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On an unassuming side street in the Fulton Mall district of Downtown Brooklyn, the traditional street food of Shanghai comes alive at Yaso Tangbao. The venerable Chef Zongxing Tu—former executive chef of Joe’s Shanghai—serves as the ‘yaso’ (uncle) to three twenty-something partners from Nanxiang, who sought to bring the chef’s famous xiao laong bao steamed soup dumplings to an area poised for rapid growth. It’s a clear fit, as the casual, counter-order eatery is ideal for the constant stream of workers from the nearby municipal buildings to grab a filling, low-cost lunch. But the word is out among locals, as well; all of the restaurants’ seven long, wooden communal-seating tables were occupied at 7 p.m. on a recent Sunday evening. Chef Zongxing is sort of a big deal among fans of Chinese dumplings, so be sure to start your meal with the blue crab and pork soup dumplings ($6.95), which shimmy on the special spoon provided for their enjoyment. Gently bite off the orange-hued tip, and a fresh burst of briny Maryland blue crab broth rushes onto your palette. Sip it up to get to the ground pork filling. A few seats down, a little blonde girl cries out as some of her succulent broth escapes; she desperately lifts the bamboo steamer over her spoon in an attempt to catch it. Don’t skip the pan fried pork baos ($5.65), tangerine-sized rolls of soft white dough with a juicy pork filling in a tiny reservoir of broth, topped with black sesame seeds and a pleasant sheen of grease.
Another interesting addition to the menu are the chicken sauerkraut spring rolls ($4), crispy on the outside, and pleasantly tangy inside. The use of sauerkraut mimics a pickled Asian cabbage traditionally used in Shanghai, but also harkens back to the chef’s tenure in Germany and Switzerland in the late ‘80s. The diminutive sweet and sour pork ribs ($5.95) arrive glazed with a mixture of soy, vinegar, and sugar, covered with a passel of bright green chives. The soy garlic fried rice with chicken fillet ($9.95) pairs crispy, brown-red fried rice with a breaded chicken filet, reminiscent of panko-covered Japanese katsu cutlets. The fried chicken filet is also available with thin vermicelli soup noodles in a chicken broth ($9.85). But the star attraction is the impossibly tender, braised pork meatballs over rice with eggs ($11.95). They’re as big as Nonna’s Sunday sauce meatballs, but almost preternaturally juicy and airy, like biting into a pillow of pork. The accompanying sautéed greens and white rice turns the whole thing into what one imagines Chinese comfort food to be.
Wash your meal down with a fruity Chrysanthemum tea, or one of the several variations of Brooklyn-made Bruce Cost Ginger Ales. Owners say that while this iteration of Yaso Tangbao will remain alcohol-free, they are already looking at expanding to a full-service location in a nearby neighborhood. Until then, enjoy how a sawbuck can transport you right into the heart of Shanghai.
BY TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER: WINNIE MCCROY