I revisited the Bryant Park Winter Garden to check out the two dumpling kiosks that I missed on my last visit.
Bao by Kaya is a pop-up version of the larger Bao by Kaya at the Urbanspace on Lexington Ave. They specialize in Taiwanese cuisine and the signature Gua Bao, which is a steamed flat, white fluffy bun that is folded over the filling. The Bryant Park pop-up serves Bao with Pork Belly, Red Curry Chicken, Peking Duck, Shrimp Tempura, Szechuan braised Beef Shank or Fried Tofu. I tried the Fried Tofu Bao which is filled with a roughly 1.5 by 3 inch block of batter dipped and fried tofu, with red cabbage, red onion, cilantro, black sesame seeds and sweet chili sauce. The tofu had a really great crispy/crunchy coating that balanced the softness of the tofu within and of the bao and I enjoyed the sweet chili sauce a lot. But I thought that the bao could have used more cabbage for texture and more onion to round out the flavors. Overall I enjoyed this bun and I would recommend it over the dishes being served by the three kiosks I tried on my prior visit.
The last of the dumpling options is Destination Dumplings, which was by far the best of the five places I tried. Chef Tristan Chin-Fatt and Deon Whiskey, the two owners, describe themselves as two kids from Queens, and were both born in Flushing, the Asian food mecca of Queens. Destination Dumplings doesn’t have a permanent location yet and instead does pop-ups and catered events. I got to Bryant Park at around 7 and it looked like Destination Dumplings had been slammed with customers, they were out of almost everything. Dishes I wasn’t able to try include – dumplings stuffed with Pork and Chive, Korean Beef, Peking Duck, or Edamame and steamed Bao filled with Spicy Pork. They did have regular pork bao, which were a revelation and the best dumpling that I tried at Bryant Park. The pork filling was incredibly well seasoned, flavorful and juicy, like eating pork that had been slow braised in a soy based marinade for hours. I ordered two bao and then went back for a third one. The bao were served with slivered scallion and sesame seeds and were doused with soy sauce.
Destination Dumplings has also figured out how to over-come the space constraints of the Winter Garden kiosks in a way that Bun Ramen has not. They have stacked, multi-tiered steamers cooking their dumplings and bao and a flat top grill for searing the dumplings. As a result everything they were serving was freshly cooked and they were not relying on a micro-wave like Bun Ramen was. I am going to return to Destination Dumplings earlier in the day and try some of their other dumpling offerings.