The Cottage Restaurant is part of a dying breed of restaurants in Manhattan, an old-school American-Chinese restaurant. As much as I have enjoyed the influx of excellent traditional and regional Chinese restaurants that have been opening on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, sometimes I just crave the American-Chinese classics like Egg Rolls, Crab Rangoon, Chow Mein or some Moo Shoo Pork. It also helps that The Cottage provides all you can drink wine for free with your meal, its cheap white wine but it is free.
Some of the reviews on Yelp complain that The Cottage is not a traditional or legitimate Chinese restaurant. But these reviewers miss the point, The Cottage is a classic American-Chinese restaurant that has been in business for 38 years, cooking a distinct style of food. The Cottage opened back when Chinese restaurants outside of U.S. Chinatowns were primarily catering to American taste palates and using Western ingredients. American-Chinese cuisine was the gateway that led U.S. diners to embrace traditional Chinese cuisines and arguably prepared the American palate for the Thai and Vietnamese restaurants that expanded across the U.S. in the 90’s.
The Dumplings: The Cottage serves fried or steamed pork dumplings, vegetable dumplings, pork dumplings in hot oil and shrimp dumplings in Szechuan sauce. The waiter told me that the hot oil and Szechuan sauce were the same sauce and that really it was a choice between pork or shrimp wontons.
The order of pork wontons in hot oil/Szechuan sauce has 14 wontons in a sesame, soy, and chili oil sauce with lots of slivered scallions. The pork filling in the wontons had very little flavor and mainly provided a textural contrast to the wonton wrappers. The sauce itself was also quite mild and did not live up to its double billing of hot oil or Szechuan sauce, there were no Szechuan pepper corns in the sauce and no chili heat. But it was a pretty good sesame sauce, that was thick enough to cling to the wontons so I got a lot of sauce in each bite. They also use this sauce with the scallion pancakes and I imagine they also use this sauce with the cold noodles in sesame sauce.
I also tried the vegetable dumplings, which are filled with chives and they were either boiled or steamed. These dumplings had a very clear, clean flavor of chives that I really enjoyed, they were tasty and they screamed healthy. But I didn’t really enjoy the way the wrappers were folded into a square tab at one end of the dumpling. This wad of wrapper dough made a convenient handle to grab the dumplings by with chop sticks, but this part of the dumpling was stodgy and chewy to eat. I ended up just biting the chive filled portion of the dumpling off the tab and leaving a pile of these wads of dough on the plate.
The sauce that the chive dumplings came with was really good, it was a mix of soy and vinegar and was packed with slivered scallions. The flavor of the scallions had completely suffused into the dipping sauce and elevated it.
The Location: The Cottage Restaurant is in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood and is on Amsterdam Avenue at the corner of 77th street.