I have reviewed dumpling spots in China and in China-towns, in Korea and in Korea-towns, in Little-Tokyos, in Italy, in Tibetan enclaves and in old school Eastern European neighborhoods. But I haven’t yet reviewed an old-school Ghetto Chinese restaurant, a phrase I first heard when I moved to NYC back in ’91. The Urban Dictionary defines a ghetto Chinese restaurant as “Characterized by fast, cheap, and sometimes good Chinese food. In dangerous parts, there may be inch thick plexiglass barricades separating kitchen and diner, with a turnstyle for exchanging food and money.” (49 thumbs up and 18 thumbs down for this definition). These Chinese take-out spots were the pioneers of fast-food in many urban neighborhoods. My favorite reference to one of these joints is the Fugees’ Chinese Restaurant piece on the The Score.
I decided to try out Peking Kitchen II in Harlem, which is a small take-out joint with three tables for eating-in, but these are mainly used by people waiting for their to-go orders. It is so small and off the grid I can barely find any mention of it online, only seven reviews on Yelp. Peking Kitchen II serves the full panoply of American Chinese dishes and also serves fried fish fillets, fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried chicken wings, pork chops and fried sweat and green bananas (Plantain). Peking Kitchen II is not as armored up as some spots I have been to, there is no plexiglass between the customer and the cashier.
The Dumplings: The appetizers section includes steamed or fried pork, vegetable and chicken dumplings, hot sesame wontons and Szechuan dumplings. I tried the pan-fried pork dumplings and the hot sesame wontons. The dumplings were well pan-fried and crispy on the bottom, but the dough was overly thick, stodgy and chewy. The pork filling was fairly flat tasting, it was essentially an all pork meat ball with no chives or scallions mixed in. The dumplings worked best as a dipping sauce transfer system. The hot sesame wontons also had a bland pork filling and a similarly thick wrapper, but not as stodgy as the pork dumplings. The wontons were served in a thick, mildly spicy peanut-sesame sauce that was tasty, but oily and not nearly spicy enough.
The Dipping Sauce: The pork dumplings came with a very sweet, slightly spicy soy based dipping sauce that added some flavor to the pork dumplings.
The Location: Peking Kitchen II is in the recently gentrifying South Harlem, on Frederick Douglas Boulevard, between 116th and 117th Street. Google maps has switched over to a new system and I haven’t yet figured out how to embed zoomed-in portions of a map. Once I have I will post a map.