Izakaya Ida Mini Review

Yaki Shumai

I originally tried Izakaya Ida a little while after it opened and at the time the only dumplings they had were Takoyaki, which were excellent.  I recently returned and discovered that they had added pork gyoza and shrimp shumai to the menu.  The shumai are prepared either, in the traditional steamed fashion or Yakitori style where the shumai are steamed and then grilled.  The Yaki Shumai only come two to an order but they were amazing, the grilling adds whole new dimensions to the shumai experience.  On the grill the shumai wrapper became crispy and charred and a smokiness infused all the way into the shrimp filling.  The shrimp filling is made of chunks of shrimp that had a fresh pop texture and sweetness to them.  I also had the Vegetarian Tan Tan Men ramen which was so good.  Izakaya Ida is on 72nd street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

As an aside, these shumai made me imagine how amazing it would be if Sun Chan Yakitori style grilled their Wasabi Shumai.

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Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar and Izakaya, San Francisco, Ca

Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar and Izakaya regularly gets mentioned as one of San Francisco’s top vegan restaurants and has a laudable mission statement, but I think this restaurant is completely over-rated.  First of all, it has a reservation and entry policy that probably maximizes its profits but is annoying as hell.  The only thing we ate at Shizen that reached for excellence, was the Goma Ae spinach with sesame paste.  The specialty rolls were all squeeze bottle sauce drizzled, inside-out roll confections, that mainly tasted of sweetened soy sauce.  Shizen doesn’t pay enough attention to its sushi rice, the rice was over cooked and mushy.  But, one of the rolls we ate had me convinced that there was a layer of unagi on the outside, I don’t know how they did it, but that was a plus.  In addition to meh food, the service at Shizen was slow and confused.

Shizen’s Potstickers, probably Assi Brand Veg Potstickers

The Dumplings:  It is obvious that Shizen serves frozen gyoza and the waitress confirmed it.  I am convinced they are using Assi Brand Vege Potstickers, which is a brand I like a lot, but I really expect house made dumplings from a restaurant with Shizen’s reputation.  To add insult, Shizen doesn’t even pan-fry them very well, the dumplings we were served were under cooked.  The women who give out free samples of Assi dumplings at H-Mart do a better job of cooking them than Shizen did.

The Location:  Shizen is in The Mission District on 14th between Mission and Valencia.  The Armory Club bar on Mission and 14th street is a good place to wait out your time on the Shizen waiting list.  It is a 10 minute walk from Shizen to IndoChine, so think about eating there instead.



Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Gyoza, Japanese, Potsticker, San Francisco, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

IndoChine, San Francisco, CA

IndoChine Vegan’s website makes the claim of “fine dining”, and while the restaurant is not a high-end, fine dining experience, this small funky, pan-Asian restaurant serve some really, really good food.  The menu includes dishes from a range of Asian cuisines and has a Western section with vegan burgers and fish and chips.  When I was there the lone server/hostess was quickly overwhelmed by the dinner rush of customers and to-go orders, so the service was a little slow.  My other complaint is that the kitchen venting needs upgrading, the dining room gets a lot of cooking fumes.  But go there for the food, it is awesome, the Sweet and Sour Soy Protein was the best sweet and sour pork I have ever eaten.

The Dumplings:  IndoChine’s perfectly pan-fried pot stickers were very simple and well-balanced, just filled with cabbage, shiitake mushroom, and ginger.  They had a mild cabbage flavor, with a fragrance from the ginger and a slightly earthy, umami undertone from the mushrooms.  If we hadn’t ordered two other amazing dishes and filled up, we would have ordered a second round of these dumplings.  The dumplings were so good, that the next day we considered going back and just ordering piles of these dumplings.  Instead we went to Shizen which was a mistake (see next week), we should have gone back to IndoChine and binged on their dumplings.

The Location:  IndoChine is on Valencia Street between 16th and 17th streets in The Mission District.  This block is full of stores/boutiques, small funky bars and Asian and Central American restaurants and is a really good eating and drinking destination.

Posted in Potsticker, San Francisco, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

Thrillist Round up of Eastern European Dumplings

The Thrillist just posted a round-up of 13 Eastern European dumplings styles. It is a good, hunger inducing read.  I have tried most of the styles of dumplings discussed, but I haven’t yet tried the Georgian soup dumpling known as khinkali. They sound awesome and supposedly they pre-date the Shanghai style soup dumpling.

Georgian Kinkali soup dumplings

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Golden Era, San Francisco CA

I just returned from a mini-tour of vegan Asian restaurants in San Francisco and the overall best, top pick was Golden Era which serves Vietnamese, Indian, Thai and Chinese dishes.  Golden Era is a brightly lit, low on decor spot near the Civic Center that serves fabulous food and is packed during lunch.  The Vietnamese crepe with vegan shrimp was delicious, it was packed high with bean sprouts and slices of mock shrimp that were quite convincing. The fresh rice paper wrapped spring rolls filled with lettuce, mint leaves, cilantro, and seasoned tofu were also really good.

The Dumplings:  Golden Era’s pot stickers are not actually prepared pot sticker style but instead are deep fried.  I really enjoyed these dumplings which are filled with tofu, textured soy protein, cabbage, jicama, spinach, and ginger. They have a thick wrapper and the ones we were served were fried to an almost dark brown color so the wrapper, ironically, took on the crispy, crunchy texture of Chicharrones.  These are a fake meat style veggie dumpling and the textured soy protein provided a good facsimile of ground pork and they had a mild savory, meaty flavor.

The Golden Era menu does not list steamed buns, but I noticed they had large, navel orange sized buns sitting at the counter.  The white fluffy Chinese bread of the bun was a little dry, but the filling of these buns was excellent, so tasty.  The filling includes seasoned texture soy, which gives it a meaty texture, tofu, carrots, green peas and vermicelli noodles.  The buns are large enough that two people can split one as an appetizer.  If you go to Golden Era look to see if the buns are available at the counter.

The Dipping Sauce:  The pot stickers come with a soy dipping sauce that was packed with ginger flavor and was an bright, tasty accompaniment for the dumplings and the buns.

The Location:  Golden Era is in the Civic Center neighborhood on the edge of the Tenderloin.  It is on Golden Gate Ave between Larkin and Hyde streets.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Potsticker, San Francisco, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | 1 Comment

Yokohama Ramen, Northampton, MA

This is the second of two back-to-back reviews of ramen bars, unfortunately we have moved from lackluster to bad.  After a long period of construction and renovation Yokohama Ramen recently opened in Northampton MA.  There seems to be some major consistency issues at Yokohama, a friend I trust, told me they had good ramen there, but my meal was terrible.  After meals like this I wish I had Pete Wells’ talent for writing negative restaurant reviews (see his classic review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square)

Before I get to the dumplings, I’ll say a little about the ramen I had there.  The pork, spinach and egg fixings in the tonkatsu ramen I was served were all cold, which was a little off putting.  Several Yelp reviews suggest that Yokohama’s chefs take the ramen fixings straight out of the refrigerator and just lay them on top of the broth in the bowl and then serve it.  I have eaten a lot of ramen and have never seen this done before and worse there is an extra charge to get a cold egg added to your ramen.  The broth itself was lukewarm, and tasteless and watery at the top of the bowl and thick and nasty tasting at the bottom of the bowl.  I suspect they use bagged, pre-made broth and my bowl was made from a batch they had not yet fully mixed and heated.  I won’t be going back there until the Yelp ratings start going up, currently they are at 2.5 stars.

The Dumplings:  Yokohama serves takoyaki and pork gyoza, both of which were low quality.  Each of the takoyaki was flat on the bottom and dome shaped rather than spherical, so I think they are using frozen takoyaki and tossing them into a deep fryer to cook them.  They were served on the plate in a slightly serpentine line that made them look like a caterpillar, maybe this is references to Eric Carle who lived locally.  The takoyaki were criminally under dressed, with a few squeeze bottle squirts of sauce and a desultory sprinkle of a few flakes of bonito.

The pork gyoza were equally lack luster.  The bottoms of the gyoza were under pan-fried and approached, but didn’t quit make it to, a crispy texture and golden color.  Although I panned Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar’s gyoza filling, they at least know how to cook gyoza well, Yokohama should take note.  The filling of Yokohama’s gyoza had a mushy and mealy texture and very little flavor.  I think they are using frozen gyoza and haven’t yet figured out which are the good brands or how to properly cook them.

The Dipping Sauce: insipid, uninspired and watery.

The Location:  Yokohama Ramen is in downtown Northampton MA at 88 Main street near the main intersection with route 5 in town.  If you are visiting and want some good gyoza check out Moshi Moshi down the street.

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, Northampton, Takoyaki | Leave a comment

In memory, Alexander “The Peanut”

This weekend we lost our beloved kid, The Peanut.

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Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar, New York NY

Despite it’s name, Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar’s menu weighs a lot heavier on ramen than gyoza options, with only three types of gyoza available on the menu.  The original menu, which listed pork, cheese and radish gyoza, sounded a lot more interesting that what is currently available, which is pork, chicken, and pork and shrimp gyoza.

I tried the mini-chashu rice bowl which had some very tasty chashu pork, slivered scallions and an ice cold poached egg.  Apparently poaching eggs and then chilling them ice cold before serving them is a thing, but it didn’t work in this dish.  The frigid egg made the rice cold and the barely cooked egg white was thick and had a mucus texture, particularly when it was mixed with the rice.  Maybe others like this dish, but I found it gross.

The Dumplings:  The pork and shrimp gyoza were perfectly cooked.  The bottom surfaces of the gyoza were skillet blackened and crisp and the rest of the gyoza wrapper was steamed so it had a soft and supple texture.  However, two of my gyoza contained pieces of gristle, a sign that they are using low quality pork to make their dumplings.  The shrimp didn’t contribute much flavor and were mushy, so they didn’t provide any texture either.

In addition to the three styles of gyoza, Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar also serves takoyaki, which were a lot better than the namesake gyoza.  I am not sure how they do it, but I think these were the most perfectly spherical takoyaki I have ever been served.  After my own misadventures making this dish, I know how hard it is to create even vaguely ball-like takoyaki.  The takoyaki had hard crisp outer shells and creamy interiors with several pieces of chopped octopus inside.  Zurutto uses a tasty tako-sauce and have a light touch with the mayonnaise, and adorn the takyaki with an abundance of bonito flakes.

I recommend the Takoyaki over the gyoza, and unless cold poached eggs appeal to you, avoid the rice bowls.

The Dipping Sauce.  The gyoza come with two dipping sauce, one was a mix of soy and rice vinegar and the second was a sweet orange colored sauce, which seemed like it was the duck sauce you get in little packets at Chinese take-out restaurants.   Both sauces were served in small shallow bowls that were not big enough to truly dunk the dumplings in.

The Location. Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on 72nd street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.  It is mid-block on the south side of the street.

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, New York City, Pork, Potsticker, Shrimp | Leave a comment

Kimchi Big Gyoza Dumpling, HMart House Brand Frozen Dumpling


Kimchi Big Gyoza Dumpling aka Hansang Kimchi Gyoza are one of the HMart supermarket chain’s house brands. The packaging pretty much says it all, they are filled with kimchi, they are big, they are gyoza shaped and they are dumplings.  The packaging could only be more accurate if they re-branded as “Excellent Kimchi Big Gyoza Dumpling”.

These gyoza are filled with salted cabbage, nappa cabbage kimchi, spring onion, garlic, leek, sweet potato and radish.  The kimchi was really at its peak when it was wrapped into these dumpling, well fermented with a deep and complex flavor but still with texture and crunch.  The kimchi is flavored with salted shrimp and salted anchovy which give the dumplings a slight briny, umami, funk flavor, in a good way.  The red pepper in the kimchi isn’t overdone, the heat is there but it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors.  I suspect that a Korean would label these as mild for spice heat, but for me the heat level was where I like it.    

Five or six of these dumplings, pan fried up and then finished off with a little steam, makes a satisfying meal and a bag of these tossed into the freezer means there is always a quick, delicious meal or late night snack easily available.       

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Gyoza, Kimchi, Korean | 1 Comment

Mom’s Dry Noodles, Pepper and Sesame Flavor

Happy Christmas Eve day, this post is way off my dumpling hunting brand, but I just had these noodles and had to write about them. They were so good I had them for dinner two nights in a row.  Mom’s Dry Noodle is a Taiwanese company that makes a line of Asian instant noodles that you cook in boiling water but then eat as a dry noodle dish.  Once the noodles are cooked you drain them and then toss the noodles with the contents of flavoring sachets that come with the noodles.  The Pepper and Sesame noodles comes with four flavoring packs – sesame oil, ground black pepper, soy sauce and sesame paste.  Once sauced the noodles had a sensational nutty sesame flavor with some mushroom notes layered over the top.  They reminded me a lot of old school New York City Chinese take-out Sesame Noodles, but surprisingly these instant noodles are a refined version of that classic dish.  The noodles had an excellent bite and chew to them when cooked for 3.5 minutes in boiling water.  The Pepper and Sesame noodles are vegan and come with four packets of instant noodles in a plastic sack.

The Ramen Rater blog has reviews of several of Mom’s Dry Noodles and a video of them visiting the manufacturer.

Posted in Noodles, Vegan, Vegetarian | 1 Comment