Arata Vegan Japanese Closed

Shitake Summer Vegetable Gyoza

I just found out that Matthew Kenny’s Japanese vegan concept, Arata, closed in late 2018, coming and going in less than a year.  While I like Kenney’s nearby vegan restaurants, I was not impressed with Arata.  We tried three or four dishes and I didn’t really like any of them, and the overpriced Shitake Summer Vegetable Gyoza were terrible.

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Vegan Dumpling Update

Spicy and Sour Vegetable Dumplings

I noticed recently that my local Xi’an Famous Foods no longer lists its sensational Spinach Dumplings in Hot and Sour Sauce as being vegan.  The staff confirmed that they haven’t added added egg or shrimp to the fillings but told me they boil the vegetable dumplings in the same water as the lamb dumplings and so took away the vegan indicator on the menu.  So I would term these dumplings as “vegan adjacent”.

Nearby at Grain House the vegetable dumplings are vegan and delicious.  I reviewed Grain House about a year ago, shortly after it opened, and gave its Spicy and Numbing Pork Wontons and Pork Potstickers lots of love.  The steamed vegetable dumplings, which appear to be house made, are as good or even better than the Pork Potstickers.  The wrappers are just thick enough to be chewy without being doughy and envelope a tasty mix of tofu, cabbage, carrot, glass noodles and maybe mushroom.

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings at Grain House

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings


Posted in Chinese, Lamb, New York City, Pork, Potsticker, Sichuan Dumplings, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

MaLa Project, New York, NY

Everything old is new again.  Mongolian BBQ, which was very trendy in the mid-90s in NYC, seems to have been reborn as the now trending Dry Hot Pot.  Both meals involve selecting meats, vegetables, tofu products and noodles from a menu and then the selected ingredients being flash cooked in a sauce on an incredibly hot surface – for Mongolian BBQ it was a flat circular grill and for dry hot pot it is a wok.  With Mongolian BBQ you had a choice of sauces that would be mixed in with the ingredients, while dry hot pot is cooked with a sauce made of Sichuan spices and peppers.  While dry hot pot is a traditional Sichuan dish, Mongolian BBQ has no actual cultural connection to Mongolia, it was invented in Taiwan by a Chinese refugee from Mao’s revolution.

My first dry hot pot experience was at MaLa Project, which is named for the traditional Sichuan dry hot pot sauce and means “numbing” and “spicy”.  MaLa Project’s menu presents you with with a huge array of meat options, including cuts from the stomach, intestine and artery, and a large array of vegetable hot pot options.  I went all vegetarian that night and was able to choose ingredients from a wide range of mushrooms, greens, starches and tofus.  You have a choice of Non-spicy, Mild, Spicy, or Super Spicy and as a guide the spicy peanuts they serve at happy hour have a spice-level that is mid-way between the Mild and Spicy dry hot pot.  We went with Mild, but still got some of the spicy and numbing effect in a quite flavorful sauce.  I recommend the taro root, which had been coated in flour or corn starch and then crispy fried, and I really enjoyed the five spice firm tofu.

The Dumplings:  MaLa Project serves an interesting array of appetizers, rice and dim sum dishes including pork and vegetable dumplings that can be cooked fried or steamed.  The fried vegetable dumplings are ping pong ball size and come six to an order.  I really enjoyed the texture and mouth feel of the wrappers, which were just thick enough that when pan-fried the outer surface was crispy but the inner dough was still slightly chewy.  The dumplings were filled with cabbage and pieces of five spice pressed tofu which gave the filling an interesting flavor and contrasting texture.  The downside of these dumpling though, was that they were greasy and I could taste too much of the fry oil.

The Dipping Sauce:  we were served a sweetened soy based dipping sauce in a tiny to-go plastic cup that was too small to dip the dumplings in.  It was annoying.

The Location:  MaLa Project has locations in mid-town and the East Village.  We hit the East Village location, which is on 1st avenue between 7th and 8th avenue.

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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.

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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.

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In memory, Alexander “The Peanut”

This weekend we lost our beloved kid, The Peanut.

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