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

The Jim, South Philly

During the pandemic bar owners Fergie Carey and Jim McNamara, of Fergie’s Pub and The Goat, along with Tony Rim of 1225 Raw and The Foodery opened The Jim in the old JC Chinese restaurant location.  They kept the old JC logo on the exterior, the very cool old rectangular bar and the dragon murals and now serve dumpling, noodles and Korean-style Chicken wings and have a good beer list and cocktails.  The Jim’s interior space is tiny and bunkerlike but they have outdoor seating along 8th street.  The place has a good vibe and the food is excellent – great old school American-Chinese food – and the waiters are on point about available vegan options, which include several dumpling and noodle options.  The Lo Mein noodles are classic and come served in an old-style cardboard Chinese take-out box.

The Dumplings:  The waiter told us that some of the dumplings are house made and some are brought in, but they are moving to making all their dumplings in house. My guess is that the pork and veggie dumplings are house made and the mandu style, kimchi dumplings are brought in.  The pork and cabbage dumplings were juicy, savory and very tasty, you can get them steamed or deep fried.  The kimchi and veggie dumplings were also stellar, a great funky, umami, spicy kimchi flavor.  We got a steamed order and a deep-fried order, both were great but I think the steamed version was best.  The dumplings are served in cardstock to-go boxes.

The Location:  The Jim is located at 1701 S. 8th St at Morris Street in South Philly.

Posted in Chinese, Kimchi, Korean, Mandoo, Philadelphia, Pork, Potsticker, Steamed, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

Vanessa’s Dumpling, NYC, Pandemic Edition

I have reviewed Vanessa’s previously, but while I was in NYC recently I thought I would see how they were fairing in pandemic times. Thankfully the dumplings are still great but they seem to have lost their service mojo during the pandemic.

You still order from menus laying on the counter towards the back of the restaurant and place your order with the woman behind the counter who gives you a number. Your order number is still screamed out by someone behind the counter when your order is ready and the food is still served in plastic to-go containers, on a cafeteria tray. But in the pre-times the army of older women behind the counter were a highly efficient kitchen brigade slinging out a continuous stream of dumpling orders. On this visit there seemed to be mass confusion behind the counter, they got our order wrong and orders took forever to come out, there was a lot of yelling by the staff and stress amongst the customers.

The Dumplings: I got the boiled pork and cabbage dumplings which have a red cabbage colored wrapper. They were really tasty but so over cooked the wrappers lost their integrity. I think they sat after they were boiled and further steam cooked in the closed plastic container while the staff waited on our other orders. The pan-fried veggie dumplings were as great as always, a tasty filling with a spinach colored wrapper that was char grilled on one side.

The standout for this meal though was the Spicy Vegan Dumplings. These dumplings were charred on the bottom, which creates the great flavors from the Maillard reaction, and were caked in chilly crisps and sprinkled with cilantro. The vegan beef filling had a truly meaty texture and flavor and was pretty convincing. The dumplings were spicy but not overpowering, and really tasty. Go order these dumplings.

The Location: Vanessa’s Dumplings now has five location in NYC. We hit the original location at 118A Eldridge Street, just below Broome Street, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood.

Posted in Boiled, Chinese, Gyoza, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker | Leave a comment

Happy Veggie Restaurant, NYC

Happy Veggie Restaurant is a new to me, vegan Asian fusion restaurant in NYC’s Chinatown that opened during the pandemic. There is very little written about this restaurant on the web, but evidently they use vegan meats from Lily’s Vegan Pantry (ne May Wah Grocery). The menu is mainly Chinese, with some Malaysian and Thai influences and weirdly, a Beyond Burger and fries. I need to give it another try, but I think this will become one of my go-to vegan restaurants in NYC.

The Dumplings: the menu includes Homemade Spinach Dumplings, Fried Wontons, Homemade Buns stuffed with veggies, BBQ veggies, curry potato, taro, pumpkin or peanuts and Beijing Vegetarian Momo Buns. Unfortunately the day we stopped by they were out of dumplings and buns so we tried the Beijing Vegetarian Momo Buns and the Veggie Spam Musubi with Avocado. The momo buns were not Tibetan momos at all, but were Chinese Gua bao, the white fluffy sandwich style steamed breads. The bao were stuffed with vegan duck, which had a mild smoky flavor with hints of duck, julienned cucumber and a sweet Chinese BBQ style sauce. These buns were excellent, I highly recommend them.

The vegan spam in the musubi was a decent approximation of spam, but it wasn’t grilled enough. I like my spam to be seriously grilled so it is caramelized in the teriyaki sauce. The musubi was quite large and filling and was a solid effort.

Location: Happy Veggie Restaurant is in Manhattan’s Chinatown at 76 Mott Street, just south of Canal Street.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Momo, New York City, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment