Iroha, New York NY

Photo Sep 23, 6 48 10 PM (HDR)

Spicy Cod Roe Takoyaki

Iroha has been in business for over 30 years, but about two years ago transformed from a sushi restaurant into a Izakaya.  Iroha is on the ground floor above the cellar dwelling Sake Bar Hagi, both of which are owned by the same company.  It seems that the rationale for Iroha’s re-boot as an izakaya was to capitalize on the massive overflow of folks who can’t get into Hagi on any given night. There is a note on the menu posted in front of Iroha that says you can also order items of Hagi’s menu.  Iroha has more of a sleek cocktail lounge vibe to it that Hagi and has a long bar along one wall, with tables along the other wall.


Takoyaki Menu

The Dumplings:  Iroha is experimenting with, and pushing the boundaries of, the Takoyaki; they serve Takoyaki with cheese, with spicy cod roe and with sausage and have something they call Russian Roulette Takoyaki, which is an order for four Takoyaki that includes one ball flavored with wasabi.  I tried the spicy cod roe Takoyaki, which are a traditional octopus filled ball, drizzled with Japanese mayo, covered with slivered bonito, with dollops of spicy roe on top.  The spicy roe had a decent kick but wasn’t overpowering and definitely elevated the Takoyaki.  I won’t be surprised if I see this dish showing up on other Izakaya menu’s around town.  I didn’t try them on this outing, but according to the waitress, for the sausage Takoyaki they have replaced the octopus with pieces of sausage, while the cheese Takoyaki are the traditional fried octopus balls with melted cheese sauce on top.

I also tried the Ebi Nira Gyoza which are filled with shrimp and leak and come served Fajitas style on a sizzling black skillet.  These gyoza look like they were made in house, which is rare for a shrimp gyoza in NYC, and are filled with big, crisp chunks of shrimp and slivered green leaks.  They had a more delicate, but fresher taste than your typical processed, MSG’d, minced shrimp Japanese restaurant gyoza, this was an impressive gyoza.

Ebi Nira Gyoza

Ebi Nira Gyoza

The Dipping Sauce:  The gyoza come with a soy and vinegar dipping sauce flavored with a little sesame oil. Nothing special and a little overpowering for the shrimp.

The Location:  Iroha is on 49th street between 6th and 7th avenue and is part of a little hub of Japanese restaurants that also include the afore mentioned Saki Bar Hagi and also a Sopporo ramen bar.

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, Shrimp, Takoyaki | Leave a comment

Peking Kitchen II, New York NY

Wontons in Spicy Peanut Sauce

Wontons in Spicy Peanut Sauce

I have reviewed dumpling spots in China and in China-towns, in Korea and in Korea-towns, in Little-Tokyos, in Italy, in Tibetan enclaves and in old school Eastern European neighborhoods. But I haven’t yet reviewed an old-school Ghetto Chinese restaurant, a phrase I first heard when I moved to NYC back in ’91. The Urban Dictionary defines a ghetto Chinese restaurant as “Characterized by fast, cheap, and sometimes good Chinese food. In dangerous parts, there may be inch thick plexiglass barricades separating kitchen and diner, with a turnstyle for exchanging food and money.” (49 thumbs up and 18 thumbs down for this definition).  These Chinese take-out spots were the pioneers of fast-food in many urban neighborhoods.  My favorite reference to one of these joints is the Fugees’ Chinese Restaurant piece on the The Score.

I decided to try out Peking Kitchen II in Harlem, which is a small take-out joint with three tables for eating-in, but these are mainly used by people waiting for their to-go orders.  It is so small and off the grid I can barely find any mention of it online, only seven reviews on Yelp.  Peking Kitchen II serves the full panoply of American Chinese dishes and also serves fried fish fillets, fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried chicken wings, pork chops and fried sweat and green bananas (Plantain). Peking Kitchen II is not as armored up as some spots I have been to, there is no plexiglass between the customer and the cashier. Continue reading

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Assi Brand Frozen Vege Potstickers

assibrand_logoRating:  stars_5

I grabbed a bag of Assi Brand Vege Potstickers pretty much at random from the freezer cabinet at my local Korean market – turned out to be a good choice.  A little googling around led me to discover that Assi Brand is the flagship brand of the Rhee Bros food company located in Maryland, USA.  Rhee Bros was founded in 1976 by a Korean student living in the U.S., who, to make ends meet, initially sold dried squid shipped to him from Korea by his mother. According to the Rhee Bros website, Assi is derived from the traditional title for a young sophisticated woman. Continue reading

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Korea, Potsticker, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Sun Kim Bop, Seoul Street Food Truck, Amherst MA

Street food in Myeongdong Seoul

Street food in Myeongdong Seoul

The Sun Kim Bop food truck hit the streets in Western MA in winter 2013-2014 but I just spotted it this past weekend on the Amherst commons.  Despite its signage the Sun Kim Bop doesn’t really provide the full Seoul street food experience, there is no blood sausage and rice cakes in spicy sauce, no fish cake on a skewer, no grilled sheets of cuttle fish, no roasted sweet potato, no mini-sausages on a stick and no deep fried kim bap.  But their website explains that Sun Kim Bop is trying to provide healthy food in “the essence of Korea’s famous street and picnic food”.  The specialty of the house is their own creation, the Bop Burger.  The bun of the Bop Burger is made of crisped rice seasoned with dry seaweed and sesame seeds and is filled with sautéed homemade kimchi, pork, beef or chicken. The truck also has some interesting looking kimchi tacos, Korean wraps, Kim Bap and has awesome vegan mandoo that taste and eat like meat dumplings. Continue reading

Posted in Gyoza, Korea, Mandoo, Pan Fried, Vegan, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Samurai Noodle, Seattle WA

Samurai_noodleSamurai Noodle is a Seattle based ramen bar mini-chain that serves fresh homemade noodles.  They have a ton of options for adding ingredients to the base broths and noodles and for the pork broth you can order extra pork fat to deepen the broth flavor. They also have a couple of vegan ramen options.  I thought the basic pork broth ramen was a strong effort, but next time I will probably get some additional pork fat.  For my second outing to Samurai Noodle I focused on sampling their dumpling selection. Continue reading

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, Pan Fried, Pork, Shumai, Takoyaki, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Noodles, Northampton, MA

Noodles has been serving pan-Asian noodles, curry dishes and dumplings to Smith College students and Northampton locals since 2008. Like restaurants in Korea and Japan, Noodles has plastic replicas of steaming bowls of noodle soup on display in its entrance way. This nod to authenticity is as about as close as Noodles gets to passing as a legit noodle stand in Japan or Korea.

Steamed Kimchi Dumplings

Steamed Kimchi Dumplings

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Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, Kimchi, Korea, Northampton, pan-Asian, Steamed, Uncategorized, Vegan, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Gothamist seems to have gone mad for Dumplings

The Gothamist, which runs a series of city specific blogs, seems to have gone mad for dumplings this summer, they put out dumpling related list-icles across almost of their outlets.

Gothamist:  The 8 Best Chinese Dumplings in NYC

LAist:  The Best Dumplings in Los Angeles

Chicagoist:  The 12 Best Dumplings in Chicago

DCist: The Best Places To Get Dumplings In The D.C. (But Mostly Rockville) Area

SFist: The 7 Best Dim Sum Spots In The Bay Area

The only outlet in their stable of blogs that didn’t have an article on the best places to get dumplings was the Shanghaiist.  Maybe compiling that list is too daunting of a task in Shanghai, but here is a hint, the top 10 places to get dumplings in Shanghai are all the Yang’s Fried Dumpling outlets.

Posted in Chicago, Chinese, D.C., Dim Sum, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Washington | Leave a comment

Ingredient Hunt: pulled pork at Scott’s B.B.Q.

From top:  Outside Scott's BBQ; the wood chopping area; the mop bucket of sauce; the pulled pork; making a sandwich

From top: Outside Scott’s BBQ; the wood chopping area; the mop bucket of sauce; the pulled pork; making a sandwich

My recipe for Kimchi & Pulled Pork Dumplings works best with Eastern North Carolina pulled pork. While Central and Western NC styles use a tomato based sauce and slow cook the shoulder cut of the hog, Eastern style BBQ uses a light vinegar based pepper sauce and uses the whole hog.  I think the vinegar base sauce goes better with the kimchi than the tomato based sauce.

Practitioners of Eastern style can also be found in the coastal areas of South Carolina and of some of the best is found in Hemingway SC, at Scott’s BBQ.  Scott’s pulled pork is melt in your mouth tender, with just a little crunch from mixed in pork bark, and has a mild smoky flavor and a tangy, medium heat spice from the sauce.  My original Kimchi & Pulled Pork Dumplings recipe suggested pulled pork from Wilbur’s in NC, but I am switching it up to Scott’s as the official recommendation.

The Southern Foodways Alliance has done a great interview with the owner, Rodney Scott, and various TV chefs and travel celebrities have made the pilgrimage to see Scott’s smoke pits.  The pits are behind a ramshackle old gas station that serves as the take-out counter and sit-down cafe. Rodney and his crew spend Monday and Tuesday chopping wood and making charcoal to fuel the pits and are open for service Wednesday to Saturday.  They cook 8-10 hogs per day and close down when they run out of the day’s supply.

Scott’s sells whole hog pulled pork by the hog ($500), 1/2 hog ($250), 1/4 hog ($150), the pound ($11 per lb) or in a small ($3:50) and large sandwiches ($5:50) or on a plate with sides ($7.00), they will also smoke your own hog for you for $120 ($22.00 for a gallon of sauce). They also sell home made pork rinds and whole and half BBQ chicken. The sandwiches are a strictly DIY affair, you are given two slices of white bread in a plastic baggie and a styrofoam to-go tub piled high with pork.  So you jam as much pork as you can between the slices of bread, slather on some extra BBQ sauce and eat.

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Jado Sushi Harlem, New York, NY

Ravioli Gyoza

Ravioli Gyoza

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.

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Uncle Vanya’s Cafe, Hell’s Kitchen, NY

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

Vareniki smothered in onions and mushrooms

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Posted in Boiled, Varenyky | 1 Comment