Dan Dan, Philadelphia

The Philadelphia area mini-chain, Dan Dan, serves up Sichuan and Taiwanese dishes.  Dan Dan spun off from Han Dynasty’s University City location in 2015, with a first location in Rittenhouse Square and then locations in Ardmore and Wayne.  Dan Dan has a 10-seat U shaped bar on the ground floor, with three tables for two in the front window and a six-seat communal table behind the bar. The balcony has 30 seats and offers a view of the bar and the street. 

The menu is heavy on dishes with chili oil.  I tried the pork belly with sweet garlic chili oil which was insanely tasty.  It is a cold dish of paper thin sliced fatty pork belly dressed with diced garlic, slivered scallions, sweetened soy sauce and chili oil.  It is on the small plate menu but it is a large portion that could easily be shared by two.  The waitress sort of tried to wave me off the dish by saying that some people don’t like the texture of the pork fat, but I thought the dish was excellent. 

Dumplings:  The menu includes several dumpling options: wontons in chili oil, dumplings in chili oil, and pot stickers (chicken or veggie).  The difference between the wontons and dumpling in chili oil, both of which are stuffed with pork, is that the dumplings are dressed with sweetened soy and chili oil (probably the same sauce as the cold pork belly) and the wontons are dressed with black vinegar and chili oil and so have a sour vinegar edge.  Because I ordered the cold pork belly first and was surprised with how large it was and couldn’t restrain myself from eating it all, I only got one dumpling order: the wontons in chili oil.  The wontons were tasty and had lots of excess dumpling wrapper to carry the sauce, but the sauce was crazy spicy.  The the dish was so burning spicy I couldn’t finish the wontons and my mouth was on fire for like an hour afterwards.  The vinegar chili oil sauce was way more intense than the sweetened soy chili oil on the cold pork belly.

The location:  Dan Dan is located near Rittenhouse Square, in Philadelphia.  It is on 16th street just south of Sansom street.          

Posted in Chinese, Philadelphia, Pork, Potsticker, Sichuan Dumplings, Wontons | Leave a comment

Pasta B Jinghua, Milan. Italy

Milan’s Pasta B Jinghua is the Italian outlet of Singapore’s well regarded Jing Hua Xiao Chi, which is known for its home-style Chinese cooking. Pasta B Jinghua’s first floor is dominated by an open kitchen that looks out onto the street and a dumplings making station with a hand cranked pasta machine, while the dining room is in the basement. The first time I was there the restaurant was playing an awesome playlist of roots reggae and ska: dumplings and ska is Dumpling Hunter heaven. The restaurant is 2 or 3 blocks from the Duomo and is a great alternative to the tourist Italian restaurants that populate the blocks around the Duomo. The homemade noodles with vegetables is a delicious vegan option, as is the homemade noodles with soup and vegetables. I ate at Pasta B Jinghua three times while I was in Milan and highly recommend it.

The Dumplings: Jing Hua Xiao Chi serves a wide array of dumplings but is known for its pan-fried pork dumplings, and Pasta B Jinghua seems to be replicating the original’s menu in Italy. The pan-fried dumplings have thicker wrappers than is typical for a pot-sticker or gyoza and the wrapper is closed with a single long pinched fold rather than a series of crimped folds and the ends of the dumpling are left open. They reminded me of mini English sausage rolls. The dumplings are filled with Chinese cabbage, Chinese chive, pork, shrimp and crab, although the pork flavor is most assertive. The flavor of these super juicy dumplings was sensational, one of the best pork dumplings I have tried. After my dinner at Pasta B Jinghua, I went back for lunch just to order these dumplings again.

The “Little juicy steamed meat dumplings “Syorompo” stuffed with pork” were Shanghai soup dumplings that had been overcooked to the point that the wrappers broke and could not contain the soup and meat filling. Although Pasta B Jinghua’s web site describes these soup dumplings as the stars of the menu, they were really disappointing. The vegetarian steamed dumplings are vegan and contain Chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, kikurage mushrooms, carrot, fried tofu and vermicelli. This was a very good veggie dumpling with a strong cabbage flavor and savory umami from the mushrooms. The Gyoza Pie was a large, fried, flat disc shaped pie, with a flaky crust and the same filling as the pan-fried dumplings. The Gyoza pie was tasty but less juicy than the pan-fried dumplings and I preferred the dumplings.

The Location: Pasta B Jinghua is at Via Ulrico Hoepli, 3, near via Agnello, about two blocks directly north of the east end of the Duomo square. This square is one of the major tourist attractions in Milan and is surrounded by Italian restaurants catering to tourists. Pasta B Jinghua seems to attract patrons who know great Chinese food.

They have a slightly thicker crust than the average pan-fried dumpling and are folded to leave both ends open.
Their bottoms are crisp fried to perfection and the juicy filling gushes into your mouth when you bite into them.

Posted in Bao, Chinese, Chive, Crab, Gyoza, Italian, Noodles, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker, Shanghai, Shrimp, Soup Dumpling, Steamed, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Dim Sum Palace, Korea Town, NYC

Dim Sum Palace is a New York City mini-chain of Cantonese dim sum houses with seven locations and a planned eight location in Chinatown that will seat 200 people and stay open to 4am.  Back in 2019 I tried the Hell’s Kitchen location and this time around I tried the Korea Town location. This location is a narrow store front and mainly has tables for groups of four and doesn’t seem to be good for large parties.  As far as I can tell from the website, all of the locations serve dim sum from a menu rather than from carts pushed around the restaurant and additionally have a wide range of kitchen entrees.   The salt baked shrimp were exactly as I remember them from 2019, unfortunately still served without the head, but still delicious. 

The Dumplings:  I tried the Szechuan Spicy Wontons and Pan-Fried Tiny Buns, both of which were filled with a mix of pork and large chunks of shrimp and were both delicious.  The wonton sauce had the Szechuan spice, pepper corn and complex fermented bean funk flavor profile but was a lot thinner and soupier than Szechuan sauces I have had elsewhere.  The sauce was a really good dipping sauce for the fried buns and the salt baked shrimp.  The buns were incredibly light and fluffy and were quite sweet and the filling was juicy.  These were better than I remember from the Hells Kitchen location, which were dry.

The Location.  The Korea Town Dim Sum Palace is on 33rd street between 5th and 6th Avenues and across from Nan Xiang Xia Long BaoDim Sum Palace is a calmer alternative to Nan Xiang, which has been crowded with long waits the last couple of times I have been there.

Posted in Bao, Buns, New York City, Pan Fried, Sichuan Dumplings, Wontons | Leave a comment

Lays’ Takoyaki Flavored Crisps.

I saw these new “spring limited edition” Takoyaki flavored potato chips from Lays’ Chinese company at my local Asian mart and had to try them.  The flavoring components were listed as MSG in the middle of the ingredients and “Takoyaki Flavor” as almost the last ingredient. I suppose “Takoyaki Flavor” could be fried pancake batter flavor, dried Bonito tuna flavor, a mild octopus flavor, a fruity, tangy Worcestershire style sauce flavor or in true Takoyaki style, all of the above.  Since Lays’ Walkers UK brand already sells a Worcester flavor chip, opening up the bag my guess was that these chips would have some variation of fruity brown sauce flavor.  I am disappointed to report these chips had a generic salty savory flavor, probably reflecting more of the MSG than the “Takoyaki Flavor”.   I think Walkers’ Worcester Sauce flavor chips, available at one of my favorite shops Brits R Us, is closer to the Takoyaki experience.

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Nom Wah, Philadelphia

I stopped by the Philadelphia outpost of New York’s venerable Nom Wah Tea House for a light snack and it was not a good experience. The salt and pepper shrimp I was served had a thick batter coating, were greasy and some of the shrimp were cold. It was clear that the shrimp had been cooked earlier in the day, refrigerated and then thrown in a deep fryer to reheat them (and not for long enough) before they were served. This dish is usually served with slivered scallions, slices of jalapeno and fried garlic pieces scattered on the shrimp, and menu described the dish as having onion, scallion and black pepper, but the plate I was served did not come with these extras.

The vegetarian siu mai were also a fail. The siu mai were wedged into a seamer basket that was too small for the four siu mai and then the siu mai were over cooked. Because the siu mai were wedged together, the wrappers sort of steam welded together into a single siu mai unit and were really hard to get out of the steamer. I was able to pry out some chunks of siu mai, which tasted fine, but this was no way to eat siu mai.

Posted in Dim Sum, Shrimp, Shumai | 1 Comment

Grand Palace Seafood Restaurant, Philadelphia

Grand Palace Restaurant is an old school dim sum palace that can seat 700 people across three dining rooms.  Dim sum is served from a fleet of roving push carts that patrol the dining rooms and when you request a dish from a cart the server stamps a paper ticket on your table.  Since I moved to Philly I have been on a mission to find great head-on, shell-on, salt and pepper baked shrimp and now my mission is complete, the salt and pepper baked shrimp at Grand Place was excellent. The egg custard tarts were divine, get these.  Grand Palace also has an extensive a la cart kitchen menu that boasts over 200 items.  Dim sum is served from 10am to 3pm daily. 

The Dumplings:  The dumplings on the carts were all fresh and tasted great.  Although still good, my least favorite were the pork and peanuts steamed dumpling.  I was hoping the peanuts would provide a nice crunch texture but the peanuts were really soft. These dumplings were tasty but didn’t have the texture I was hoping for.   The crystal shrimp dumplings were excellent, the shrimp were sweet and had the pop texture of steamed fresh shrimp and the wrappers were light and slightly chewy.  The shrimp shumai were filled with more chunks of the sweet, fresh shrimp and were really good.  If you don’t like the texture of rice flour wrappers on crystal shrimp dumplings, get these shumai instead, because Grand Palace serves great steamed shrimp. The best dish was the pan-fried chive buns, which had a fresh, slightly pungent onion taste from the filling and a salty savory taste from the bun dough.  Even though the buns made a slow, cart borne trek to our table from the kitchen, the buns still had a crisp and slightly chewy texture.  

The Location:  Grand Palace is in the New World Plaza at 6th street and Washington Street in the Little Saigon section of South Philly. 

Posted in Buns, Chive, Crystal Shrimp, Dim Sum, How Gar, Pan Fried, Philadelphia, Pork, Shrimp, Shumai, Steamed | 1 Comment

Northern Cafe, University of Southern California, LA

Northern Cafe is an LA based mini-chain of Chinese restaurants that is expanding through Southern California.  Northern Cafes all appear to be counter service restaurants, where you order at a counter and are given a metal stand with a numbered card that you place on your table.  When your food is ready one of the staff bring your order to your table.  From what I can see checking out the different location’s web sites they all have a similar menu – an extensive list of dumplings, a selection of pancakes, around a dozen noodle dishes and around a dozen stir fry dishes.  I was at the University of Southern California for work and tried the branch that is just off the campus.  The dumplings at this location were great and I ended up eating there twice during the few days I was in town.

The Dumplings:  Northern Cafes serve a wide selection of boiled or pan-fried dumplings, a selection of steamed dumplings and have Xiao Long Bao and wontons, all of which are made in house.  The dumplings all seem to use the same wrapper, which has been described as “rustic” in some online reviews but is the thicker chewier Northern style wrapper.  This means the Xiao Long Bao are less delicate than the ones at Joe’s Shanghai or Din Tai Fung, but the pork filling is delicious, ginger scented and slightly sweet.  The USC location only had Western style soup spoons which do not work as well for eating soup dumpling as the taller sided Chinese soup spoons.  The boiled pork dumplings and the shrimp wontons with chili oil were both really flavorful, but I wish the chili oil had stronger spice kick.  

Of the four orders of dumplings I ate, the pan-fried fish dumplings were the star of the show, they were insanely good.   The white fish filling had what appeared to be scallions mixed into it and was very juicy, so each bite was like eating bouillabaisse soup.  The thicker wrappers showed their advantages for pan-frying, as they fried up crispy on the bottom but maintained their chewier texture and echoed the thick sliced grilled bread usually served with bouillabaisse. These dumplings were essentially a bouillabaisse soup dumpling.

The Location:  The USC location of Northern Cafe is at 2904 S Figueroa St between 29th and 30th just outside of the USC campus.  Most of the restaurants in this appear to be café style and cater to the student population.

Posted in Bao, Boiled, Chinese, Fish, Los Angeles, Pan Fried, Pork, Shrimp, Soup Dumpling, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Tom’s Dim Sum, Philadelphia PA

Tom’s Dim Sum is a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Dim Sum Factory mini-chain of restaurants serving Shanghai & Cantonese style dim sum.  In 2015 Tom’s took over the location of the Dim Sum Garden in the 11th street tunnel under the Convention Center, when the later opened a new location on Race street.  Turns out there is a long and litigious history between Tom’s and Dim Sum Garden and another Tom’s Dim Sum out in the suburbs (described here). 

I had seen a couple of really positive posts about Tom’s on Instagram and decided to try it out for a Saturday brunch.  Tom’s is not a classic Dim Sum palace where you choose dishes from carts that are pushed around the restaurant, but rather you order dishes from an extensive menu.  On the afternoon we were there the service was very slow and our noodle dish was delivered to the wrong table and promptly eaten by those patrons, who I guess had gotten hungry waiting for their own order to arrive.  Shortly after our noodles went astray we were delivered someone else’s Bok Chow.

The Dumplings:  We got the Pork Soup Dumplings which Tom’s is well known for, and steamed vegetable dumplings and the Shanghai Shumai.  The soup dumplings were the best of the trio, they were really flavorful and each had a full spoon of soup inside.  The soup was opaque and creamy, like a good Tonkatsu Ramen broth.  The dumplings were steamed close to perfection, the wrappers were soft and supple and stretched to the point I thought they would break open and spill their soup as I picked them up, but just maintained their integrity.  Unfortunately, the Shanghai Shumai were not as expertly steamed, they were over cooked to the point that the wrappers had started to dissolve.  The dirty rice and pork filling of these Shumai tasted great, with a full blast of umami, but I couldn’t get over the poor cooking technique.  The vegetable dumplings had a bright emerald wrapper and were stuffed with finely minced greens.  With a little dipping sauce they were pretty tasty.

The Location:  Tom’s Dim Sum is in the dank 11th street tunnel that goes under the convention center, right next to the China Town bus station.  Going there has a bit of a Blade Runner feel.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Dim Sum, Philadelphia, Pork, Shumai, Soup Dumpling, Steamed, Vegan Recipe, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, New York, NY

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao opened its first location in 2006, in Flushing Queens.  Since 2007 it has been awarded “Michelin-recommended” status for nine consecutive years.  In July 2022, it opened a location in Manhattan’s Korea Town neighborhood.  The entire store front of the Manhattan restaurant is dedicated to an open kitchen/soup dumpling making production line.  The speed, dexterity and precision of the dumpling chefs is amazing and their product is sublime.

The Dumplings:  Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao serves the classic Pork alone and Pork and Crab meat soup dumplings, and some more exotic versions including: Truffle & Pork; Chicken; Scallop & Pork; Gourd Luffa, Shrimp and Pork; Sea Cucumber & Pork; Ham & Pork; and Abalone & Pork soup dumplings. Their menu also includes a slew of other styles of dumplings, including wontons, shumai, pot stickers, steamed dumplings and buns. 

My first order for the evening was the Pork and Vegetable Wontons in Spicy Sauce, which are huge wontons stuffed with lots of flavorful pork flecked with a leafy green.  The sauce is made from soy sauce, sesame paste, sesame oil and chili oil and had a great nutty flavor, but was pretty salty from the soy sauce and really needed some more chili heat.  My other complaint is that the wontons didn’t have a lot of surplus noodle wrapper that could provide extra surface area to pick up and carry the sauce, which is one of my favorite aspects of wontons.  Overall, these extra-large wontons were tasty but were not spectacular.       

My second order was the pan-fried pork buns which were tasty and a solid effort, but again not amazing.  Like all good pan-fried buns these had the combination of a slight sweetness from the fluffy bun, grilled charred notes from the pan-fried bottom of the bun and savory porky goodness from the meat filling.  The buns were ping pong ball sized and pretty filling so I ended up taking home leftovers; they were very good, cold, for breakfast the next day.

The last order was the Truffle and Pork Soup dumplings which were spectacular!  The dumpling wrapper dough was dyed black, I suppose to evoke the look of black truffles, which wasn’t a great visual.  But don’t let this throw you, the combination of the truffle infused dough, the savory pork flavor and unctuous soup was an amazing flavor.  The truffles provide an earthy, musky and funk flavor that pairs perfectly with pork.  Like the other dumplings, the soup dumplings were large with lots of meat and soup, more soup than could be handled by the soup spoon they provide.  I am pretty good with chopsticks, but I found these dumplings hard to handle and ended up eating them using the tongs that came with steamer.     

The Location:  Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao is mid-block on 33rd street between 5th and 6th avenue in Korea Town.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pork, Shanghai, Soup Dumpling, Uncategorized, Wontons, Xiao Long Bao | 1 Comment

Deluxe Green Bo, New York City

Manhattan’s Chinatown is getting busy again, although the restaurants close earlier than they used to, most are shut at 8:30 or 9pm. Not yet knowing this, we hit Chinatown around 9:30 looking for dumplings and found that all of our usual go-to joints were closed. The only place that was open was Deluxe Green Bo, which we have walked past a hundred times but never tried. I can’t believe that I have missed out on this place for so many years, their dumplings are brilliant.

Deluxe Green Bo is a small joint with several large round tables and a few four-tops, and has been serving up Shanghainese food since 1982. I think the reason that I haven’t stopped in before is that the windows are covered in menu pages and I couldn’t ever see into the restaurant when I passed by. But don’t make the mistake I did, head in and get the dumplings.

The Dumplings: The cryptically named “Steamed Pork & Crab Meat & Pork Tiny Buns” are Deluxe Green Bo’s soup dumplings, which were so good we ordered three steamers of them. These dumplings were perfectly steamed, so the wrappers stretched almost to the point of rupturing as I picked up the dumplings up, but they managed to keep their integrity. The dumpling wrappers enclosed a lot of unctuous soup that perfectly blended the pork and crab flavors. While the menu describes them as tiny, these soup dumplings are the usual standard size.

We also ordered a plate of the “Fired Tiny Buns (with Pork)” which are Sheng Jian Bao, a steamed bun that is pan-fried on the bottom and contains pork and pork gelatin, that upon cooking, turns into soup that makes the interior of the buns juicy. Since the early 1900’s, these buns have been of the most popular breakfast items in Shanghai. Despite the menu’s focus on “tiny” these buns were some of the biggest Sheng Jian Bao I have eaten. Deluxe Green Bo uses the thicker, Chinese sweet fluffy bread wrapper rather than the thin skins used at Shanghai’s Yang’s Fried Dumplings. The buns at Deluxe were amazingly flavorful, with a perfect blend of sweet, savory, porky and fried flavors, so good and totally irresistible. But after three steamers of soup dumplings these eight large buns were a gut bomb.

The Location: Deluxe Green Bo is on Bayard street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, on the north side of the street between Mott and Elizabeth streets. It is across the street from a bunch of desert places, but if you get a couple of plates of “tiny” buns you won’t make it to desert.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Shanghai, Sheng Jian Bao, Soup Dumpling, Xiao Long Bao | 1 Comment