by a scalding splurt of porcine juice. We much preferred these bulbous broth-filled orbs.
There were other dishes we enjoyed — Shanghainese cuisine is a whole lot mellower in essence than, say, Sichuan cuisine, and the sliced boiled chicken ($8.99) is a prime example. It's served cold with a dipping sauce of soy, scallions and ginger: a simple dish, and simply delish. The noodle soup with pork and cabbage ($9.99) has an austere look with its clear broth, but the pickled greens add an incredible amount of depth. Sips were interspersed with bites of you tiao ($2.99), those deep-fried breadsticks I could eat a dozen or so of for breakfast with my coffee. Shanghai Lane opens at 10 a.m. on the weekends, so I suppose you could enjoy these poofy wonders with some sweet soy milk ($2), just like they do in the Pearl of the Orient.
But let's not fool ourselves. Shanghai Lane has drawn hype and buzz for one thing and one thing only. People come for the soup dumplings and stay for the soup dumplings.