While crammed into a US Airways flight waiting for the plane to reach cruising altitude and the “OK” to use my laptop, I spotted pierogi based Christmas decorations amongst the weird and random offerings in the Sky Mall catalog. Sky Mall sells pierogi Christmas tree ornaments and pieorgi Christmas tree lights. Further investigation yielded the pierogi shaped area rug and the “Pierogi Lover” t-shirt.
Pierogi ornaments, Christmas tree lights, area rug and t-shirt
I am totally getting the Christmas tree lights.
Pitaya is a fairly new Japanese restaurant that is drumming up foot traffic via the all-you-can-eat sushi special and frequent half-price sushi nights. After a horrifying gastrointestinal experience a couple of years ago that I blame on an all-you-can-eat joint on 72nd street, I have stayed away from sushi places running these specials. But some friends have tried Pitaya with no ill effects, so I gave it a shot. Pitaya serves Asian Fusion entres, sushi and a few robata skewers. The sushi was pretty low quality and/or poorly prepared, I had a fish scales with two pieces, a bone in another piece and two other pieces were weirdly chewy. The shishito skewer (grilled Japanese peppers) was quite good, while the shiitake skewer was three large pieces of shiitake mushroom that perhaps had been waved near a grill. Thankfully the gyoza were quite good.
Pork Gyoza at Pitaya
Murasaki is a intimate sake bar on Chicago’s Gold Coast and after this trip is our favorite Chicago cocktail bar. The bar has a wide range of Sake, Shochu and Japanese whiskeys and a small menu of Japanese bar snacks, including edamame gyoza and takoyaki. The bartenders are really friendly and walked us through the drinks menu and made some excellent suggestions for whiskey and Shochu. The bar is relatively low, so at the bar you sit on comfy chairs rather than bar stools. The flat screen TV above the bar plays classic samurai movies; Rashoman was playing the night I was there and it turns out one of the regulars brings in classic samurai DVDs for the bar to play. There are also two private karaoke rooms for rent.
Historically Chicago was home to large populations of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe; in 1900 77% of the population was either first or second generation immigrants, with Germans, Irish, Poles, Swedes and Czechs making up nearly two-thirds of the foreign-born population. Recent Census data shows that Polish Americans now make up 6.7% of Chicago’s population, that is, roughly 182,000 residents. As you can image a Google search for “Best Polish Restaurant in Chicago” pulls up a bunch of top five or top ten lists and Pierogi Heaven makes the cut on a lot of them.
Pierogi Heaven is a small, no frills cafeteria style joint where one guy serves up pierogi from a steam counter and another guy works a grill cooking Polish sausage. The food is served on cafeteria trays and plastic plates with plastic forks. They seem to do a fast enough pace of business, certainly at lunch, that the pierogi in the steamer pans are fresh and still glistening.
Potato and Cheese pierogi topped with onions and bacon
The guys at Banh Mi Saigon have launched a GoFundMe.com crowd sourced fundraiser to help rebuild their business after it was destroyed in a huge fire that wiped out the entire strip mall they were in. As first time business owners it doesn’t look like they got good advice on their insurance policy – the policy is not going to make a dent in the rebuilding costs. Banh Mi Saigon served some of the best food in the Pioneer Valley and the guys who ran it had created a really friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
So readers please think about contributing to their fundraiser – click through here.
Grilled Pork Banh Mi at Banh Mi Saigon
Based on its signage alone I had really wanted to like Wow Bao, but it really wasn’t that great, just basically meh. Wow Bao is a local Chicago Asian fast food chain with four locations and a food truck, and a location in Baltimore at Oriole Park. They sell, well of course, Bao, which are Chinese steamed buns, and pot stickers. For Bao you have the choice of teriyaki chicken, spicy kung pao chicken, whole wheat with edamame (these are vegan), thai curry chicken, spicy mongolian beef, BBQ pork, coconut custard and chocolate. The pot stickers come stuffed with green vegetable (egg is used in the wrapper so these are only vegetarian) or pork and cabbage. Below is the promotional video for Wow Bao.
In very sad news, Banh Mi Saigon in Hadley MA and the rest of the strip mall it is part of, were destroyed last night in a huge fire. Banh Mi Saigon doesn’t sell dumplings but it is the best Vietnamese restaurant in the Pioneer Valley and one of the overall best restaurants in the Valley. In the roughly 18 months it had been in business, the two young brothers who ran this little lunch counter joint had built a loyal following by serving excellent Banh Mi, Pho, Bun and rice plates. They served a completely vegan Pho that was outstanding, even as a meat eater I thought this was a great Pho, you didn’t miss the meat at all. They also served some of the best Vietnamese BBQ Pork and Spring Rolls I’ve had anywhere and their fried tofu Banh Mi was outstanding.
And the hits keep coming with this fire, another great local restaurant, Mi Tierra, was also destroyed. We at Dumpling Hunter are sending our best wishes and hoping that all the affected businesses can rebuild.
Grilled Pork Banh Mi
Pork Gyoza at Sun Chan
Sun Chan is a great little Izakaya stye Japanese restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Izakaya are essentially Japanese pubs that sell small plates of food, often Yakitori, Robata, Katsu, Ochazuke and Yakisoba, to go along with a night of drinking. Sake, Shochu, and beer are usually available for the drinking component of the night. Sun Chan serves a great Kimchi Buta (stir fried kimchi, scallions and pork belly), really good grilled rice balls stuffed with cod roe and some excellent meat skewers; the duck, the salmon with scallion and the pork belly are my favorite skewers. Continue reading
The Village Voice just published its Best of NYC issue and included two categories relevant to this blog; Best Soup Dumpling and Best Dumpling.
For the Best Soup Dumpling category the award went to Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street in Manhattan, which was cited for its “sturdy dough, pungently seasoned pork and velvety broth”.
In the Best Dumpling category the award went to White Bear on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. The award mentioned the excellence of the wontons and that you can buy them orders of 25 frozen to-go. The Voice included a Reader’s Choice shout out to Vanessa’s Dumpling House which I’ve reviewed here.
Vanessa’s Dumpling House on Eldridge Street