Panda Garden, Williamsburg, MA

Wontons in Hot Sesame Sauce

I am always skeptical of Chinese restaurants that have Panda or Wok in their name.  But Williamsburg, MA’s Panda Garden had been strongly recommended to me and the online menu listed some interesting sounding dishes, like Twice Cooked Pork and Pork with Spicy Tea Sauce, and there is a large vegan menu with fake meats.  The menu describes their vegetarian meats as being made of Chinese mushrooms, soy bean, vegetables and seaweed and states “There is NO Chicken or Beef!”.  We tried the vegan Mu Shu Pork and the Kung Po Chicken, both of which  had very convincing fake meats and light flavorful sauces.

Wonton with Hot Sesame Sauce

The Dumplings:  It is odd that a restaurant with an extensive vegan menu doesn’t serve a vegan dumpling, their veggie dumplings contain egg.

Wonton with Hot Sesame Sauce – These wontons came adorned with bean sprouts and dabs of red chili paste.  The wontons were filled with pork and scallions and the sauce was a mix of sesame paste and chili oil.  The sauce was good, with a nutty sesame flavor but wasn’t particularly spicy and could have been served a little hotter temperature-wise.  Overall this was a pretty decent version of this dish, but not particularly hot nor spicy.

Pan Fried Pork Dumplings

Pan-Fried Meat DumplingsPanda Garden makes its own pork dumplings which are served steamed or fried.  When ordered fried, these large dumplings are cooked pot-sticker style, pan fired one side and then covered to steam through.  The wrappers were moderately thick, but not heavy and stodgy, and fried up to create a nice crunchy base for the dumplings.  The pork filling was a visually off-putting brown color, that made me think initially that the dumplings were actually stuffed with beef, but they had a deep, robust pork flavor.  I don’t know if it was the cut of meat, the breed of pig or the seasoning that gave the filling its dark color.  This was a good plate of fried dumplings.

The Dipping Sauce:  The dipping sauce for the pan fried dumplings was unimaginative, your basic mix of soy and sesame oil.

The Location:  Williamsburg is one of the “Hill Towns” on the edge of the Berkshire mountains, about 15 minutes minutes West of Northampton, MA.  Route 9 is the main drag through Williamsburg and Panda Garden is located on Roue 9 at the Colonial Shoppes Plaza.

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Woorijip, New York NY

Mini steamed pork buns

Woorijip, which means “our house” in Korean, is a buffet/prepared foods joint in Manhattan’s Korea Town.  The buffet has both hot and cold dishes, with some Korean-Chinese options, including Korean-style Chinese Sweet and Sour Pork, which I love.  There are also a series of heated cabinets that have full meals packaged up in to-go containers, and shelves of to-go packages of Jeon, Kimbap, and Banchan.   There are a hand-full of tables and a counter to eat at.  I really like the food here, the Kimchi Jeon and the white fish Jeon are always great, and it is a great place to grab food to-go before catching trains at the nearby Amtrak station.

Pork bun filling

Last time I stopped in at Woorijip I noticed that they had started selling mini steamed pork buns.  These golf ball sized buns are filled with ground pork, glass noodles, scallions and carrots, and heavier on the noodle and vegetables components than the pork.  I thought the buns were really tasty, with the fluffy bun bread and carrots providing a sweet flavor that complemented the savory pork.  The buns are sold at room temperature and I didn’t heat them up (no micro-wave on Amtrak), but I think if they were heated up the pork flavor would have been more dominant.  It will now be a hard choice to make between Woorijip and Mama for Korean style buns.

The buns come three to an order, with a thimble sized contained of sauce.  The best way to add the sauce is to bite a small piece of the bun and then poor some of the sauce into the bun. There is no way that you can dip the bun into the sauce contained.

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Return to Great Wall Restaurant, Florence MA,

I first reviewed Great Wall Chinese Restaurant in Florence, MA in the summer of 2016.  Their vegetable dumplings are house made and filled with whatever vegetables are available seasonally in the local farm community.  They were really good last summer, so I wanted to see what they were doing for veggie dumplings in the fall season.  They pride themselves on using locally grown and purchased produce and list their sourcing on the wall of the restaurant – Asian greens from Jiang Farm in Montague, sweet corn from Golonka Farm in Whately, and fish and lobster from Bekshore at the Tuesday Farmers’ Market in Northampton, MA.

Veggie Dumplings

Last time I was there the green spinach dough wrappers were filled with carrots, onions, cabbage, peas and greens.  Perhaps reflecting the late season and scarcity of greens in the local farm stands and farmer’s markets, this time the dumplings had a simpler filling; minced cabbage, carrots, onion and scallions.  But the filling was well seasoned and I could taste each of the different filling components, so it was another successful veggie dumpling.

Fried Har Gow

I also tried the fried shrimp Har Gow, which is a preparation of these dumplings that I have never seen before.  When I saw these listed on the menu, the thought crossed my mind that this might be how they move left over steamed Har Gow from their morning dim sum.  But I think these were freshly made, the standard rice flower dough wrapped shrimp dumplings had been deep fried (without first steaming them) until the wrapper had turned into a hard crispy shell.  The shrimp filling was juicy and tasted fresh and sweet, and the mouth feel of crunching through the crispy shell into the shrimp worked well.  It was like eating a shrimp chip wrapped around shrimp – genius.

Great Wall has a “Standard Menu” menu for the punters – heavy on American Chinese food, fried rice and Lo Mein –, but the good stuff is on their “Gourmet Menu”.

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Korean Garden, North Adams, MA

Fried Vegetable Mandoo

North Adams is home to Williams College and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) which is one of the cultural gems of Western MA.  After a day taking in the art at MASS MoCA I recommend you fill up on Korean food at the nearby Korean Garden.  The restaurant is in a squat bunker-like building that previously hosted a red-sauce Italian restaurant and then a Mexican restaurant.  The decor from the Mexican Restaurant is still partially in place, so Korean Garden has an odd look going on.  In addition to classics from Korean cuisine, they have the usual pan-Asian menu options; sushi, tempura, pad thai, udon, fried rice and teriyaki.  I tried the Oshitashi, cooked spinach with sesame dressing, but it was ultra salty and I couldn’t eat more than a bite or two.

Fried hollow puffs.

The Dumplings:  Korean Garden has Shumai and meat or vegetable filled mandoo that are prepared either steamed or fried.  We tried the fried vegetable ones which are filled with tofu, onions, scallions and Korean leeks.  The mandoo were deep fried and had puffed up like balloons so there was a lot of air inside the dumpling wrapper.  The effect was like simultaneously eating a potato chip (the crispy wrapper that had ballooned out and was not in contact with the filling) and a dumpling.  As you would expect the filling had slightly sweet, sauteed onion/leek flavor that I enjoyed a lot.  The full order has 10 mandoo and these dumplings are vegan.

The Dipping Sauce:  The mandoo come with a slightly spicy Korean style dipping sauce flavored with sesame oil.

The Location:  Korean Garden is at 139 Ashland St in North Adams right next to the campus of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts about a 5 minute drive from MASS MoCA.

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Nix, New York, NY

Pea Dumplings  radish, ginger & scallion oil

Nix is a Michelin starred vegetarian and vegan restaurant serving dishes drawing upon cuisines from across the globe. The separate vegan menu is essentially a sub-set of the overall vegetarian menu and includes about 75% of the dishes on the main menu.  The overall concept is tasty cocktails and shared small plates, with the menu split into “lighter” and “bolder” sections, which seemed to be distinguished by portion size and price, rather than flavor profiles or adventurousness.   Nix has gotten strong write-ups from the NY Times and New York Magazine, and is clearly in the vanguard of a new generation of sleek and sexy vegetable forward restaurants that are becoming prominent in New York City.  This is not some hippy-dippy, seared Seitan, bad ultra-firm tofu and brown rice vegetarian restaurant.

The Tandoor bread with a variety of dipping sauces was excellent, we tried the hummus with zaatar and spiced eggplant, essentially Baba ghanoush, with pine nuts.  After the Indian Mediterranean mash-up starter we had the roasted potato gnocchi served in what I think was a corn puree sauce, which was also really good.  The gnocchi were light puffs that were crispy seared on the outside and creamy and fluffy on the inside, they reminded me of Takoyaki without the octopus pieces.  However, the  cauliflower tempura with steamed Chinese buns was a bust.  The cauliflower was covered in a gloppy red sauce described by the Times as “spicy ketchup”, which based on what I was served seems like a generous description.  The whole affair was then thickly coated with a layer of black poppy seeds, which added a gritty crunch texture.

The service is highly attentive, almost oppressively so, at one point my dining companion remarked that it seemed like the waiter was going to pull up a chair and sit with us.

Pea Dumpling

The Dumplings:  among the handful for Asian inspired items on the menu, Nix serves Pea Dumplings with radish, ginger and scallion oil, which were a show stopper.  The wonton style dumplings stuffed with pureed peas flavored with mint seemed to wink at a classic English flavor profile and were delicious.   The dumplings were dressed with thin slices of radish, thin slices of what I think were beets, and leafy green shoots.  The dumplings and dressings were served sitting in a light sauce that packed amazing flavor.  The sauce had a pronounced Chinese vinegar flavor and some spice heat from the deeply flavored scallion oil.  The sauce was absolutely stunning and once the dumplings had been consumed my dining companion and I actually spooned up and slurped down the remaining sauce.  I should have order several rounds of this dish and I will go back for more soon.

The Location:  Nix is on University Place in Greenwich Village just north of New York University, and appropriately, just south of Union Square with its extensive farmer’s market.

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Fifth Anniversary of Dumpling Hunter

Sheng Jian Bao

This, the 300th post at Dumpling Hunter, marks the 5th anniversary of the launch of this blog!  In this time the blog has accrued 69,351 page views from 42,441 visitors, with vegetarian and vegan being the most viewed topics.  The United States is home to the largest number of readers, bu the blog is big in South Korea and Singapore.

Highlights from the past year are:

Best Dumpling in the past year was the Lamb and Pickled vegetable dumpling at Dumpling Galaxy, and if you don’t like that dish they have 99 other styles of dumpling.

Best Vegan Dumpling was the limited edition wastED veggie dumpling at Mimi Cheng’s which were filled with ingredients that typically get composted during the prep process for Mimi Cheng’s other dumplings.  Brilliant idea and super tasty.

Biggest Disappointment was Drunken Dumpling which got a lot of love from the NY Times and foodie pages for its giant soup dumpling, but when I went there the flavors were bland and the pork buns were under cooked.

Dim Sum of the Year is awarded to Yank Sing in San Francisco, make sure you get the shrimp Har Gow.

Best Steamed Bao goes to Trans World Market in Hadley MA.  Get these giant pork, Chinese sausage and egg filled bao while you can, the word is that the lady who makes the Bao is retiring from the Bao-making game.

Best New Comer is awarded to Coffee Break is a french pastry/coffee shop that suddenly decided to add Shanghainese dishes to the menu.  Their Sheng Jian Bao just keep getting better and  better.

Biggest Surprise was Mi Lah’s vegan Vietnamese at Philadelphia’s Amtrak station, their BBQ-Seitan “Pork” Bao was really good.

Best Frozen Dumpling in the past year was Assi Brand Host Cooked vegetable Dumpling which are vegan.

Welcome Back! In December 2016 Yakitori Sun Chan re-opened after being knocked out of commission for six months by a ConEd gas mains problems.

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Rising Moon, Organic White Bean and Kale Ravioli

Rating:  

I was originally looking for vegan ravioli in my local food co-op and these caught eye.  It turns out that they are not vegan but they sounded really good and I was thus detoured from my original mission.  Rising Moon has been offering pastas that are certified organic and Non-GMO, with some vegan and gluten free options for over 20 years.  The company began with a ravioli subscription service, delivered by bicycle, and then expanded to include foccaccia breads and sauces.

White Bean and Kale ravioli with home made sauce.

While the labeling focuses on the white beans and kale, these ravioli also contain garlic, breadcrumbs, spices and four kinds of cheese; white cheddar, ricotta, romano and asiago.  Despite all this cheese the filling has a rich creamy texture from the white beans and they do not eat like a cheese ravioli. But the flavor of the cheese, particularly the romano and asiago, is there and balance out the cruciferous notes of the kale.  I really enjoyed these ravioli and at 12 pieces per pack this is a filling, tasty and quick dinner option.

Rising Moon’s vegan options are: Garlic Roasted Veggie Ravioli, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Classic Potato Gnocchi, and the Spinach Florentine Ravioli.

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Ravioli, Vegan, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Bao Battle: Western MA Edition

Bao Battle: Western MA edition compares bao from Banh Mi Spot and Tran’s World Market, two places I have written about before (Banh Mi Spot: here, here, here and Tran’s: here).

Banh Mi Spot began as Banh Mi Saigon, a tiny store front in a strip mall, and made a name for itself selling amazing banh mi sandwiches and Pho.  The original location tragically burned down in a huge fire that wiped out the entire strip mall.  The family that owned it re-grouped and opened up a larger restaurant in Northampton, but I don’t think they really recaptured the mojo that made the original spot great.  Since re-opening a couple of years ago, they have had several menu re-vamps and a name change.  I like their summer rolls a lot and they have a good pork banh mi.  They recently started serving home made pork bao.

Tran’s World Market’s Pork Bao

Tran’s World Food Market is a pan-Asian and South American grocery store that recently started selling home made pork bao.  The matriarch of the family that owns the store makes the bao each morning before the store opens and they sell out before lunch time.  Some regulars come in once a week and buy a dozen.  Tran’s is a grocery store and so there is no place to sit and eat the bao, it is strictly bao to-go.

The filling of the Pork Bao from Tran’s World Market.

Both places make large fist sized bao with Banh Mi Spot’s being more classically shaped than those from Tran’s which, shall we say, are more rustically formed.  Banh Mi Spot’s bao are filled with a soft boiled quail egg, ground pork, a piece of sausage, jicama, mushroom and carrots.  Similarly, Tran’s bao are filled with half of a hard boiled egg, seasoned ground pork, a piece of Chinese sausage, Shiitaki mushrooms, onion, shallot, garlic, jicama and cabbage.

Banh Mi Spot’s Pork Bao

The bao from Tran’s are the hands down winner here, the bun is slightly fluffy and sweet, and the Chinese sausage brings sweet, savory and spicy flavors. There are lots of vegetables mixed into the well seasoned pork which gives the filling a slight crunch texture.  Tran’s bao are delicious.

Banh Mi Spot’s bao have a lot less flavor and the sausage tastes like a regular American pork sausage.  The soft boiled quail egg was a nice feature because once I bit into the egg, the yoke spilled out and added flavor to the filling.  My biggest issue with the bao I got at Banh Mi Spot was that either the pork or the sausage was of low quality, twice I got a piece of gristle that I had to spit out.

Bao Battle Winner:  Tran’s World Market.

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Sangkee Noodle House, Philadelphia, PA

I was really pleasantly surprised by the Sangkee Noodle House in the lobby of the Sheraton University City Hotel.  I had to be in Philly for work and I got into the hotel late on a miserable rainy night and so had limited dinner options.  From the check-in desk the restaurant looks very PF Chang-esque, but it has a legit pedigree.  Sangkee Noodle House is part of the SangKee Restaurant Group family, which includes the beloved Philly Chinatown stalwart, the Sangkee Peking Duck House.  While I was waiting for my soup dumpling order the waiter brought me an amazing sweet, sour and spicy cabbage salad appetizer that included two types of chili peppers.

I went back for breakfast the next day. SangKee sells a combination of Chinese dishes and American breakfast essentials.  Almost all the Chinese breakfast options included chicken, which I don’t eat, so I went with the egg white omelet, which turned out to be the worst omelet I think I have ever had.  Stick to the Chinese dishes at Sangkee.

Sweet/Sour/Spicy cabbage salad.

The Dumplings:  Sangkee Noodle House serves Steamed Watercress Dumplings filled with pork, shrimp, and watercress, Steamed or Pan Fried Dumplings filled with either chicken, meat or vegetarian, Fried Wontons, Fried or Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, and Steamed Sui Mai.

Soup Dumplings

The soup dumplings come eight to an order but are on the small size.  They were expertly cooked with the soup blazing hot but the wrappers were still intact on each of the dumplings.  The soup was straw colored and relatively free of fat globules but had an intense concentrated pork broth flavor that I really enjoyed.  The pork meatball itself was fairly mildly flavored and finely minced so it had a smooth mouth feel.

This was one of the best meals I have had at a business class hotel restaurant.  Breakfast at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul has to have been the best, but this was top three.

Location:  The Sheraton University City Hotel is in the University District of Philadelphia, home to Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.  It is at 3549 Chestnut Street at 36th Street.

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Mi Lah, 30 Street Station, Philadelphia, PA

Airports and train stations in the U.S. are usually a wasteland for finding vegetarian food, let alone vegan food.  It is so bad that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine rates an airport restaurant as “healthy” if it has a single vegetarian item on the menu.  No wonder frequent travel is associated with poor health and obesity (here & here).

Vegan Char Sui Bao

Mi Lah at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is an oasis in this travel desert, it sells vegan Asian food with a focus on Vietnamese dishes.  I tried the Cha Sui Bao which are BBQ-Seitan “Pork” buns.  They also sell Spicy Dumplings which are filled with mushroom, cilantro, soy protein and bok choy and are served in a chili sauce and Soup Dumplings which are not Chinese style Xiao Long Bao, but are the dumplings from the Spicy Dumplings served in a clear broth.

BBQ-“Pork”

I think the Asian fake meat companies have cracked the code for making fake pork, especially Char Sui pork.  The filling in this bun was totally convincing in taste and texture and they use a really nice sweet Chinese BBQ sauce.  The bun could have used a bigger ratio of filling to bready bun; you can see in the photo there is a lot of bread at the top of the bun.  But hey, I was able to get a vegan snack on Amtrak!

There is a full sit down Mi Lah in Philadelphia at 615 South 3rd Street which does Tapas style small plates and their original restaurant is in Ambler PA.  At the Amtrak station , you can find Mi Lah in the food court.

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