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Posts from the ‘chinese’ Category

Fried Dumpling: Home of the Ideal Grimy $1 Lunch

Sometimes, when mornings are tough or life seems low, the only satisfying cure is a steaming bowl of dumplings. Or, scenario #2, sometimes when living in New York seems to be close to bankrupting you, dollar lunches transform from cheap and perhaps a little grimy to heroic and verifiably wallet-saving. The $1 dumplings at Chinatown’s Fried Dumpling are the ideal antidote to an aching head or an aching wallet.

Fried Dumpling, a tiny storefront on a tiny street in the Southern reaches of Chinatown, doesn’t look like much. The paint outside is chipping; instead of an actual door, there are merely heavy plastic panels hanging in the doorway; seating inside is limited to four or five bar stools facing a crinkled stick-on mirror. Drinks are grabbed from a small refrigerator, and the food is prepared by two women, working in tandem, at a counter and a stove just feet from the door. It’s safe to say that Fried Dumpling is the sort of place you don’t want to examine too closely – I’m sure if I really inspected the interior, dirt would be piled in corners. However, that being said, the food’s good and there’s no reason to stick around.

The menu is short, consisting entirely of quick snacky bites such as dumplings and pork buns. The dumplings, served 5 for $1, are fried or steamed and stuffed with what looks like mystery meat but is most certainly pork and chives (unless you order the vegetable version). Slick and moist on the outside and stuffed with salty savory goodness on the inside, the dumplings are just plain delicious. They’re not over-stuffed, too greasy, or too doughy. If you’re into dough though, the pork buns are a great option at 4 for $1. Not your classic pork bun, they’re more like thicker and doughier fried dumplings stuffed with tender pork. Spherical and as big as golf balls, they’re a satisfying savory snack. If you’re feeling adventurous to venture beyond dumplings, Fried Dumpling also offers vegetable egg rolls, various pancakes, hot & sour soup, and wanton soup.

There is a time and place for the $1 dumplings served at Fried Dumpling in Chinatown; these times and places do not include when you’re dieting, looking for a sit-down lunch, or seeking to impress friends and family; they do however include curing brutal hangovers with grease and pork, vetoing the $12 chopped salad from the deli in favor of a perfectly satisfactory $1 lunch, and justifying taking 15 minutes to sit on a sunny park bench to enjoy your thriftiness. Fried Dumpling is a long shot from gourmet; it’s even far off from your neighborhood deli; however, when it comes to ridiculously cheap dumplings, you can do no better.

Fried Dumpling on Urbanspoon

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Rickshaw Dumpling Bar: Excellent Concept, Not So Excellent Execution

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar is probably one of the best concepts ever – a “fast casual” restaurant devoted to DUMPLINGS. I mean, really, who doesn’t love dumplings? From the get-go, Rickshaw was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. And, in fact, a hit it has been with food truck off-shoots and a line of kitschy-charming t-shirts. However, regardless of how popular this Flatiron dumpling mecca is, there are some problems with execution and the actual quality of the dumplings.

The restaurant is a tall and narrow sort of thing, with soaring ceilings and a stark & modern Japanese look constructed out of what seems to be concrete. The first things you see are the cashiers, smiling all sorts of big goofy smiles. Above them towers a gargantuan menu board, listing every sort of tasty Asian drunk food you could imagine: pork dumplings, szechuan chicken dumplings, shrimp and wasabi dumplings, noodle soups, sesame noodles, pork buns, bubble tea, and so forth. The selection is dizzying, tantalizing, overwhelming for Rickshaw first-timers. So, in classic fashion, my boyfriend and I order enough food to feed the entire military, take our number and wait.
In less than 5 minutes, our order is sitting at the pick-up station – impressive! All in all, the dumplings are mediocre, and some are better than others. The fillings are better than the wrappers, and the addictive dipping sauces are better than the fillings. To maximize dumpling enjoyment, skip the szechuan chicken variety and head straight for the kimchi beef with a sekom sauce (reminiscent of the best sort of creamy spicy mayo) and the shrimp with a sweet jicama, scallion and creamy wasabi dip. These two options beat out the other middling dumpling choices with their smooth flavorful filling and utterly fantastic dipping sauces. Interested in pork dumplings? Rickshaw Dumpling’s rendition are just…OK. Other than the dumplings, Rickshaw’s food is just fine – noodle soups are brothy, salty, and toothsome, and the pork buns are satisfying without being anything amazing.
In sum, Rickshaw’s food is nothing to write home about; however, the ‘restaurant’ is exceedingly accessible for all the yuppies milling around Gramercy, Flatiron, and Chelsea. If you’re on your way home from work, Rickshaw Dumpling is a safe and quick option to consider (though by no means the best) without much thought. Not great, not horrible, just easy.
Perfect For: dumplings on the go, trendy Chinese takeout, being the fat kid

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Xi’an Famous Foods: A Noodle Anyone Can Love

Xi’an Famous Foods is one of many noodle shops in Manhattan, yet because of it’s extraordinary brand of hand-pulled noodles, it has developed a rabid fan-base with notable followers like the New York Times’ restaurant critic Sam Sifton. Now with a storefront on St. Mark’s in the East Village, this Flushing-based mini-chain focuses on serving the unique and self-professed ‘atypical Chinese food’ of Xi’an.

The East Village outpost is tiny with just 2 tables and bar seats for no more than 10. Barely more than a take-out counter, the look is sparse and minimal with uneven metal tables, a smooth wooden eating bar, and mini-flat screen TVs that feature videos of noodle-making in noodle shops in China. One woman handles the cash register, the packing of to-go bags, and the part of the kitchen that churns out phenomenally tasty lamb and pork burgers. In the back is another hand-making noodles, nursing savory sauces, and serving up the famous noodle soups and noodle plates. It’s a small enterprise, yet guaranteed to be packed at all hours of the day, from open to close. Want to beat the line? Call in your order ahead and shoot in front of the masses waiting patiently in a queue.

Ordered from a picture menu tacked to one wall and served on floppy Styrofoam plates, the food is simple and savory. The most popular items offered are what Xi’an Famous Foods has become known for – the hand-pulled noodles. Not the loveliest noodles you’ll ever see, they are served raggedy, torn and clumpy, hot in a slop of salty, oily and spicy sauce with torn bits of tender meat or in a brothy umami-packed soup. In short, though unlike any noodles I’ve had before, Xi’an’s hand-pulled variety are phenomenal. Chewy, hearty, rich, satisfying, and amusingly unwieldy (plan to transform your napkin into a bib), these noodles don’t even need the cumin and chili oil-packed sauces provided – those are just the icing on the cake.

Aside from the hand-pulled noodles, Xi’an Famous Foods also serves up astoundingly good renditions on burgers, served on flattened oily bread and stuffed with sweet marinated pork or spicy cumin lamb, cold ‘skin’ noodles, and unusual soups and salads (lamb offal soup? spicy pig pudding salad with garlic?). Recommended dishes include the top-notch Savory Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles, the Stewed Pork Burger, the Pork Zha Jiang Hand-Pulled Noodles, and the Spicy and Tingly Beef Hand-Pulled Soup Noodles.

Xi’an Famous Foods is some of the tastiest cheap food in Manhattan. Just $9 can get you a pork burger, hand-pulled noodles, and a drink – where else can you get so much grub that tastes so delicious for so little money? Skeptics of Xi’an Famous Food’s need only to look to the line that can curl around the block at peak hours – everyone from yuppies to hipsters to greying NYU professors to Wall Street suits dashing just uptown for a taste waits patiently for a little bit of noodle magic.

Perfect For: thin wallets, noodle fanatics, a taste of Flushing without the subway ride, student lunch breaks, super savory takeout

Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Shang: A Foodie’s Quest for Hidden Flavors

Last night, I had slaw with 19 hidden flavors. I listened to 80s music. I was in a trendy Pan-Asian hotspot. AND once again, my quest to find a suitable Pimm’s Cup on this side of the pond was once again foiled. Last night, I went to Shang.

The ‘hotel restaurant’ in the Thompson Hotel on the Lower East Side (though this moniker does it no justice), Shang is a curious blend of things: a trendy hotspot for club-going pretty young thangs, an Asian fusion powerhouse fit for foodies, and a gorgeous atmospheric dining experience. At 9 o’clock on a Friday night, it was absolutely packed. The clientele ranged from hip older couples to hip younger couples, from large gaggles of pretty girls to small groups of cocktail-slurping cougars, from families looking to celebrate to young men and women introducing their significant other to their parents. Like the clientele, the background music (which is impossible to ignore) was diverse, ranging from 80’s-era disco to smooth electronica to euro-House. Needless to say, it had me physically bopping in my seat for the first 20 minutes of the meal.

The restaurant itself is on the 3rd floor of the hotel. To reach the main dining room, you must walk through the expansive white lacquer bar populated by desperate-looking women (unfortunately). I would avoid this part of the experience. However, the main dining room itself is cavernous and seductive. In the center of the room are large deep red circular booths for large parties and tables for smaller parties line the walls. Large beige paper lantern formations hang from the ceiling and give everyone a lovely glow. What was great about Shang was that it was loud and busy, yet the room was large enough that you weren’t on top of the parties next to you and you could carry on a coherent conversation with ease.

Shang does Asian fusion right. Chef Susur Lee offers distinctly Asian flavors and pairs them expertly with a wide array of meats, vegetables, and seafood. The food is presented tapas-style, with our waiter suggesting between 5 and 7 dishes for a party of two. While this racks up a substantial bill, the portions are rather small and for satiating meal, I would offer the same suggestion.

My date and I started off with Shang’s signature Singapore Slaw. Supposedly, this slaw doesn’t have any cabbage in it and has 19 hidden flavors. My date and I were able to pick out carrots, plum, chickpeas, walnuts, radish, and tortilla. Clearly, we were missing quite a few! We then moved on to the almond-crusted lobster and shrimp lettuce wrap. This was rich and yet strangely refreshing. The lobster and shrimp were blended together spring roll-style in an almond shell, and the whole thing was wrapped in crisp lettuce. It was a creative marriage of sweet and seafood flavors.

For our entree dishes, we chose the Mongolian Lamb Chops and the Cantonese Wok-Fried Pearl Noodles. The Mongolian Lamb Chops was easily one of the most creative and delicious lamb plates I’ve had in New York yet. Two lamb chops were glazed in chili mint, cooked perfectly, and came with grilled bananas and a carrot cardamom dipping paste. The enormous amount of flavor was close to overwhelming yet innovative enough to work so well. In terms of the noodle dish, my date ate most of that dish, so while it looked delicious, I unfortunately have little to comment on. The wasabi mashed potatoes are worth mentioning also, as they were the perfect side dish. They cleansed the palate between dishes and went perfectly with the lamb. Zesty!

Ultimately, Shang was a pleasant surprise: trendy and fresh yet with high-caliber Asian fusion cuisine.

Shang on Urbanspoon

Macao Trading Co – Colonialism Made Good

This. place. is. awesome.

It is a trendy, totally scene-y, overwhelmingly gorgeous, New York hotspot that actually has delicious eats. Macao Trading Company opened with a splash, enjoying good press in all magazines and newspapers with word of its awesome-ness passing quicky through the grapevine.

I will spend an inordinate amount of time on the scene because that is really the reason to go here. To begin with, there is no sign. A single red lantern hangs outside its big black door on a quiet street off of Canal in Tribeca. A doorman begrudgingly lets you in. As soon as you’re inside, you’re hit with noise, a buzz. The bar area upfront is always packed as the bartenders take their time preparing the noxiously delicious drinks. Couples and small groups crowd around small menus, discussing enthousiastically which concoction to sample next. My personal recommendation? The Dragon’s Milk.

It is just dark enough with a flickering red sheen that everyone looks slinky and seductive, even the most dowdy patron (though, in truth, those are rarely seen in such a place…) shimmers. I could only complain that the bartenders were too friendly and the lighting too low and the drinks too tasty – if you call that complaining…

The back room is magical, in short. It’s as though you’ve stepped onto a nineteenth-century pirate ship patroling the inlets of Macao. A wraparound deck that serves as a second story to the restaurant has old chests, swinging vintage lanterns, fishing netting, and hordes of small trinkets from the colonial past of Macao. The upscale Pirates-of-the-Caribbean theme is charming without being kitschy.

The food is unique and exquisite. The menu is divided in two – Portuguese cuisine and Chinese cuisine, to reflect the dual culture of Macao. My boyfriend, John, and I went for a mix of the two cuisines, haphazardly choosing everything that sounded delicious. We had the shrimp, in both Portuguese and Chinese style, the fried goat cheese, the chicken dumplings, Ants Climbing the Tree, and prawns sauteed with chili peppers. All dishes were well-seasoned, with little and intense bursts of flavor, and very tasty. I just wish they doled out more food! The portions were unfortunately small.

Since I went, they have opened a bar downstairs in the basement to allow for more revelers to enjoy their cocktails – I have yet to scope out this scene!

If you’re looking for something with a little mystery and pizazz, check out Macao – it is sure to wow!

Macao Trading Co. on Urbanspoon