Liquid Courage

Our Latest Obsession: Soup Dumplings at Sarah Place

We think we might have found the best xiaolongbao in Houston.

By Alice Levitt October 10, 2016

The best part is what you can't see.

Image: Alice Levitt

One Dragon, we still love you; we're just not sure we're in love with you anymore. We're not going to lie and say we've grown apart. As you probably suspected, there is someone else. We appreciate your soup dumplings' exceptionally thin skin that pops to reveal dark pork broth, but they just can't compare with the ones at Sarah Place

We never expected this would happen. We've passed Sarah Place, which shares a parking lot with H Mart on Bellaire Boulevard, dozens of times without giving it much thought. In that same shopping plaza, we were far more likely to head to Uyghur Bistro, Classic Kitchen or Xiong's Café. When a friend led us to Sarah Place last week, we hadn't anticipated that it would be so elegant inside, or that at a late lunch hour it would still be so packed with large parties spinning lazy Susans to pass around their freshly steamed fish and fried Shanghainese pork buns.

The restaurant isn't as much a Shanghai specialist as you, One Dragon, we'll admit that. There are classics from across China—Peking duck, Singapore-style vermicelli, Hong Kong-style sweet-and-sour pork—but some of the best items trace their origins to Shanghai. We've eaten a lot of xiaolongbao lately, the soup-filled dumpling that's perhaps Shanghai's best-known dish stateside, but we simply weren't prepared for these. 

They didn't look exceptional. The skins were thicker and less pliable than others we've tried, though not excessively so. But this was necessary to contain the broth that burst forth at first bite. It was substantial stuff, porky and salty, but not too salty, and more viscous than any ramen, with an even more profound result of lips left sticky with collagen. We were hooked.

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Red bean and dried fruit sticky rice

Image: Alice Levitt

But that wasn't all. There was the ethereal wonton soup, something we never would have bothered to order ourselves, laced with filmy strands of egg and seaweed and punctuated with almost equally fine wontons filled with gingery pork. Fried pork-and-mushroom-stuffed dim sum called ham sui gok were chewy and sweet on the outside and salty and fatty within. Our friend, who is Taiwanese but married to a woman from Shanghai, told us that she and her family eat the mounds of sticky rice pictured above throughout the meal, not as dessert. 

It makes some sense. Though the sturdy rice is filled with red bean paste and topped with candied fruit, it's far from the saccharine fruit cake westerners might imagine. That said, it wasn't a bad way to end the meal, either. But our last bite, by design, was of a xiaolongbao. Sorry, One Dragon. We hope we can still be friends.

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