The wave of gentrification that has swept through South Harlem has brought luxury condos, interesting bistros and celebrity chefs. Unfortunately it has not added to the dumpling eating opportunities in Harlem. Jado Sushi Harlem, is a case in point, it looked promising but seriously underperformed. Jado is a sleek, low lit, Japanese restaurant with a wet bar up front and a sushi bar in the back, and emphasizes concocted, multiple layered in-side-out rolls.
Since 1991 Uncle Vanya’s Cafe has been Hell’s Kitchen’s home for Russian comfort food. Vanya’s is a cozy spot on West 54th Street whose interior resembles a small rustic chalet or lodge. Back in the day I lived around the corner from Vanya’s and this was our go-to spot for Blini and stuffed cabbage.
Vareniki smothered in onions and mushrooms
Banh Mi Saigon – Banh Mi Sandwich
Banh Mi Saigon is the one non-dumpling vending restaurant I write about, as the name suggests they make Banh Mi sandwiches, and they are amazing. Until a fire wiped out the strip mall that housed them, they were the best Vietnamese restaurant in the Pioneer Valley and one of the overall best restaurants in the Valley. But the guys at Banh Mi Saigon just put the word out via their Facebook page that they are officially coming back. They will be opening in Northampton, MA in the old Pho Saigon spot on Main Street.
The word is that Mi Tierra, another great place that was lost in the fire, will also be coming back, moving into the Shiki Asian Fusion spot in Hadley. Hopefully we will be hearing that the other businesses lost in the fire are on their way back too.
The reviews on Yelp indicate that Windsor Dim Sum Cafe is the best Dim Sum house in Boston’s Chinatown, and my informal polling of people on the street in Chinatown seems to back that up. The Windsor doesn’t provide the traditional Dim Sum experience of ordering food from little carts that are pushed by the staff from table to table, instead the waiters provide cards listing all the dishes and you put check marks next to what you want. The restaurant helpfully supplies a menu with pictures and numbers that correspond to the check boxes on the card.
Locally known as “Oillie’s”, the Manhattan mini-chain Ollie’s has been serving up Sichuan inspired American-Chinese food to West-siders for 25 years. I recently noticed that the 116th street Columbia University location had a poster in the window advertising that they now had Xia Long Bao.
The Dumplings: Ollie’s serves pork, shrimp, chicken and vegetable dumplings that come either steamed or pan-fried and steamed little juicy buns with or without crab. The steamed dumplings are a mini-dumpling, about half the size of a dumpling you would normally expect to get.
Steamed Shrimp Dumplings - These dumplings were a solid effort with a reasonable amount of shrimp flavor. Based on the uniformity of the dumplings pleats I think these were commercially made rather than home made.
Steam shrimp mini-dumpling
Original Queens location
I really like the boiled lamb dumplings that are indigenous to western China and the city of Xi’an. New York’s Xi’an Famous Foods chain-lette got its start as a ten seat noodle bar in the Golden Shopping Mall basement food court in Flushing Queens that in 2006 caught the attention of Anthony Bourdain. With a newly minted business degree the owner’s son, Jason Wang, jumped into the business to help handle the Bourdain inspired flood of customers and saw the potential for expanding Xi’an across NYC. Now there are two locations in Queens, four in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. I have stopped by the East Village and the Upper West side locations and they are both small, close to being hole in the wall joints, that seat maybe a dozen people. Since Boudain, a parade of TV foodies have stopped in to try the hand pulled noodles, including Andrew Zimmern, Adam Richman and Bobby Flay.
I hear you can get excellent Asian food in the surrounding suburbs but in D.C. proper I have come to expect the worst, with the low point being the time I opened a dumpling steamer to find a cockroach stuck to a dumpling. Within this context I think Ping Pong Dim Sum is D.C. good. The restaurant has a wide array of steamed dumplings and an acceptable bar, the lychee martini was good but there are only three beers on tap and four in bottles. Overall their dumpling dipping sauces probably spoke to me more than their actual dumplings. But they are good about marking which dumplings are vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free. Continue reading
As a huge fan of Kung Fu movies I was predisposed to like Kung Fu Steamed Little Buns Ramen just based on the name and before I ever read the strong review in the New York Times. Thankfully all of my pent up hopes for this place were not disappointed. Kung Fu Ramen serves excellent Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) and Sheng Jian (Shanghai pan-fried pork buns), and is perhaps only surpassed by those at Shanghai Asian Cuisine. The chef, Peter Song, grew up in Fushun, in northeastern China, but learned the craft of making hand pulled noodles at the Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle stall in the Golden Mall in Flushing, Queens. Then, before opening Kung Fu Ramen, he returned to China for advanced study with a noodle master. You can see Chef Song pulling noodles in the open kitchen and hear the thump-thump of him smacking the noodles onto the counter as he pulls them out. Chef Song also had a career in TV and movies in China and one of the walls is adorned with photos from this part of his life, including, if I am not mistaken, a photo of him with the great Wu Ma, who was in A Chinese Ghost Story, Prodigal Son, Project A, Miracles and many other classic Hong Kong films.
The Dumplings: There is a wide selection of dumplings available at Kung Fu Ramen which I have only begun to sample (there will be repeat reviews of this spot). For this outing I went with the Kung Fu Soup Dumplings, the Shanghai pan-fried pork dumplings and the vegetable dumplings.
Kung Fu Soup Dumplings
I recently returned to Seattle’s Shanghai Garden, one of my favorite Chinese restaurants on the west coast (see my prior posts here and here), to find they had upped their dumpling game even further. The lack of a soup dumpling had been one of my only complaints about this spot, but now their tasty steamed pork buns are full on soup dumplings packed with luscious pork broth.
Shanghai Garden fills their vegetable dumplings with seasonal greens and this season’s pan-fried vegetable dumplings tasted fresh, bright and savory.
Tea Magic provides the local bubble tea (boba milk tea) fix for Columbia University students. They also sell steamed Chinese buns and have a cooler with cooked boiled dumplings and noodles in to-go containers. They will microwave the dumplings for you to eat in, but I got some to go and pan-fried them at home.
The Dumplings: Boiled shrimp, pork and chive and pork and cabbage dumplings are available, as are an assortment of steamed Chinese buns. The dumplings are brought in each day from Flushing Queens’ Chinatown; I’m not sure of the origin of the buns, but I assume they are also from Flushing.
Pan fried to-go Pork and Chive Tea Magic dumplings