Uncle Luoyang, NY, NY

uncle_luoyangIf I had ordered three types of dumplings, I suspect Uncle Luoyang’s would have been an epic fail, but since I only got two plates of bad dumplings, they only rate as a normal fail.

I had high expectations for Uncle Luoyang, its food truck that sets up outside of Columbia University gets great reviews online and it always has a long line of international students from China waiting for orders.  The restaurant has multiple menus; BBQ skewers, counter sushi bar, all-you-can-eat sushi, dim sum, hot pot, Japanese kitchen dishes and Chinese dishes.  There are a couple of typos on the menu, for instance the the Pork Dumplings with Chili Oil at $3.95 is actually Scallion Pancakes.

Pork Dumplings with Chili Oil

Pork Dumplings with Chili Oil

The Dumplings:  the menus have a lot of dumplings on offer, I tried the Pork Dumplings with Chili Oil and the Steamed Crab Meat Pork Buns, which are soup dumplings.

Pork Dumplings With Chili Oil – these boiled or steamed pork gyoza style dumplings were served piled in a small steep sided bowl with what appeared to be pure chili oil in the bottom of the bowl. This plating was poorly conceived, the bowl was too small to mix the dumplings and oil together, so the dumplings piled on top didn’t have much contact with the oil and were bland and the dumplings in the bottom of the bowl became saturated with oil.  Usually the sauce in this type of dish is a flavorful mix of chili oil, soy sauce and sesame paste.  Unfortunately, here the dumplings soaking in the oil at the bottom of the bowl absorbed so much oil eating them was like doing a shot of pure chili oil – basically they were inedible.

Steamed Crab Meat and Pork Buns

Steamed Crab Meat and Pork Buns

Steamed Crab Meat Pork Buns – When the waitress opened the bamboo steamer I immediately saw that the dumpling wrappers were full of holes and looked moth-eaten and all the soap had leaked out.  The dumplings had either been sitting for a while and had been re-heated and fallen apart or had been radically over steamed.  I sent them back.

The Location:  Uncle Luoyang’s is on Amsterdam Avenue between 105th and 106th streets in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood.  Their food truck sets up on Broadway between 116th and 117th streets just north of Columbia University’s main entrance.

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Grand Sichuan 74, New York, NY

Wonton's in Red Chili Oil

Wonton’s in Red Chili Oil

Grand Sichuan 74 is a no ambiance joint that is part of the Grand Sichuan mini-chain in New York City. Apparently each of the Grand Sichuan restaurants has the same Sichuan style base menu but has their own executive chef that adds addition dishes. Grand Sichuan 74’s menu includes dishes from Chong Qing, a large municipality that was part of the Sichuan Province until the late 1990s.  Chong Qing has its own regional style of Sichuan food, notably a style of hot pot.  Grand Sichuan 74’s menu includes General Tso’s Chicken and Orange Flavored Beef, so they have taken the route of offering typical Americanized-Chinese dishes as a gateway to some more adventurous Sichuan dishes (e.g. Chong Qing Sliced Fish And Sour Cabbage or Spicy Mung Bean Noodle or Ox Tongue & Tripe).

Pan Fried Vegetable Dumplings

Pan Fried Vegetable Dumplings

The Dumplings:  The appetizer section of Grand Sichuan 74’s menu has a pretty extensive dumpling list; Crabmeat & Pork Soup Dumpling, Pork Soup Dumpling, Sichuan Wonton with Red Oil, Steamed or Fried Pork Dumpling, Steamed Shrimp Dumpling, Steamed or Fried Vegetable Dumpling, and Roast Pork Bun.

Pan Fried Vegetable Dumplings – These veggie dumplings were mainly filled with a shredded white cabbage, with some greens and flecks of carrot mixed in.  Both the wrapper and the filling had a mushy consistency and the filling tasted like overcooked cabbage; they had that same sulfurous smell too. On top of the overcooked cabbage flavor, these dumplings also tasted of old burnt cooking oil.  I do not recommend trying these dumplings.

Pork Shu Mai - You can see the wrapper sagging away from the filling between my chop sticks

Pork Shu Mai – You can see the wrapper between my chop sticks sagging away from the filling.

Pork Shu Mai – Each of these steamed Shu Mai was adorned with a green pea or two and was filled with a dense ball of pork with carrot mixed into it.  There was a problem with the wrappers on these Shu Mai, as I picked each one up the wrapper sagged away from the filling and fell off the meat ball, back into the cabbage leaf lined steamer.  This was not a chop-stick user error, but a defect in either the consistency of the wrapper or the folding and attachment of the wrapper to the filling.  The Shu Mai were also really greasy, so I ended up with a pile of broken wrapper dough laying in pools of grease that had collected on the cabbage leaves that lined the bottom of the steamer.

Wonton in Red Chili Oil

Wonton in Red Chili Oil

Wonton in Red Oil – OK, the best for last.  Grand Sichuan 74 uses relatively large and floppy wontons so there was a good amount of noodle to mop the sauce up with and the pork in the wonton tasted great.  The sauce was a mix of chili oil, soy and probably sesame paste or tahini.  The chili oil was flavorful and packed a punch, by the end of eating the dish my lips and tongue felt a solid burn.  There was just the right amount of sesame paste in the sauce so it had a velvety smooth, creamy texture and some nutty sesame flavor, without going overboard and producing a sauce that was thick and gloppy.  When I used the Fried Vegetable Dumplings to mop up the chili oil that remained after I ate the wontons, the sauce was tasty enough that the veggie dumplings actually tasted OK.  I would certainly get these wontons again.

The Dipping Sauce:  The Pan Fried Vegetable Dumplings came with a standard soy based dipping sauce that was quite strong tasting, but was not able to hide the sulfurous and burnt oil taste of the dumplings.

The Location:  Sichuan Grand 74 is on Amsterdam Avenue between 74th and 75th streets on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  This area of Manhattan has tons of Chinese restaurants that I have been touring over the past few months.

Posted in New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Shumai, Sichuan Dumplings, Vegetarian, Wontons | Leave a comment

RIP Theodore Twardzik, Pierogy Entrepreneur

mrstpierogiesTheodore Twardzik founded Mrs. T’s Pierogies in 1952 in Shenandoah, PA, using his mother’s family recipe.  The company has it origins in Mrs. Mary Twardizik’s small business selling homemade pierogies at church fairs. Her son, Theodore, saw the long lines waiting for his mother’s dumplings and realized he could build a business around her recipe. He built Mrs. T’s Pierogies into the first frozen pierogy (Mrs. T’s spells pierogi with a “y”) brand available in American supermarkets.  When the business outgrew the original staff of five women making pierogies in his mother’s kitchen, Theodore invented machines to make pierogies.  Today Mrs. T’s sells 13 varieties of large pierogies and four varieties of mini-pierogies and is run by Mary Twardzik’s grandson.

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Pearls, New York City, NY

Szechuan Shrimp Dumplings in Chili Oil

Szechuan Shrimp Dumplings in Chili Oil

Manhattan’s Upper West Side is replete with Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and I am continuing my tour of the neighborhood.  You can find spots selling home-style and regional dishes (Xi’an Famous FoodsLava Kitchen and Sun Chan), places selling Americanized dishes as the gateway to traditional cuisine sections on the menu (Szechuan Garden), great Cuban-Chinese fusion joints and restaurants selling old-school 80’s and 90’s style fully Americanized Chinese food.

One look at the menu immediately told me which category Pearls fell into – Orange Beef, Orange Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, Beef with Broccoli, Mango Chicken…  If the menu didn’t give it away the conversation at the next table did.  My neighbors were lamenting that many old, classic Chinese restaurants like Pearls were closing down in the area and being replaced with restaurants catering to the Chinese students at Columbia University; one of the diners estimated that fully 30% of Columbia’s students are from China!  (Actually only 17% of Columbia’s class of 2015 were international students and China was only the 4th top country of origin for international students).  The group at the next table find the new Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood to be serving food that is too spicy, with too many unfamiliar ingredients…   I think there is always room for a great American-Chinese restaurant in any neighborhood, sometimes you just want Sweet and Sour Pork, but I have also seen the Asian food revolution coming to the Upper West Side and it is good.

The Dumplings:  Pearls’ menu has an impressively long selection of dumplings, in fact the entire menu is huge.  They serve fried or boiled Pork Dumplings, Vegetable Dumplings, Spinach & Chicken Dumplings and Watercress & Shrimp Dumplings and Fried Shrimp Dumplings, Szechuan Dumplings with Hot Oil and Shrimp Dumplings with Hot Oil.  I tried the fried Pork dumplings, fried Watercress & Shrimp dumplings and the Shrimp Dumplings with Hot Oil.

Fried side of the fried Pork Dumpling

Fried side of the fried Pork Dumpling

Fried Pork Dumplings – the pork dumplings were stuffed full of pork with a little scallion mixed in, but were mainly salty tasting.  The wrappers were thin and delicate and the dumplings were fried perfectly golden crispy on one side and were just steamed on the other side.  Unfortunately the wrappers were so thin that the steamed side couldn’t really contain the filling, when I bit into the dumplings the meat ball filling kept bursting through the steamed side and falling out of its cloak.

Shrimp Wonton in Chili Oil

Shrimp Wonton in Chili Oil

Dumplings with Hot Oil – for this dish Pearls uses large floppy wontons, so when it arrived this dish looked like a big bowl of noodles.  This is my favorite preparation for this dish, the wonton noodle that trails off the meat ball stuffing provides lots of surface area for the sauce to cling to.  But while Pearls got the wontons right, the sauce was terrible, a bland mix of sesame paste, soy sauce and what looked like chili oil that had all the spice leached out of it.

Watercress & Shrimp Dumplings

Watercress & Shrimp Dumplings

Watercress & Shrimp Dumplings – like the Fried Pork Dumplings these were fried perfectly golden crispy on one side and were steamed on the other side.  Of the three dishes I tried this was by far the most successful.  The watercress was peppery and the chunks of shrimp tasted sweet and fresh.  These dumplings were really enjoyable, but the mix of watercress and shrimp was really uneven across dumplings.  On the plus side, I took the unevenness of the filling to indicate that these dumplings were made in house.

Dipping Sauce:  The fried Pork and fried Watercress & Shrimp dumplings came with a generic sweetened soy sauce dipping sauce, pretty meh.  As noted, the hot oil sauce that came with the Szechuan dumplings was terrible.

The Location: Pearls is in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood on Amsterdam Avenue at 99th Street.

 

Posted in New York City, Pork, Shrimp, Sichuan Dumplings | Leave a comment

Yaso Tangbao, Brooklyn, NY

photo-oct-28-7-35-19-pmI wanted to love Brooklyn’s Yaso Tangbao but their dumplings did not get me there, they were good but not great.  When it opened back in October 2015 Yaso Tangbao got a lot of good press (see here).   The articles told the shop’s origin story of three high school friends from Shanghai who came to the U.S. for college and then quit jobs in banking and international affairs to open a dumpling shop under the tutelage of Zongxing Tu, the master soup dumpling chef at Joe’s Shanghai in Queens.

Yaso Tangbao inhabits a semi-industrial space with ads from 1920s and ’30s Shanghai hanging from rough finished wood plank walls and the seating is at long wooden communal tables.  Orders are placed at a counter in the back, next to a glassed in dumpling station where cooks wrap pork in hand rolled dough. Once you have ordered and paid you are given a number and you wait for the number to be called to retrieve your order.  Like Vanessa’s, Xi’an Famous Foods and Lava Kitchen, meals at Yaso Tangbao are served on paper plates and bowls on plastic trays.

The Dumplings: Yaso Tangbao serves Xiao Long Bao stuffed with Pork, Pork & Crab Roe or Spicy Pork , Pan Fried Pork Buns, Shanghai Style Pork Shu Mai and steamed Vegetable Dumplings.

Spicy Pork Soup Dumplings and their chili oil infused soup

Spicy Pork Soup Dumplings and their chili oil infused soup

Xiao Long Bao – first off the soup dumplings were perfectly made, the dough was rolled out just thick enough to maintain its integrity and hold in the soup and meat filling. The dumplings also packed in a lot of soup, at least two soup spoons full, however the flavor of the soup and meat was not great.  The spicy pork dumplings had a one note spicy flavor from the chili oil blended into the pork, and the chili completely overwhelmed the pork flavor and any other seasonings blended into the pork.  I was hoping the plain pork dumplings would have a more complex flavor, and there was more flavor going on, but part of it was a slight metallic aftertaste.

Pork Shu Mai

Pork Shu Mai

Pork Shu Mai – Shanghai style pork shu mai, which are stuffed with a dirty style rice that has been simmered with pork, are usually one of my favorite dumplings.  The rice in Yaso TangBoa’s Shu Mai was moist and had a great flavor and the dumplings were generously stuffed.  But there was no pieces of pork or sweet and spicy Chinese sausage mixed in with the rice in this version of the dumplings.  I liked the Pork Shu Mai at Kung Fu Steamed Little Buns Ramen much better.

Pan Fried Pork Buns

Pan Fried Pork Buns

Pan Fried Pork Buns – these buns are called Sheng Jian and are one of the most popular breakfast items in Shanghai.  I love this style of bun and my favorites are from Xiao Yang’s in Shanghai.  The buns I had at Yaso Tangbao were fried golden crispy on the bottom and the pork filling was flavorful but the bun dough was really dense and it seemed like my order had been under cooked.

The Dipping Sauce.  Yaso Tangbao has a sauce making station with a bottle of Sriracha, a couple of bottles of black vinegar and a large water dispenser full of soy sauce.  The plastic dipping sauce bowls provided at the station are tiny and really too small to dunk a dumpling in, I noticed that savvy customers were mixing their sauce in paper boats.

The Location.  Yaso Tangbao is in downtown Brooklyn, on Lawrence Street, just off the Fulton Street Mall.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pork, Shanghai, Shumai, Soup Dumpling | Leave a comment

Lava Kitchen, New York City, NY

Inside Lava Kitchen

Inside Lava Kitchen

The very recently opened Lava Kitchen is a spare, no design, stripped down casual spot serving Sichuan dishes.  The layout of the restaurant is such that every time the door opens a cold wind blows in from Broadway, luckily the specialty of the house is Malatang, a mildly spicy noodle soup.  Malatang is a popular street food that originated in the Sichuan province and now is really big in Beijing.  The base broth is mildly spicy and then before eating is further seasoned with lots of garlic, black pepper, Sichuan pepper, chili pepper, and sesame paste.

At Lava Kitchen you order food at the counter and are given a number and then return to the counter to pick up your food when your number is called. The food is served on red plastic trays; the soup comes in huge colorful bowls and dumplings are served on Styrofoam plates.

The Dumplings: In addition to Malatang, Lava Kitchen serves lots of dumplings: Wonton Soup, Cabbage & Pork dumplings, Chicken dumplings, Steamed Vegetable dumplings, Crab Roe & Pork bun, Pork bun, Vegetable bun, Pan Fried bun, Pan Fried dumplings and Red Bean bun.

Crab Roe and Pork Buns

Crab Roe and Pork Buns

Crab Roe & Pork bun – Based on the photos on the menu I initially thought these were going to be soup dumplings sprinkled with black sesame seeds, but instead they were steamed bread buns that were quite good.  The bread is really light and fluffy and the pork filling was mild and savory, and although the crab roe made the inside of the bun yellow, I didn’t get any flavor contribution from the roe.  The bottom of each bun had a little square of barely visible paper stuck to it, peal that off you don’t want to eat it.  Each bun is about the size of a tangerine, so the four of these that come to an order are pretty filling.

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings – The dough of these vegan mouse shaped dumplings is an unsettling artificial looking, play-dough green.  But once I got over that, I found these dumplings to be really good.  They are packed with greens, cabbage and carrot and had a slight bitter cruciferous flavor that was balanced by the sweetness of the carrots.  They tasted really fresh and life giving, I think I liked the vegetable dumplings more than the pork buns.  Like the buns, the steamed vegetable dumplings were served sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

Sauce making station

Sauce making station

Dipping Sauce:  Lava Kitchen provides a small sauce mixing station that has soy sauce, black vinegar, Sriracha, and the kicker, a tub of house mixed chili oil, sesame seeds and chili paste.  I skipped the Sriracha and mixed soy, vinegar and house chili mash, to make a really tasty dipping sauce.

The Location:  Lava Kitchen is on Broadway between 100th and 101st, just south of the Columbia University’s Morningside Heights neighborhood.  While the East Village and Chinatown get the dumpling loving media attention, this area has an increasingly diverse number of dumpling eating options.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pork, Steamed, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Szechuan Garden, New York, NY

Pork Pot Sticker

Pork Pot Sticker

Each table top at Szechuan Garden has a built in hot plate to power the restaurant’s signature Sichuan hot pots.  For the hot pots you choose a stock, including the option of a vegetarian broth, selections from the list of meats, selections from the list of vegetables, various tofu options, noodles and dumplings. Szechuan Garden also sells typical American-Chinese dishes and a lot of options I am assuming are more traditional Sichuan style dishes such as, Snow Pea Pig Feet Soup, Ox Tongue & Tripe with roasted chili-peanuts vinaigrette, Stir Fried Diced Fish Fillet with pickled chili cucumber and Braised Sea Cucumber With Chili Minced Pork.

Pork Pot Stickers

Pork Pot Stickers

The Dumplings:  Szechuan Garden serves Szechuan pork dumpling with roasted chili soy, pan seared pot stickers and steamed vegetable dumplings.  The pot stickers were stuffed with a juicy mixture of savory pork and cabbage and were served seared to a golden crisp on two sides.  The pot stickers were really uniform in size, shape and pleating so I think they may be a frozen commercial dumpling rather than homemade.  But they were well cooked, tasty and very enjoyable.

Szechuan Dumpling in Chili oil

Szechuan Dumpling in chili oil

The Szechuan pork dumpling with roasted chili soy were a steamed or boiled pork dumpling served in a sauce of chili oil and soy garnished with scallions and sesame seeds.  Typically this dish uses a wonton style dumpling that has a lot of excess wrapper that serves as a noodle at the end of the dumpling.  The dumplings were good but I missed the noodle aspect that provides a greater surface area for sauce to cling to.  The sauce was pretty spicy but not overwhelming, there was a slow build up of the burn so that my lips were tingling by the time I finished eating them, but it wasn’t challenging.

The Dipping Sauce:  The pot stickers came with a typical soy based dipping sauce that had a lot of sweetness to it and a fruity undertone.  The chili soy sauce for the Szechuan pork dumplings was soy sauce with a layer of chili oil floating on top, with red chili paste and mashed raw garlic added to the oil.  The ingredients of the sauce were not well integrated together, at one point I ended up eating a wad of raw garlic mash.  Overall the sauce lacked complexity and depth of flavor.

The Location:  Szechuan Garden is in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood on Broadway at 98th Street.  They have another location at 105th street and Broadway.

Posted in Boiled, Chinese, New York City, Potsticker, Sichuan Dumplings, Wontons | Leave a comment

Drunken Dumplings, New York, NY

A deflated giant soup dumpling after the soup was sucked out of it.

A deflated giant soup dumpling after the soup was sucked out of it. At Nan Xiang Xiolong Mantou.

Drunken Dumpling has been getting a lot of positive press since it opened a several weeks ago, particularly for its giant soup dumpling (see the NY Times piece).   I had my first giant soup dumpling about 5 years ago at Nan Xiang Xiolong Mantou in Shanghai.  After I had eaten there, my Shanghainese colleagues told me that giant soup dumplings were a PR ploy to bring in tourists to the restaurant and no self-respecting resident of Shanghai would eat a giant soup dumpling.

I’ve gone to Drunken Dumpling twice and have not been able to get in because of the crowds.  The first time I showed up with my dumpling eating posse, but Drunken Dumpling is really too small to accommodate four large guys hoping to eat piles of dumplings.  The tables are small and can fit one steamer or a tower of several steamers, and really can only handle parties of two.  The second time I went alone, but on a Thursday night and the line was down the block. I had concert tickets and couldn’t wait out the line.  Now that I know the score, I will go back on a weekday afternoon and try and finally eat some of their dumplings.

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Mokja Korean Cuisine, New York City, NY

mokja-burger

Bibinbap Burger at Mokja

Mokja Korean Cuisine opened recently on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is a spin-off of Mokja Korean Eatery in Astoria.  Mokja serves traditional Korean dishes and also some mash-up fusion dishes – for instance, the Bulgogi Nachos, which are tortilla chips topped with gochujang aioli, kimchi, beef bulgogi and melted sharp cheddar and the Bibimbap Burger which is a burger topped with bibimbap vegetables, a runny fried egg and bibimbap sauce on a brioche bun.  Mokja has a small main dining room that seats maybe 20 people and also has a party room available that seats 15 people.

Fried Pork Dumplings

Fried Pork Dumplings

The Dumplings:  Mokja serves homemade pork with vegetable dumplings that come either fried or steamed and in orders of four or nine pieces. I tried the fried dumplings which are deep fried cooked and are crispy and crunchy on the outside.  I liked these dumplings a lot; inside the wrapper the pork is densely packed into a tight meatball that is savory and juicy.  This is not a bland factory made frozen dumpling, the filling has a robust, well seasoned pork flavor.

The Dipping Sauce: Mandoo dipping sauces in Korea tend to be loaded with scallion slivers and sesame seeds, and often ginger and/or garlic too.  Sometimes the sauces are so dense with pieces they are like a slurry (see the sauce at Myeongdong Gyoza here) and this is the route Mokja has gone with adding scallion and sesame seeds to their sauce.  I like this approach because there was enough scallion to add aromatic and pepper notes and the sesame seeds added a hint of smokey flavor and crunch to the dumpling.  The sauce itself appeared to be a mix of soy, sesame and rice vinegar.  Mokja’s strong work with the dipping sauce really elevated their dumplings.

The Location:  Mokja is on Amsterdam Ave between 101st and 102nd streets which is the southern end of Manhattan’s Manhattan Valley neighborhood.   This might be the Northern most Korean restaurant in Manhattan.

 

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Fourth Anniversary of Dumpling Hunter

New_logo_smDumpling Hunter is celebrating the beginning of its fifth year in existence, having uploaded 245 posts and received over 48,000 page views.  The first post on 9/30/12 was a review of Nan Xiang Xiolong Mantou in Shanghai.  Dumplings have been eaten in countless cities and towns, in ten countries – USA, China, Korea, Italy, Netherlands, England, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Turks and Caicos – across four continents.

Top dumplings have been had at Yang’s Fried Dumplings in Shanghai, Myeongdong Gyoza in Seoul, Nishida Sho-Ten, Kung Fu Steamed Little Buns Ramen, and Xi’an Famous Foods in New York City, Shanghai Garden in Seattle and Leoung’s Legends Continue in London.   The most over rated dumplings were at Din Tai Fung and the worst were from Chopsticks on Turks and Caicos. A highlight was when Beyond Meat sent me coupons for free product after seeing my recipe for vegan beef dumplings.

Despite comments to the contrary I still maintain that Pasties, Samosa, Empadana and Piroshkies count as dumplings.

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