100 St. Marks Place, Lower East Side, New York, NY
Review by Diana, MaceVindaloo
The space is not palatial it's maybe 10 feet wide by maybe 50 feet long, including the kitchen, the smallest bathroom in the world (even smaller than and airplane 'loo), the prep area, seating area, cashier, drinks cooler, and a flat-screen television showing Asian shows (something to watch while you sit and wait for your order). It's painted bright red and yellow, and is set up more like a bar than a restaurant. But it's clean, neat, and they do make excellent dumplings.
The style of dumpling is apparently a northern Chinese one, with a stretchy skin which is pinched tautly over what appears to be way too much stuffing. They're fat and full and make you feel like you've really eaten when you order a plate of six or eight of these things. They'd also be good in soup instead of chunks of meat or fish.
There aren't any trollies pushed around by Chinese ladies who don't communicate in English, but there are Chinese ladies. They stand behind a glass partition so you can watch them making the dumplings right before your eyes! They patiently make them one at a time, and line them up in pretty boxes. From there they are cooked or frozen.
You can buy them frozen by the dozen, or buy them to eat now. You can have them steamed or seared they use the term "seared" instead of the more conventional "fried" because the dumplings are not fried in a manner Americans think of when we hear that word. It's not dunked in oil, nor even sautéed. Rather, like a barbecue grill, they are put onto a lightly greased hotplate and left alone till the dumpling forms a browned crust ... THEN they are steamed. So the bottoms are crispy-chewy, and the tops are steamy-chewy, and they are called "potstickers" in other contexts.
Either way, it takes about 10 minutes to cook these dumplings, so you'll have a little wait before your order is ready. You can sit and watch any number of Chinese-language shows on the television mounted over the counter, if you plan to take the dumplings out. Or find a seat on the long, narrow counters. The store is so narrow that the dumpling cooker will pass orders over the heads of the customers sitting facing the dumpling ladies, to those facing the opposite wall!
There are jugs full of the standard soy-and-vinegar dipping sauce, which you can dispense yourself into little cups or right over the paperboat container of dumplings. There is also soy sauce, and you can also buy "Hot Monster" (a red-pepper based sauce), "Cool Monster" (a cucumber based sauce), and at one time, you could get the "Marco Polo" which is a marinara sauce. The menu on the wall still features it, but we noticed the take-out menu doesn't. Just about every reviewer of this place didn't care for the Marco Polo, so maybe they've nixed it from the menu but haven't gotten around to repainting the wall.
The dumplings are good, in that six of then do make a decent light meal or a heavy snack. The skins are color-coded, so that you can tell what you're eating before you eat it:
WHITE pork and green onions
ORANGE chicken, cabbage, scallions, sesame oil
GREEN vegetables: tofu, smoked tofu, shiitake mushrooms, seitan, bok choy
ROUND shrimp, fish, corn, ginger, pepper (okay, so it's not a color)
The flavors are kind of subtle so it's not always obvious what you're eating. But in themselves, they are mild and tasty, and won't offend anyone. In fact, we've seen small children not only press their faces up to the partition glass to watch the dumpling ladies practice their craft, but eat seared dumplings with gusto and even something akin to passion.
There is other food. In summer, we've had the shaved ice, which is an Asian treat. A round slab of rice is placed in a rotary scraper and the scraped ice is piled into a container and topped with condensed milk and a stewed sweet red bean (called azuki) or canned mandarin orange sections in syrup. Or both, if you'd like. It makes a rather refreshing and substantial meal on a very hot day. (The ice scraper is labeled as, "not a torture device"!)
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