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Don’t Shun Shun Lee

February 8, 2011

I'm not quite sure of the name of the place... .

Shun Lee is something of an Upper West Side institution.

Truth be told, I am not sure how it wound up that way. I am certain there are many people who would say it is a way overpriced Chinese joint. Waaaay overpriced.

But I am not one of them, though I wouldn’t argue the point.

The interior. Black and gold.

The place is classy, but in a retro way. It’s decorated in black, with a little touch here or there of white (as in the tablecloths) or gold (as in the mache dragons adorning the walls). It’s classy(ish). Somehow the retro feel of it adds to the mmph. The hosts wear suits, the waiters these amazing silk uniforms. They have a full bar, and pour a reliable martini. Not as good as you can get at the Oyster Bar, but… .

So how’s the food?

They plate the food for you.

When you arrive at your table, black chargers sit in front of you awaiting your order. They are swiftly replaced by proper plates as soon as you place your order. One feature that’s nice is they plate the food for you. You order, they divide it, and (as you can see) present it in elegant fashion. Not bad for a Chinese joint. A well dressed, expensive Chinese joint. That level of service informs the price. What you’re looking at above, by the way, is two dumplings and a serving of their special crispy shrimp with scallion and garlic.

Crispy shrimp. Holy lord.

I’m not going to lie: the crispy shrimp appetizer was excellent. Just look at it. The texture was wonderful. The prawn was full-sized, nice bark, soft interior. Delicious. A bit salty, but the scallion flavor freshens it up.

The pork dumpling.

The dumplings were just awesome. It’s frankly rare to get such savory dumplings. Their texture and flavor are right on target. The wrapping is soft but occasionally crispy. The interior is porky and flavorful. The size is also not too large, but large enough to be truly satisfying. They are winners. Fab.

The second plate.

These appetizers were followed by a sensational second plate. At the six o’clock position, there’s chicken sung. At 11:00, a special fish taco. At 2:00, the duck pie, which is by far the best item of the meal. We’ll go through them one by one.

The fish taco. Miss.

The fish taco was a miss. I am guessing that Shun Lee is trying in its own awkward way to jump on the Korean taco bandwagon. Here’s the thing. The filling is wonderful. The fish is nice, light and flavorful, even though the sauce is a bit heavy. However, the ludicrous hard corn taco flavor interferes with everything they’re trying to do. If only it was in a soft taco that didn’t get in the way of the flavor. Ah well, swing and a miss.

The duck pie. Hallelujah.

I am pretty sure the duck pie is not on the menu. I’m lucky to know of it and order it every time. It is crazily good. The duck, such as it is, is fried into near crispy oblivion. It comes with a heavy ladling of duck sauce. You can see the shoot of scallion they stick in it. It is wrapped in a soft rice shell. Everything about it works. The mix of textures (soft wrap, crisp duck), sweet, rich flavor of rich fried happy, the punch of pungent scallion, yowza. It’s a winner. It’s the winner.

Chicken Sung. Ok, but a bit heavy.

You can see that the chicken sung is filled with a good mix of fresh veggies. The crisp iceberg lettuce wrapper provides a cool snap. I find it to be a bit heavily sauced, if I’m honest about it. All in all, it is the most filling of the dishes on the menu. It has a slightly lo mein-like flavor.

Look, Shun Lee is good… but a mixed bag. The quality runs from relatively typical to high, though it excels when it comes to fish. The dishes seem to be heavily sauced, generally. The prices are very high, but the quality and service are basically first rate. So is it high priced for the food? Sure. But for the service and quality… there’s an argument.

Shun Lee

43 West 65th Street
New York, NY10023
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Hugh permalink
    February 9, 2011 10:42 am

    A fan of the place here. Fried Dumplings are tier one. Shun Lee conjures images of 1930s high society. And the idea that traditional Chinese Food is/can be ‘fine dining’ is anachronistic but that’s Shun Lee. Finally, you have to love a place where the waiters remember you and know your preferences.


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