coZara, Philadelphia, PA

During the day Philly’s University City neighborhood is a smorgasbord of food trucks selling food from across the world, but by about 9pm most of the local restaurants, at least near my hotel, were closing down.  I found coZara, an Izakaya and sushi bar, right before last call for food.  Apparently coZara’s menu has gone through several re-vamps since it opened in 2014 with a 60+ item Izakaya menu.  But according to a Philly Mag article this diversity of options seemed to intimidate patrons and the locals wanted sushi, so it rebooted by adding a sushi bar and whittling the Izakaya menu down to a single page.

Pan Seared Pork Gyoza

The small plate style Okonomiyaki they served was really good, although I would have preferred a little more cabbage in the pancake batter, and the Shishito peppers were also great.  However, their pork katsu skewer, about 2 ounces of pork on a skewer, encrusted with panko, deep fried then covered in brown sauce and kewpie mayo, lacked any pork flavor and underwhelmed.

The Dumplings:  coZara serves pork gyoza that can be ordered, steamed, fried or pan seared.  The pan seared option produced a really nice crispy wrapper, that had caramelized notes in the flavor.  The gyoza filling had a great crunch texture from pieces of water chestnut that had been mixed into the pork.  Between this crunch and the crispy wrapper, I really enjoyed the mouth feel of these dumplings.  But the pork filling was bland, bordering on tasteless, and while water chestnuts provide great texture, they don’t bring any flavor.  I don’t know where they are sourcing their pork or why they are not seasoning it, but coZara doesn’t seem to do pork well.

The Dipping Sauce: When a dumpling is bland I hope for a great dipping sauce that I can use the dumpling as a delivery vehicle for.  Unfortunately, coZara didn’t really produce on this front either, it seemed like straight soy sauce mixed with some chili oil.

The Location:  coZara is in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood, near Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. It is on Chestnut street between South 33rd and South 32nd streets.

Posted in Gyoza, Philadelphia, Pork | Leave a comment

Excellent Dumpling House, New York, NY

Hot and Spicy Wonons

Excellent Dumpling House opened in 1983 on the corner of Canal Street and Lafayette Street and served up dumplings there for 35 years, making CNN Travel’s list of 50 best Chinese restaurants in America.  In 2017 it moved to its current location Chelsea.  The restaurant has limited ambiance and very brusque service and you get the message that you shouldn’t linger at the table.  But the food at Excellent Dumpling House is stellar.

The Dumplings:  As you might expect there is an extensive list of dumpling options at Excellent Dumpling House: Steamed Crabmeat & Pork Xiao Long Bao, Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao, Seafood Dumpling Soup, Seafood Dumpling, Chicken Dumpling Soup, Chicken Dumpling, Steamed Pork Dumpling, Fried Pork Dumpling, Steamed Mushroom & Vegetable Dumpling, Steamed Spinach Dumpling, Vegetable Dumpling, Hot & Spicy Wonton, Steamed Shrimp Dumpling, Shumai, and Steamed Roasted Pork Bun, Steamed Mushroom & Vegetable Bun.

Pork and Shrimp Xiao Long Bao

Pork Xiao Long Bao and Pork and Crab Xiao Long Bao – The two orders of Xiao Long Bao we ordered came out the kitchen really quickly which is a sign they are constantly cooking soup dumplings and moving a lot of them.  These dumplings were cooked to perfection, steaming hot with wrappers that stretched when I picked them up, but didn’t rupture.  The dumplings had generous amounts of fatty, flavorful soup and well seasoned minced pork filling.  My one critique is that I couldn’t taste any difference between the Pork and the Pork and Crab varieties, but both were indeed excellent.

Hot and Spicy Wontons – The wontons were stuffed with pork and large chunks of sweet shrimp that had the slight crunch or pop texture that indicates they are using fresh shrimp.  The wontons were served sitting in a spicy sauce that had a great creamy nutty flavor and a pretty good spice kick. The sauce was made from Szechuan pepper hot oil, sweetened soy sauce and either tahini or peanut sauce, I couldn’t tell which, maybe it was a blend of both.  The wrappers were slippery but had a crinkled texture that provided lots of surface area for the spicy sauce to cling to, so each bite had the full spectrum of pork, shrimp, sesame/nutty and spicy flavors.

Steamed Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings – We got orders of both the steamed and pan fried pork dumplings.  Both preparations of the pork dumplings were great, Excellent Dumpling House does a really good job seasoning their pork filling, and the pork they use is really flavorful.  Both sets of dumplings were juicy, but the steamed ones had a lot more juice and tended to squirt when I bit into them.  My friend managed to spray her shirt sleeve with the juice from one of the steamed dumplings.  The fried dumplings were cooked pot-sticker style, with the bottom side fried crispy and golden and the top cooked with steam.  If you are only going to get one order of the pork dumplings, I recommend the steamed ones.

The Location:  Excellent Dumpling House is in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood on 23rd street between 6th and 7th Avenues.

Posted in Chinese, Dim Sum, New York City, Pork, Sesame Sauce, Shrimp, Soup Dumpling, Steamed, Wontons, Xiao Long Bao | 1 Comment

Sixth Anniversary

A few weeks belated, but after 349 posts and 54,625 visitors this is the sixth anniversary of Dumpling Hunter.  The very first post was was about my visit to Nan Xiang Xiolong Mantou in Shanghai.  My trip to that restaurant to get soup dumplings was inspired by an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and in many ways this blog was inspired by his shows.  His passing this year was a great loss.

Some highlights from the year:

Even though they have ended their Dim Sum Happy Hour, which I thought was a brilliant idea, New York’s Jing Fong gets Best Dim Sum of the Year.

The Most Successful Recipe of the Year was the Vegan Beef Tips and Leak Gyoza. Gardein’s meat substitutes are excellent.

Best Trend of the Year was Chinese restaurants serving home style regional dishes opening up near Columbia University to cater to Columbia’s international students. See the link to Grain House below.

The Best Frozen Dumpling of the year was Bertagni’s Girasoli with Basil Pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Best Wontons in Spicy Oil goes to Grain House which opened this past year near Columbia University.

Sad Departure of the Year was Himalaya Friends Corner, whose Lamb Momos and sauces were stellar.  This location seems to be unlucky for dumpling houses, before it was Himalaya Friends it was Mom’s Dumplings and Noodles.

The Biggest Disappointment was the vegan Japanese restaurant Arata. The vegan pizza joint next door to Arata is run by the same restaurant group and great, so I had high hopes for Arata.  But the only thing I enjoyed there was the Yuzu flavored beer.Runners up in this category were  Han Dynasty and Lucky Pickle on the Upper West Side.

Posted in Amherst, Best of, Chinese, Dim Sum, Frozen Dumpling Review, Girasoli, Japanese, Lamb, New York City, Shanghai, Soup Dumpling, Wontons, Xiao Long Bao | 1 Comment

Third try: Vegan Kimchi Takoyaki

Vegan Kimchi Takoyaki

After my first attempt to make Takoyaki which was an epic fail, I tried a second time which was a moderate fail and then a third time which was a modest success.

On my third attempt I used 1.33 cups of Otafuku Takoyaki flour with 12 ounces of water to make the batter and a lot more oil in each of the pan’s wells than I used last time.  I essentially deep fried the batter I poured into each of the pan’s wells. The other tricks I learned were to get the filling, scallions and kimchi pieces, into the cooking batter as quickly as possible and as soon as the batter starts to cook to start peeling the edges of the batter away from the walls of the wells.  I also found that to prevent burning I needed to continuously rotate the Takoyaki in their wells.

I think it will take me a few more attempts before I am turning out high quality Takoyaki, but these were a tasty snack.

Posted in Japanese, Takoyaki, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Arata, New York, NY

Arata is the new-ish Japanese vegan restaurant from Matthew Kenny, the famed vegan restaurateur, who is opening multiple vegan restaurants in major cities across the globe. In New York City’s East Village he has a lock on 2nd avenue between 3rd and 4th street with Bar Verde (Mexican), Double Zero (Pizza) and Arata all in a row. I have eaten at Double Zero several times and loved it, so I was psyched to try his Japanese concept. Unfortunately, Arata is not his finest work, in fact it was mediocre to poor. With over 20 restaurants spread out around the world maybe he has overextended himself.

Shitake Summer Vegetable Gyoza

We tried the Maitake Mushroom and Kabocha Tempura which was disappointing, the tempura was overcooked and slightly burned and I don’t think we got a single piece of Maitake Mushroom. The kabocha was just sweet flavored mush inside a hard casing of burned tempura. The cold Soba entree did not redeem Arata. It supposedly came with peanut sauce, shisho, pickled green onions, dried kumquat, wasabi peas, barbecued king oyster mushrooms, sticky rice, chili-soy glaze, and lotus chips, but I don’t think my bowl came with half of these items. The noodles were closer to overcooked spaghetti than classic soba noodles, and tasted mainly of peanut sauce, with no acid component from the pickles or chili-soy that was supposed to be in the dish.

Arata did have some interesting beers, I really enjoyed the Yuzu Lager

Dumplings: At $16 for five gyoza, the Shitake Summer Vegetable Gyoza Arata should be turning out an amazing dumpling, but instead they were weak – that was three strikes for Arata. I am not sure what the summer vegetables were supposed to be, but the filling was a soft mush with the consistency of overcooked sweet potato. The filling had a sweet, mildly nutty flavor with no umami you would expect from Shitake mushrooms, in fact the Shitake had no discernible presence in the filling. I think the dumplings had been sitting for a while before they brought the out to us. The fried bottom of the gyoza were a golden color but were leathery rather than crispy and the steamed top part the dumplings wrappers were stiff rather then supple.

Dipping Sauce: The gyoza came with a ginger soy dipping sauce which provided a little bit of acid to the dumplings but also added more sweetness. The sauce was not really built to complement or balance the dumplings.

Location: Arata is on 2nd avenue on the corner of 4th street in New York’s East Village neighborhood. I recommend going next door to Double Zero and getting awesome vegan pizza.

Posted in Gyoza, New York City, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Potala Restaurant, Jackson Heights, Queens

I flew into LaGuardia airport a couple of weeks ago when Trump was speaking to the UN General Assembly and the traffic and gridlock that day in Manhattan were supposed to be murder.  So I decided to have a cab drop me in Jackson Heights at the 7 train stop and subway it onto Manhattan.  I had been out to Jackson Heights a couple of years ago to eat momos, (here and here) but I was surprised by the explosion of momo restaurants that has happened since then.  After looking at menus at over a dozen places around the intersection of Broadway and Roosevelt Ave, I more or less randomly picked Potala Restaurant to try a serving of momos.  Tashi D. Lama, the owner of Potala, was born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal where he became a monk, but since June 2017 has been cooking up laphing and momo in a tiny store front with counter space for about 10 diners.

Chive momos

The Dumplings:  The momos at Potala Restaurant are round precisely pleated buns, that look similar to Xiao Long Bao, and come filled with beef, chicken or vegetable.  The momos are steamed to order and so it takes 10 to 12 minutes for the bamboo steamer to be served up.  The vegetable momos are vegan and were filled solely with chives, which tasted like mild scallions.  It was a bit of a singular flavor for an entire meal but after a couple of days of food at a conference in Texas, it felt good to eat something green and healthy.  Some of the momo I got had wrappers that were split and a little damaged, so I think they had been over-steamed, but I enjoyed these momos.

The Dipping Sauces:  There were bottles of soy sauce and a yellow achar sauce and tubs of red chili paste on the dining counter.  Unlike some of the other Himalayan restaurants I have tried, the yellow achar they serve is not spicy but instead is mild and creamy.

The Location:  Potala Restaurant is in Jackson Heights on 37th Road between 74th and 75th Streets around the corner from the 74th Street-Broadway Station entrance for the 7 train.  This area is center for Himalayan restaurants in New York City.

 

Posted in Momo, New York City, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Recipe Fail – Homemade Vegan Kimchi Takoyaki

Takoyaki batter, scallions and kimchi

Takoyaki batter failing to set up

After mastering making Okonomiyaki at home I decided that I would learn to make Takoyaki.  I ordered a Tako pan and Otafuku Takoyaki flour and sauce from Amazon and watched a bunch of YouTube videos on making Takoyaki.  The Otafuku recipe calls for 4 oz of Takoyaki flour, 2 eggs and scallions and I decide to put kimchi in the middle instead of octopus pieces.  Unfortunately the batter did not set up, it stubbornly stayed liquid except the outer layer which burned and stuck to my Tako pan.

I used a lot of oil in the cups of the pan so I don’t think this was the problem.  Since I was trying to make vegan Takoyaki I used an egg replacement which has worked perfectly for the Okonomiyaki, so I don’t think that was the problem either.  I don’t have a kitchen scale, so I Googled “how many cups is 4 oz of flour” and got back an answer of 2/3 of a cup; my guess is I should have used a lot more flour than this.  If I can ever get my Tako pan clean again I will try making the batter with a full cup of flour.

Posted in Recipe, Takoyaki | Leave a comment

Mentoku Ramen, New York, NY

Pork Gyoza

Mentoku Ramen specializes in Hakata style ramen, a regioanl style of ramen local to Fukuoka Prefecture.  Traditionally Hakata style ramen has a cloudy white pork bone broth and thin noodles and a minimalist approach to garnishing, just green onions and char siu pork.  At Mentoku their base ramen dish sticks to this formula and then they have several options with more toppings, including a “whipped cream” topping made of potato.

The Dumplings:  Mentoku serves pork gyoza and Takoyaki, both of which are expertly prepared.  The pork gyoza had paper thin skins that were fried crispy on the bottom and were filled with a mild, finely minced pork and some scallions.  However, it was the Yuzu Kosho condiment that took this disk to 11.  Yuzu Kosho is a paste made from a mash of chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt, which has been allowed to ferment.  It has salty, spicy, citrus grapefruit flavor, with a layer of anchovy or fish sauce flavor funk, that I assume is created by the fermentation.  This is my new favorite condiment and it worked so well with the gyoza.

Small order of takoyaki.

The takoyaki were are really good, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Mentoku makes their takoyaki with larger amounts of octopus than I have seen in any other versions of this dish.  Maybe taking their cue from the restrained garnishing on the Hakata style ramen, the takoyaki were not garnished with the full monty of topping, just mayo, takoyaki sauce and slivered bonito.

The Location:  Mentoku is on ninth avenue between 50th and 51st in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, or as the restaurant seems to be trying to re-brand it, the “NYC Ramen District”.  Ninth avenue from 57th street to 35th street, and most of the side streets, is a massive restaurant row of cheap to mid-range priced dining options and is one of the major foodie destinations in NYC.

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, New York City, Takoyaki | 1 Comment

Yu Kitchen, New York, NY

Spicy and Sour Pork Wontons

The recently opened, Yu Kitchen is clearly catering to the cravings of Columbia University’s international students for home style Chinese food, rather than to the old school Upper West Side residents who grew up on the American-Chinese food that used to dominate this neighborhood.  There is no Sesame Chicken at Yu Kitchen, but the is Pita Bread soaked in Beef/Lamb soup with Sweet Garlic and Xi’an Meatballs with White Pepper Soup.  Yu Kitchen specializes in Northwestern Chinese cuisine, with a menu that includes hot pots, handmade dumplings and wontons, and a huge selection of homemade noodles and rice.  I have written about this trend of more authentic regional Chinese restaurants opening in Manhattan Valley, but this is not a net gain for the neighborhood as Yu Kitchen opened in the old Lava Kitchen location.  While Lava Kitchen was a basic counter service joint, Yu Kitchen is a full service restaurant with tables and booths.

Shrimp, Pork & Leek Dumplings

The Dumplings:  The dumplings and wontons at Yu Kitchen are all house made and you can choose from:  Cabbage & Pork Dumplings; Shrimp, Pork & Leek Dumplings; Chicken Dumplings; Vegetable Dumplings; Fish Dumplings; Beef Dumplings; Celery & Pork Dumplings; Xi’an Beef Dumplings in Sour Spicy Soup; Chong’s Pork Dumplings with Spicy Sauce; Pork Wonton Soup; Shrimp & Pork Wonton Soup; Spicy Pork Wonton; and Spicy Sour Pork Wonton.  The basic dumplings come steamed but for an extra dollar they will pan fry them.

Spicy Sour Wonton –  The Spicy Pork Wonton and Spicy Sour Pork Wonton are not Szechuan style wontons in red chili oil, but rather are served in a light broth seasoned with chili oil, pepper, scallions and cilantro.  The sour version has a glug of vinegar added to the basic spicy broth.  The thin slippery wontons were generously filled with flavorful, savory minced pork but the broth was a little too light; I would have preferred a stronger spicy and sour kick.  This dish is similar to the dumplings in hot and sour sauce served at Xi’an Famous Food, but the sauce at Yu Kitchen is less intense.

Shrimp, Pork & Leek Dumplings –  I got the steamed preparation of these dumplings and they were excellent.  The pork filling was coarsely ground with big chunks of shrimp and a lot of chopped leeks mixed in.  The balance of the filling ingredients was perfect, the pork and shrimp each made discernible contributions to the texture and flavor – smooth, fatty, and umami from the pork and crunch, sweetness and touch of brine from the shrimp.  The dumpling wrappers were thin and delicate but held up to the steaming and kept the filling tightly packed.  I will be trying some more of their steamed dumplings soon.

Sauces

The Dipping Sauces:  Each table comes with a bottle of Sriracha sauce and a cute trio of china pots filled with sauce ingredients: soy, chili oil and black vinegar.

The Location:  Yu Kitchen is on Broadway between 100th and 101st streets in what was previously known as the Manhattan Valley neighborhood.  I have been away from the neighborhood for a couple of months and apparently in the meantime the area has been re-branded as the Bloomingdale neighborhood.  I guess gentrification is coming to the neighborhood.

Posted in Pork, Shrimp, Wontons | Leave a comment

Ku Sushi and Izakaya, Seattle WA

Normally I avoid sushi restaurants advertising 50% of rolls, especially if there is a big cheesy looking banner hanging from the restaurant announcing this. To me this just screams low quality sushi. But Ku Sushi and Izakaya gets lots of really good reviews on Google, many of them saying you should not be put off by the banner.

Ku is a small Korean run Japanese restaurant with a dark bunker like interior architecture. I suspect that the west facing windows are all covered because the afternoon and evening sun would otherwise blast light into the dining area. The menu has a smallish selection of sushi pieces and a large selection of rolls and a smattering of Korean dishes. There are also pieces of paper on the walls announcing other available items, like yogurt soju. The sushi was really good, especially the Unagi and avocado hand roll.

The Dumplings: The Takoyaki at Ku are expertly cooked so they are crispy and crunchy on the outside with a creamy interior and a small piece of just cooked crunchy octopus in the middle. They are served blazing hot, so let them cool a little or risk burning your mouth. The Takoyaki are served on a bed of slivered cabbage and are adorned with drizzles of brown Tako sauce and Japanese mayo, sheets of bonito flakes and chopped scallions. The best Takoyaki have layers of toppings that bring a symphony of sweet, tangy sour, umami, and salty flavors to the dumplings. But at Ku the scallion pieces were cut too big for my taste and their strong flavor over powered the other toppings. I think they should have been cut finer and used a little more sparingly. But if you pick off some of the chunks of scallion these Takoyaki were really good. Ku also serves pan-fried gyoza.

The Location: Ku is near the University of Washington campus in Seattle, on University Way just north of NE 52nd Street. This is the northern most end of the strip of restaurants and bars catering to students on University Way.

Posted in Japanese, Korean, Takoyaki | Leave a comment