Coffee Break, New York, NY

Coffee Break is a french pastry coffee shop that suddenly decided to add Chinese food, primarily Shanghainese dishes, to its menu. Coffee Break caught my eye because the new signage advertised Pan Fried Buns (Sheng Jian Bao). The chef is from Shanghai and I guess he spotted that dumpling houses were opening up locally and doing good business with the international students at nearby Columbia University.  So Coffee Break is now a weird mash-up where you can get a croissant, palmier, macaron or napoleon and salted sausage vegetable rice, scallion pan cakes stuffed with beef, sliced beef & tripe in chili oil or omurice.

The Dumplings:  Coffee Break sells pork or pork and crab soup dumplings (Xiao Long Bao), pan-fried pork buns (Sheng Jian Bao), steamed buns with mushroom and bok choy, pan fried pork dumplings, steamed vegetable dumplings, steamed pork dumplings and steamed chicken dumplings.  I went with the pork soup dumplings and the pan-fried pork buns.

Sheng Jian Bao

Ever since eating at Yang’s Fried Dumplings in Shanghai (which is when I decided to launch this blog) I have been on a mission to find good Sheng Jian Bao in the U.S.  These buns are the cousin of the soup dumpling, that have slightly thicker dough wrappers that can withstand being fried and then steamed, and like soup dumplings are filled with a pork meat ball and pork aspic soup.  They are usually served with slivered scallions and sesame seeds sprinkled on top.  These buns are hugely popular in Shanghai and are traditionally eaten for breakfast.  The problem with most Sheng Jian Bao in the U.S. is that the bun is too thick and doughly/bready and the bun ends up absorbing all the soup.  The result is a flavorful moist bun wrapper but there is never any soup for slurping.

The Sheng Jian Bao at Coffee Break use the U.S. style bready buns but still somehow managed to have lots of soup inside that hadn’t soaked into the bun dough.  The soup was a little salty but a really flavorful fatty pork broth.  One of the reasons I like this style of soup dumpling is that the  pan roasting of the slightly sweet dough creates tasty Maillard reactions and some caramelization on the bottom of the bun that brings extra dimensions of flavor to the dumpling that you don’t get with steamed soup dumplings. I went to Coffee Break twice over a weekend before writing this review and in between my visits they went from six buns per serving to only four per serving.

Continuing with the soup dumpling theme, I also tried their pork Xiao Long Bao, which come four soup dumplings per order.   The order I got was a little overcooked, two of the dumplings came with tears in the wrappers and it was a struggle to pick the dumplings up without shredding the wrappers.  But, holy crap, the soup in these dumplings was amazing, it was like creamy, rich pork tonkotsu ramen broth.  These dumplings were a little hard to eat, but they were some of the most flavorful soup dumplings I have tried.

The Dipping Sauce:  there is a Kikkoman bottle on each table and the soup dumplings come with the typical black vinegar dipping sauce.  But really the soup inside these dumplings is so rich and tasty I don’t think you need dipping sauce.

The Location:  Coffee Break is in the Manhattan Valley neighborhood on Amsterdam Avenue between 105th and 106th streets, just north of the New York City Youth Hostel.

Posted in Buns, New York City, Sheng Jian Bao, Soup Dumpling, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Soy Boy Frozen Vegan Ravioli

Rating:     

Soy Boy’s Okara Courage Burger is my favorite burger replacement; okara is a by product of tofu production and is high in protein.  Their burger has a flavor and texture similar to falafel and has 14g of protein per burger.  Soy Boy launched in 1976 with a $7,000 loan and a plan to make organic tofu.  Their web site provides a list of healthful qualities for their products:  no preservatives, nothing artificial, USDA certified organic tofu, no GMO, low fat — no trans fat, low sodium and no cholesterol.  Here at Dumpling Hunter we are not yet on the no-GMO band wagon, we have been genetically modifying crops since before Gregor Mendel

Soy Boy vegan ravioli with home made marinara sauce

I just discovered that Soy Boy also makes frozen vegan tofu ravioli, they sell Original Ravioli (filled with seasoned tofu), Rosa Ravioli (tomato flavored pasta filled with tofu and roasted red pepper) and Verde Ravioli (spinach flavored pasta filled with garden herb-seasoned tofu).  The Original Ravioli are round and silver dollar sized and the tofu filling is seasoned with lemon juice, onions, garlic powder and herbs and spices.  The ravioli filling had a convincing ricotta cheese texture but I thought it was quite bland, maybe they have gone too far in the low sodium direction.  I think their filling could also have used some nutritional yeast to add some cheese and umami flavor.  Soy Boy’s ravioli are a convenient vegan dish, but I prefer the flavor profile of our vegan ravioli recipe.

 



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

Tran’s World Market, Hadley, MA

 

Steamed Pork Bun

Fluffy bun filled with Chinese sausage, seasoned pork and a hard boiled egg.

Tran’s World Market is a family run Asian market in the Pioneer Valley, and probably the best local option for specialty Asian vegetables.  In addition to Asian groceries from a range of countries, they also sell groceries from South America, Africa, and the Middle East.  Tran’s also has an excellent selection of frozen dumplings and buns, and an endless selection of sauces and marinades.  They also have a variety of canned fish, crab and shrimp in spicy sauces that I am both intrigued and scared by.  Up by the cash register they sell sesame buns, Balut (fertilized chicken or duck eggs with an almost developed embryo inside) and recently, mom’s home made Steamed Pork Buns.

These fist sized, light and fluffy buns were amazing.  The ingredient sticker on the to-go tubs lists egg, onion, shallot, garlic, jicama, ground pork and pork sausage.  But this list doesn’t nearly do the filling of these buns justice, they are filled with big chunks of sweet and spicy Chinese sausage, half a hard boiled egg and wads of seasoned ground pork – delicious.  These are not traditional Chinese BBQ buns and I am torn in coming up with an analogy to describe them, they are like a full on-the-go breakfast but also remind me of Scotch Eggs.

The Location: Tran’s World Market is on Russell Street in Hadley, MA.  It is just past the bridge over the Connecticut river on the way from Northampton to Amherst, next to Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant.

Posted in Buns, Northampton, Pork | Leave a comment

East Village Dumpling Tour

New York City’s East Village neighborhood is replete with dumpling eating options.  Historically the East Village was home to Eastern European immigrants and there are still some excellent places to get pierogi and varenyky.  Over the past 15 years a Little Tokyo has grown up around St. Marks Place and 9th street providing izakaya style pubs, sake bars and ramen joints, so  there are lots of options for gyoza and takoyaki.  More recently we have seen the rise of farm-to-table hipster Chinese dumpling spots.

On the map below you can click on any of the markers and click through to the Dumpling Hunter review.

Posted in Chinese, Gyoza, Japanese, New York City, Pierogi, Varenyky | Leave a comment

Drunken Dumpling, New York, NY

Drunken Dumpling and its giant soup dumplings has been the darling of the foodie and hipster dumpling eating world since it opened in the fall of 2016.  When I first sampled soup dumplings across Shanghai I was told by my guide that giant soup dumplings were a gimmick to attract tourists.  So I have always been skeptical of giant soup dumplings, but they seem to be working for the patrons of Drunken Dumpling.  The owner’s mom is the force in the kitchen, she was a mathematics professor in China but after emigrating to the US she took a position making soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai.  Drunken Dumpling is a small little joint, with tiny tables, so it is tough to fit three big guys around a table eating piles of dumplings.  Also, go there on off hours to avoid the lines.

The Dumplings:  Drunken Dumplings is all dumplings – they sell Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings), Jiaozi (pot stickers served pan fried or steamed) and Baozi (Buns).

Beef and Green Pepper Jiaozi, Chive & Egg Jiaozi, Pork Baozi and Pork Soup Dumplings

Beef and Green Pepper Jiaozi – I do not eat beef but my friends liked these dumplings and described the filling to me as being full flavored and tender.  I did witness that these dumplings were explosively juicy.  There were two instances at my table alone, of someone biting into one of these dumplings and either spraying themselves or the people sitting across from them with juice.

Chives and Egg Jiaozi – We got these dumplings pan-fried style and they arrived to our table cooked perfectly crispy on the bottom.  Unfortunately the filling was under seasoned – you have to put a little salt in eggs and these had none – and the chives didn’t have much flavor to speak of.  Usually in this circumstance I look on the bright side and use the dumplings as a sauce delivery vehicle, but the dipping sauces we were served at Drunken Dumpling were bad, almost inedible (see rant below).

Pork Baozi –  at Drunken Dumpling these buns come three to an order and are pretty big.  Typically these buns are served adorned with sesame seeds and scallion slivers and the ones we got had no seeds and only a few scallion slivers haphazardly scattered on the plate.  These dumplings were also a fail; two out of the three were under cooked, with some of the pork still semi-raw in the middle.

Pork Soup Dumplings – after the failures of the Baozi and the Chive dumplings, Drunken Dumpling did succeed with its soup dumplings.  I love the moment when the lid is removed from the steamer and the cloud of steam wafts out and the dumplings are revealed.  The first assessment of Xiao Long Bao quality is whether or not the all the dumplings in the steamer have intact wrappers and the second is whether the dumplings hold together when you pick them up.  The soup dumplings we got were intact and as I picked the first one up with my chopsticks, the dough pouch stretched precariously but kept it’s integrity. The wrappers were as thin and delicate as it seems possible to get and still contain the soup and meat ball filling. The soup was fatty and deeply flavored and the pork meat was finely textured, savory and well seasoned.  Their soup dumplings are pretty big and actually overwhelm the Chinese soup spoons they have at Drunken Dumpling, they need bigger spoons.

The Dipping Sauce:  The sauce served with the Jiaozi and Baozi was pure soy sauce, and not light sodium soy or regular sodium soy, but stroke inducing, super salty soy sauce.  The soy sauce was so salty it was essentially inedible, and so there was no way to redeem the flavorless Chive & Egg dumplings.

The Location:  Drunken Dumpling is in New York’s East Village neighborhood in what is fast becoming a dumpling alley stretching from East 8th street up to East 14th street.  They are on 1st avenue between St. Mark’s Place (8th street) and 9th street.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker, Shanghai, Soup Dumpling, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Ramen Yamadaya, Costa Mesa, CA

Ramen Yamadaya is a chain of ramen restaurants that stretches along the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego.  I tried the location in Costa Mesa and ordered the Tonkutsu Kotteri Ramen which comes with a slick of really tasty black garlic oil floating on top of the thick, fatty pork broth.  The Tonkutso pork bone soup is cooked for 20 hours, 10 hours at a high boil to break the bones into flakes, and then simmered for 10 hours to extract the flavors. The service at Yamadaya is idiosyncratic, with our three entrees brought to us over a 15 minute window and before the appetizer dumplings arrived.

The Dumplings:  the Ramen Yamadaya menu lists Takoyaki, Vegetable Gyoza, Pork Gyoza, and Spicy Gyoza.  They also serve Taiyaki which are fish shaped deserts made of a cooked, waffle like batter stuffed with red bean paste.  One of my lunch companions pointed out to me that using Dumpling Hunter’s definition of a dumplings, Taiyaki should be considered a type of desert dumpling.

Spicy Pork Gyoza

We ordered the Veggie Gyoza, which are vegan, but were denied because they were out of them that day.  Instead, we tried the inspired Spicy Gyoza which have thin, delicate wrappers and are filled with pork and minced kimchi. These house made dumplings were juicy and had a serious kick that was too much for one of my friends.  The bottoms of the dumplings were fried crispy and golden and then the dumplings were covered so the tops of the dumplings steam cooked.  My one complaint is that the dumplings were a little greasy.

The Dipping Sauce: Ramen Yamadaya serves a well balanced soy and rice vinegar dipping sauce, that I imagine would be great with the veggie or pork gyozas.  But the sauce was wasted on the Spicy Gyoza, the minced kimchi provided a built in spicy sauce that was all I needed with these dumplings.

The Location:  We hit the location in Costa Mesa in Orange County, south of LA.  This location is located in a nondescript strip mall type plaza and the intersection of Baker Street and Fairview Road, the exact address is 1175 Baker St. Costa Mesa, 92626.

 

 

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, Kimchi, Los Angeles, Pork, Potsticker, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Shanghai Heping Restaurant, NY, NY

Shanghai Heping Restaurant

When I moved to NYC in 1991 there was no user friendly internet or Yelp or Gothamist top 10 lists or Google reviews or foodie blogs, to find a new Chinese restaurant you had to walk through Chinatown and try and size up places by how they looked and what was hanging in the window (NY Noodle Town) or swimming in the fish tanks (original Danny Ng’s).   Lately I have been missing the spontaneity of just walking down a street in Chinatown and picking a new restaurant to eat at.  So this week I Google searched for “Dumplings in Chinatown” and randomly clicked on one of the many pins that appeared on Google maps and told my friends to meet me there.  Not quite the same as wandering down a street and randomly picking a place to eat, but more spontaneous than reading blog posts and Yelp reviews to pick a spot.  So this is how we ended up at Shanghai Heping Restaurant with its impressively large awning and sidewalk presence but a rather modest dining room.  Shanghai Heping Restaurant has lots of classic Shanghainese dishes and relatively little in the way of Americanized Chinese food.

The Dumplings:  In Shanghai Heping Restaurant we did not stumble on a hidden gem of dumpling greatness, overall the dumplings were good but not outstanding.  We tried the Pork & Crab Soup Dumplings, the Steam Seafood Dumplings, the Wontons Szechuan Style and the Fried Tiny Buns with Pork.  The menu also includes Pork Soup Dumplings, Vegetable Buns, fried or steamed Pork Dumplings, and Vegetable Steamed Dumplings.

Soup dumplings, Wontons Szechuan Style, Steamed Seafood Dumplings and Tiny Fried Buns

The Pork & Crab Soup Dumplings were quite good, with a lot of tasty crab roe and meat mixed onto the pork which gave the soup a yellow tinge, and the wrappers were just the right thickness to make supple little purses of filling and soup.  Unfortunately the quantity of soup in the dumplings was pretty skimpy and kind of thin tasting.  Maybe the larger mix of crab meat in the filling meant there was less pork and pork fat to flavor the soup.

The Wontons Szechuan Style were stuffed with a coarsely ground pork and either scallions or leeks, I am not sure which, and were quite good.  This is a sort of unusual filling for this dish, the wontons are usually filled with finely minced pork. The filling was similar to the filling you usually find in Chinese pan-fried pork dumplings.  The sauce was a mix of sesame chili oil and a smooth peanut sauce, that was tasty but lacked any real heat.  You will want to eat these dumplings quickly after they arrive to your table because the sauce thickens and gets gloppy when it cools.

The Steamed Seafood Dumplings, which appeared to be stuffed with a mix of shrimp and a white flaky fish, were pretty large and filling but lacked flavor.  They were basically a good vehicle for sopping up sauce and were useful for mopping up some of remaining Szechuan sauce from the wontons.

The Tiny Fried Buns with Pork are misnamed, the buns we got were big, bigger than a golf ball, like the size of a large satsuma or small tangerine.   The fluffy, bready white buns were pan-fried on the bottom and steam cooked on the top and were served sprinkled with sesame seeds and slivered scallions.  Generally I like the fluffy bread these buns are made of, but the meatball inside these buns was quite small and this dish mainly just filled me up without giving me much dumpling joy.   Like the Seafood Dumplings these buns were mainly good for sopping up sauce.

The Dipping Sauce:  Since I found the Seafood Dumplings and Tiny Fried Buns to be mainly useful as a vehicle for delivering sauce, it was disappointing that the soy dipping sauce was so unimaginative and one dimensional.  It was a basic mix of soy, a little sesame oil and a touch of vinegar, nothing astounding.  The black vinegar with slivered ginger that came with the soup dumplings was thick and intense and as usual was more than I could take.

The Location:  Shanghai Heping Restaurant is Manhattan’s Chinatown on Mott Street Between Canal Street and Hester Street. This is part of Chinatown that over the past decade has expanded into, and largely displaced, Little Italy.  The restaurant is on the East side of the street, mid-block and has a huge blue awning with big neon yellow Chinese characters above the awning.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pork, Sichuan Dumplings, Soup Dumpling, Wontons | Leave a comment

Seoul @ Food Gallery32, NY, NY

I have mentioned Food Gallery32 in my prior posts about the excellent Bunch/Bunn/Mama.  Food Gallery32 is a Korean style food court in Manhattan’s Koreatown that has around a dozen food kiosks selling everything from stuffed buns, Korean style ramen, Korean school lunch food, street food, omu-rice, Korean BBQ, Korean style Chinese food, Korean stews and soups and noodle dishes.  It is no where near as good as the food courts in the basement of the Lotte or Shinsegae department stores in Seoul, but it blows away your typical American food court and gives you some feeling of the Korean food court experience.

Fried Pork Dumplings

The Dumplings:  Besides Mama, the kiosk called Seoul is the only place in the Gallery to get dumplings.  Seoul has deep fried or steamed  pork, chicken or vegetable dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings and steamed pork with Kimchi dumplings.  I was by myself and in a rush so I only tried the deep fried pork dumplings, which come either three or eight to an order.  The dumplings were good; they were deep fried and had pork filling, so you know, how bad could they be?  They were filled with pork, glass noodle, scallions and what was either minced egg or tofu and were plated with a mound of shredded white cabbage dressed with a spicy mayo sauce.  I am pretty certain Seoul is using frozen dumplings, maybe even from the H-Mart at the end of the block.  It is no Mandoo Bar, but when you don’t want to deal with the wait there and need a quick pile of dumplings and maybe a bowl of Kimchi jjigae or Ramen on the side, Seoul works.

The Dipping Sauce:  the dumplings come with a little plastic tub of soy and sesame oil dipping sauce which was fine,… well kinda meh.  They also come with a tub of quite good kimchi and a tub of sliced pickled diakon.

The Location:  Food Gallery32 is on the north side of 32nd street, mid-block between Broaday and 5th Avenue, in Manhattan’s Koreatown neighborhood.  Seoul is on the ground floor of the Gallery all the way in the back, behind the stairs.

Posted in Kimchi, Mandoo, New York City, Pork | Leave a comment

Yama Ramen, NY, NY

My day job frequently takes me to Rockefeller Center, which apart from Saki Bar Hagi and Iroha, is a pretty bleak area for good, reasonably priced eats.  Thankfully the recently opened Yama Ramen is looking to change that. This second floor walk up is decorated in a vaguely rustic Japanese pub style, like it aspires to be an izakaya Toshiro Mifune’s character in the Seven Samurai would hang out at.  Yama Ramen’s menu includes ramen, sushi, donburi, chirashi and tempura.

Fried Shrimp Bun

The Dumplings:  Yama Ramen serves house made Pork Gyoza and Shrimp Shumai and Takoyaki.  It also has a selection of buns which are stuffed white, fluffy Chinese style breads, so not dumpling style buns but still super good. The buns come stuffed with Pork Belly, Shrimp, Chicken Katsu, Beef Yakiniku or Portobello Mushroom and are dressed with seasoned mayonnaise and slivered scallions.

Takoyaki

The Takoyaki – The takoyaki at Yama Ramen, come five to an order and are fully dressed in drizzles of mayonnaise and Worcestershire based brown sauce and a blanket of bonito flakes.  The takoyaki were perfectly cooked so that the outside was crispy and the dough inside was creamy without being under cooked and the octopus pieces had a crunchy bite without being rubbery.  These takoyaki were the perfect post-meeting snack, up there with those from Otafuku.

The Location:  Yama Ramen is on 48th street between 5th and 6th avenues, just south of Rockefeller Center above a Lenwich Bagel shop.  Look for the menu board standing on the sidewalk, mid-block on the south side of the block.

Posted in Japanese, New York City, Takoyaki | Leave a comment

Shun Lee, New York, NY

Shun Lee Palace on East 55th street opened in 1971 and originated Chinese fine dining in New York City. It’s original chef T.T. Wang, who previously worked for the Taiwanese Ambassador to the US, introduced General Tso’s Chicken, Hunan Fish and Orange Beef to the U.S. and was also the first to bring Hunan, Yangzhou-Sichuan and Shanghai style cooking to New York City.  The New York Times has several interesting articles (one here) about the history of Shun Lee and the restaurant and its owner were featured in the documentary “The Search for General Tso“.

Shun Lee West was opened on the West Side in 1981 and was renovated and renamed Shun Lee in 1985.  The entrance to Shun Lee is a dark, black-ceiling-ed hallway with the host’s podium ominously framed in silhouette at the end of the hall. Beyond the host there a theatrically styled sunken dining area with dramatic lighting and golden, tongue thrashing dragons flying around the perimeter of the dining space.

Steamed shrimp and Pea Shoot Dumplings

The Dumplings: the main menu has vegetable steamed dumplings, Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Szechuan boiled dumplings and Beijing style pan-fried pork dumplings, and the dim sum menu is replete with dumpling options.  The selection of Shumai includes; Vegetable, Beef, Chicken, Pork and Shrimp, Seafood, and Crab Meat & Shrimp styles and the selection of dumplings includes; Chicken & Mushrooms, Pea Shoot & Shrimp, Vegetable, Har Gau, Seafood with Chives, Scallops, Mixed Mushroom, Pork & Cilantro, Chicken & Spinach, Vegetable Funggar with peanuts, Pork & Chives, and Pan Fried Pork Dumplings. Clearly I will need to return several times to work my way through the dim sum menu.  I also need to find out which of the vegetable dumplings are vegan.

Steamed Pea Shoot and Shrimp Dumplings – these dumplings are on the dim sum menu and come three to an order in a mini steamer.  I love pea shoots which are super nutritious, and while these dumplings were great, I think they could have used more pea shoots. I feel the same way about pea vines that The Bruce Dickinson feels about cow bells.  The dumplings were filled with big pieces of fresh, sweet meaty shrimp with a sprinkle of pea shoots like a garnish adding a green taste that referenced peas, spinach and watercress.

Soup Dumplings

Xiao Long Bao – the soup dumplings at Shun Lee were excellent, filled with fatty pork broth soup and flavorful, silky smooth textured pork.  You only get four dumplings per order and they are each served on a Chinese soup spoon, which I really don’t like as a plating strategy. Once removed from the steamer the dumplings cool too fast and the wrappers stiffen up, so you need to eat them fast.  Plus this plating seems like a commentary on my chop-stick skills, like they think I don’t have the skills to remove soup dumplings from a steamer.

Szechuan Boiled Dumplings

Szechuan Boiled Dumplings – this is probably the best value for money among the dumpling choices, for about the same price as the other dumplings on the main menu, you get eight (instead of four) dumplings in a sauce of chili-oil and soy sauce.  Typically this dish uses wontons and the long floppy noodle tails of the wonton wrapper provide extra surface area for the sauce to cling to, but at Shun Lee they use Shui Jiao style boiled pork dumplings. The pork meat ball filling was a little courser ground than the filling of the soup dumplings but tasted just as good.  The wrappers were thin and delicate and had a slightly sweet flavor that counterpointed the savory pork.  The chili sauce had an initially mild heat that crept up on me as I ate.  By the end of the dish my lips and tongue were feeling the burn, although not so bad as to prevent me from slurping down several spoonfuls of the tasty sauce once I ran out of dumplings.

Dipping Sauces:  The soup dumplings came with the traditional dipping sauce of black vinegar with slivered ginger.  I usually do not like this sauce as I find it too intense, but at Shun Lee they cut the vinegar with something so it was lighter and less intense than usual.  The sauce that came with the Shrimp and Pea Shoot dumplings was a nasty brown gloppy sauce with chopped garlic in it.

Location:  Shun Lee is on 65th street just East of Broadway in the Lincoln Center section of the Upper West Side of New York City.  It is an easy walk from the A/C/B/D/1 trains stop at Columbus Circle and a block and a half from Central park.

Posted in Pork, Shrimp, Sichuan Dumplings, Soup Dumpling, Steamed | Leave a comment