One Bite: Lao Yu Ju's crispy papaya pastry

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Crispy papaya pastry, Lao Yu Ju

About three and a half years ago, when I reviewed Tony Hu's weird, loungy, neon-lit, "NeoChinese" Lao Yu Ju, dim sum wasn't in the picture. But a few years later, with the advent of sparkling, cavernous Cantonese palaces like Cai and MingHin, he expanded the space and brought in chef Wei Zhou and about 60 different dishes, including the usual suspects like xiao long bao, shu mai, and lo bak ko. Reception was somewhat mixed, particularly with regard to the soup dumplings, which arrive in little tin cupcake holder thingies that tend to tear the wrapper and shoot steaming broth over your tender digits.

Yet there are plenty of other tasty things to be had, including the burger-like black pepper lotus cakes, sweet-savory beef bao, and dense, springy pork and shrimp shu mai. But Zhou's greatest strength is his pastry, best evidenced by the crispy papaya variety. Shaped like candy twists, the flaky pastry is rippled accordion-style, a bit like Italian sfogliatelle, and contains an egg custard dense with fruit. They're light as air and immensely satisfying ($3.75 for three).

Crispy durian pastry, Lao You Ju

But Zhou is no one-trick pony. The feathery layers of flaky dough mitigate the mild fruity rot of the filling in the glistening, egg-washed durian pastries. And the aforementioned beef bao has an innocuous-looking pale white exterior featuring a sweet, crunchy spackling on top that foils the savory ground meat inside. If you've had the egg tarts at the new dim sum brunch at Fat Rice, you know how good Hong Kong-style pastry can be. You almost never see it executed at that level in Chinatown, and yet here it is.

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