Back in 2001 Max SoHa, short for South of Harlem, was one of the first restaurants in the ongoing transformation of the food scene in the adjoining Morningside Heights and South Harlem. Like its older sister restaurant Max in the East Village, Max SoHa is a small, rustic, unpretentious, neighborhood Italian restaurant. It has a small, modestly priced menu, a good wine list, some outdoor cafe seating and overall a friendly low key vibe. This is a great restaurant for a casual mid-week dinner out. The main menu does not include any ravioli, but Max SoHa has a daily, homemade ravioli listed on the chalk board.
Eggplant and Ricotta Ravioli
The Dumplings: The night I was there the ravioli special was a ricotta and eggplant ravioli with red sauce. I was hoping that the eggplant was grilled and would provide some smokey flavor to the ricotta cheese, but I couldn’t really taste the eggplant contributing to the filling. So these ravioli were essentially just ricotta filled. The ravioli were cooked absolutely perfectly al dente, some of the most expertly cooked pasta I have eaten out in a restaurant. For my taste, the red sauce was a little too sweet.
The Location: Max SoHa is on the corner of Amsterdam Ave and 123rd Street which is on the northern edge of Columbia University in the Morningside Heights neighborhood, just south of Harlem.
People have started to send me links to weird ass dumpling videos they find around the internet.
I have seen several examples of Rube-Goldberg contraptions to shoot foods through the air and 3-second speed cook them, and Myth Busters did a test of a system to cook shrimp. Here is the flying dumpling cooking system version of the video.
I got this GIF forwarded me as a dumpling eating video, but I think it is actually a guy speed eating Peking Duck.
This last one is not weird ass, but is in fact a very important safety video on how to eat Xiao Long Bao without burning your face off or ruining your shirt. See it here at Food & Wine’s web site.
Wow Bao Steamers
Steamed Green Vegetable Dumpling in its cardboard serving box
Its all about context, when I originally reviewed Wow Bao in Chicago I gave them a mediocre review, but I was positively psyched to see a Wow Bao at the American Airlines gates at Reagan National Airport. I travel a lot and, despite some improvements in recent years, the food served at U.S. airports is terrible. This is especially true if you are vegan or vegetarian, it is a wasteland out there. Why can’t the U.S. produce an airport like Inchon Airport in Korea?
Previously I tried the BBQ Pork Bao, the Edamame Bao and the Pork and Cabbage pot stickers, this time I tried the steamed Green Vegetable Dumplings. These dumplings appeared to be filled with greens, peanuts, edamame and mushrooms and were objectively pretty good. But given my rock bottom expectations for food that evening at the airport (I was expecting fried carbs covered in cheese) I was positively giddy to be eating steamed veggie dumplings. The wrappers for these dumplings contain egg and so are vegetarian, but not vegan.
You can get orders of 5 or 8 dumplings served in a Chinese restaurant cardboard box to-go container and the Wow Bao kiosk at Reagan Airport has a small counter you can eat at.
I reviewed La Salle Dumpling Room a few months ago and raved about their pork and kimchee soup dumplings. I have seen some negative blog posts and Yelp! reviews for this spot, but since I quite enjoyed my last visit to the Dumpling Room I decided to return and try some of their other varieties of dumplings. Maybe my happy posts about this place will counteract some of the hater’s reviews out there.
Pan Fried Pork Dumplings
Steamed White Fish Dumplings
The Dumplings: For a place that calls itself a Dumpling Room they have a relatively modest selection of dumplings. This time around I tried the fried pork dumplings and the steamed white fish dumplings. The wrapper of the fired pork dumplings was folded over the meat and not pinched closed along the entire seam but rather the wrapper was just pressed together in the middle and the ends of the dumpling were left open. The dumplings were panned fried to a crispy golden brown. I liked these dumplings a lot and with their open ends they were reminiscent of cannoli stuffed with tasty savory pork.
The steamed white fish dumplings are filled with, of course, white fish and scallion, ginger and celery. These were basically a solidly executed mild-tasting seafood dumpling. I was expecting the celery would give the filling some crunch, but the celery was chopped very finely and didn’t contribute much texture. These dumplings do serve as an excellent conveyance for the chef’s amazing dipping sauce.
The Dipping Sauce: the wait staff are still refusing to give up the secret of the chef’s excellent dipping sauce. The sauce is certainly soy based and probably flavored with vinegar and oil, but there is some secret ingredient or proportion of ingredients in there that takes it to the next level.
The Location: La Salle Dumpling Room is on the border between the Morningside Heights and Manhattanville neighborhoods, on Broadway a block and a half south of 125th street, on the corner of La Salle Street. This area is fast becoming a destination for Asian food, with La Salle Dumpling Room, Jin Ramen (DH Review here) , Kissaten Jin and Chapati House all within a block of each other.
Dumpling making station at Ollie’s
Ollie’s has been a fixture on the Upper Westside of Manhattan for 27 years, doing a huge business in dine-in, take-out and delivery of Americanized-Chinese food. Over the last couple of years they have closed a couple of locations and then recently opened a new one on Broadway and 103rd Street. At the new, Ollie’s To Go, there is an open kitchen visible from the street with a dumpling making station right up front, separated from the pedestrians by only a pane of glass.
Soup dumplings in the steamer
The Dumplings: Given how Americanized the food at Ollie’s is, I was pretty skeptical two years ago when I saw that the old 116th street location had added soup dumplings to their menu. At that time the waitress told me they were serving frozen dumplings and my review of them was that they were pretty weak and that they were probably commercially sourced. But recently I walked by the 103rd street location and saw a woman at the dumpling station churning out fresh soup dumplings that looked really legit, so I headed in and placed an order.
As I opened the steamer and a cloud of pork infused steam wafted out, the host rushed over and to make sure I knew how to eat the dumplings and wouldn’t burn my face off. I assured him I was no newbie. These soups dumplings were vastly better than the ones I tried two years ago. The soup was deeply flavorful and unctuous and the meat ball was savory and porky – the sweetness that I criticized them for last time was not present in these dumplings. The wrappers were good, they were supple but mostly strong enough to hold in the soup and meat, only one dumpling arrived in the steamer with a tear in the wrapper and I was able to lift all but that one out of the steamer without the soup spilling out.
The Dipping Sauce: Ollie’s serves the traditional black vinegar flavored Xiao Long Bao dipping sauce with fairly thick matchsticks of ginger floating in the sauce. I don’t really like this style of dipping sauce and Ollie’s To Go presented a typical version of it, so as usual I did not enjoy it.
The Location: Ollie’s new location is on Broadway at 103rd Street in the Manhattan Valley neighborhood just south of Columbia University. It is on the same block as Sun Chan, one of Dumpling Hunter’s favorite spots. Unfortunately Sun Chan has been closed for months due to gas main issues, anyone know what is going on there?
Over the past four years of Dumpling Hunter I have mainly focused on Asian and Eastern European dumplings, with a sideline in Pastys and Empanadas, and have almost ignored the ravioli (see here and here). It is time to right this wrong and to start reviewing some ravioli.
Harlem’s Vinateria serves an Italian and Spanish-inspired seasonal menu and has a good wine list. One of the focuses of the restaurant is to use as many organic and locally sourced ingredients as possible. Vinateria has a sleek, stylish dining room, a really friendly, fun bar scene and an outdoor sidewalk cafe area. This is a good place for an after work drink and light dinner.
Ravioli in Brodo
The Dumplings: Vinateria has a changing seasonal menu so their ravioli may not always be available. This summer they have been serving Ravioli in Brodo – a Ricotta ravioli in tomato water with heirloom tomatoes. The ravioli had an superbly thin and delicate wrapper and were served floating in the light tomato water broth – this was a very light, fresh summer dinner. Tomato water was huge in the 1990’s but somehow I missed it, but in my defense tomato water was being served in high end restaurants and I was a poor student in the 90’s. Not knowing any better I was expecting the tomato water to mild tasting, but it actually packed a tomato flavor punch and was delicious. The last piece to this dish was the heirloom cherry tomatoes which provided sweet bursts of flavor.
The Dipping Sauce: I am still working out how to review ravioli, maybe the description of the sauce should come here.
The Location: Vinateria is in South Harlem on Frederick Douglas Boulevard at the corner of 119th street. The Boulevard from 112th to 123rd is a lively restaurant row of bars and restaurants.
Mr. Robot – Bo Hai Dumpling Town
The USA TV show Mr. Robot has built a hardcore fan base that obsesses on Reddit about all the details embedded in the show. The main character, Elliot Alderson, lives in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan above Bo Hai Dumpling Town. Several fans have posted on Reddit about their pilgrimages to Bo Hai Dumplings Town and posted selfies of themselves infront of the store.
The Lo-Down wrote in an article about Mr. Robot “Here’s a footnote for the truly obsessed. Bo Hai Dumpling Town is nothing much to look at. If you walk inside, you’ll see a few women hunched over tables stuffing and rolling dumpling skins. But it’s a decent place to pick up a bag of frozen dumplings ($11 for 50). Varieties include: pork with leek, pork with Chinese cabbage, chicken with Chinese cabbage, vegetable and salted meat.”
Unfortunately Bo Hai Dumpling Town closed before I started binge watching Mr. Robot and I did not get a chance to try their dumplings. Judging from the signage seen in the series, it closed at some point during the shooting of season one. The four story tenement building that housed Eliot’s apartment and Bo Hai Dumpling Town sold in June 2014 for 3.3 million.
Puff Cha Cafe is a Thai restaurant that focuses on Curry Puffs (Karee Paps in Thai) which the menu describes as “a deep fried delicacy/snack consisting of individual small round pockets of dough that look like a small Cornish pastry (sic), Indian samosa, Portuguese empanada, or Mexican empanada”. Puff Cha Cafee serves an original style Curry Puff, which are traditionally filled with chicken, taro, onion and curry powder, and a variety of other styles. They also serve stir fried dishes over rice, ramen soup, dry ramen, soba and bubble tea.
The Dumplings: In addition to the traditional style filling, Puff Cha Cafe serves:
- Basil: chicken, basil, taro , onion and chili.
- Thai BBQ Red Pork: pork, onion and sweet red sauce.
- Korean BBQ: beef, onion, scallion and Korean chili paste.
- Crab Rangoon: crab stick, cheese, and scallion
- Pad Thai: tofu, carrot and green beans
- Taro: taro and coconut milk
- Coconut & Corn: coconut, corn, milk and heavy cream.
- New York Cheese Cake: Cheesecake wafers
- Apple Strudel: apple, cinnamon, raisin, cashew nut
Pad Thai Puff Cha
If you buy three Puffs you get free peanut dipping sauce and sweet and sour or spicy cream sauce can be bought for a dollar. I was in a bit of a rush so I grabbed one Puff to go and went with the Pad Thai Puff. The puff filling had a sweetened soy flavor that was enjoyable, but it is not really clear to me how this puff got the Pad Thai moniker, it didn’t have the Tamarind/fish sauce/spicy/peanut flavor I associate with Pad Thai and wasn’t filled with any of the ingredients I think of with Pad Thai. The green beans turned out to be green peas and the cubed carrot and pea mix looked like they were from a supper market freezer aisle bag. The fried dough wrapper was excellent, very flaky in texture like a croissant and a pasty shell had a love child – you can see the croissant like outer layer in the photo to the left.
The Dipping Sauce: I was in a rush and eating as I walked through Hell’s Kitchen so I did not grab any dipping sauce. Next time.
The Location: Puff Cha Cafe is in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, which is home to tons of great restaurants and is the setting for Marvel Comic’s Daredevil series (the Netflix series is awesome). They are on 50th Street between 9th and 10th Ave.
Pan-fried vegetable dumplings
The atrocious Zen in Northampton MA (reviewed here) finally closed and in short order was replaced by Oriental Taste, which is brought to us by the same guys who own Oriental Flavor in Amherst, MA. I previously proclaimed Oriental Flavor to be the best Chinese Restaurant in the Pioneer Valley, and the guys have ported their menu over to Oriental Taste. I think both Oriental Flavor and Oriental Taste are kind of painful names for Chinese restaurants, so I have been referring to them respectively as OF and OT. Both restaurants have a Dim Sum menu and steer away from American-Chinese dishes and focus on more authentic Chinese styles. Since Zen had a sushi counter, OT has added sushi to its menu, not sure if I approve of this, but those counters are expensive and OT seems to be making the most of it.
The mouse shape
For my inaugural visit to OT I tried the pan-fried vegetable dumplings, which are filled with the same, or very similar, filling as the steamed vegetable dumplings at OF, but the green spinach wrappers are center pleated and the dumplings have a mouse shape. The filling seems to a mince of pressed tofu, bok choy, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and glass noodles and is just as good in the pan-fried version as in the steamed version at OF. These dumplings are vegan.
I am really psyched to see the guys behind OF expanding and bringing their more traditional style Chinese dishes to additional towns in the Pioneer Valley.
As I have written before, when I travel to London I am in the habit of having a pasty for breakfast at Paddington Station as my first meal in country. After a recent flight to London, I was distressed to discover that the West Cornwall Pasty shop in Paddington Station has closed. But thankfully the gentleman at the information booth directed me to The Pasty Shop which has opened near Track 12. The Pasty Shop sells traditional Cornish Pasties, some not official Cornish, but fairly traditional pasty varieties (steak and ale pasty, vegetable pasty and chicken and vegetable pasty), and some distinctly non-traditional ones, including a pulled-pork pasty and a spicy chili beef pasty. I went with the vegetable pasty which was filled with potato, peppers, onion, swede (turnip), celery, parsnip and sweet corn. Given that sweet corn is a new world plant, having corn in the pasty made it very non-traditional. As a traditionalist I don’t think I approve of the sweetness of corn in my pasty, but overall their veggie pasty was quite good. The Pasty Shop is transit oriented, the company only has locations at train stations and airports in England.
The Cornish Pasty is an EU recognized Protected Geographic Indication and Cornish Pasties can only be sold as such if they are made in Cornwall and meet the EU specification (EU specification is here). A genuine, EU designated Cornish Pasty may only contain roughly diced or minced beef, potato, swede, onion and spices, must be savory and must be crimped into a D shape. Apparently, Cornish Pasty makers generate 300 million pounds in trade a year and employ 2000 people. But with Brexit, the pasty may well lose this designation and market anarchy may be unleashed of inferior “Cornish” Pasties made in Wales, Kent, Yorkshire or even France. During the Brexit campaign The Cornish Pasty Association came out as anti-Brexit and argued that the UK should stay in the EU. Or perhaps, without the EU strictures (“vegetable content must not be less than 25% of the whole pasty” and “spices” defined as salt and pepper), there will be an explosion of pasty innovation.