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.

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, Northampton, Takoyaki | Leave a comment

In memory, Alexander “The Peanut”

This weekend we lost our beloved kid, The Peanut.

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Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar, New York NY

Despite it’s name, Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar’s menu weighs a lot heavier on ramen than gyoza options, with only three types of gyoza available on the menu.  The original menu, which listed pork, cheese and radish gyoza, sounded a lot more interesting that what is currently available, which is pork, chicken, and pork and shrimp gyoza.

I tried the mini-chashu rice bowl which had some very tasty chashu pork, slivered scallions and an ice cold poached egg.  Apparently poaching eggs and then chilling them ice cold before serving them is a thing, but it didn’t work in this dish.  The frigid egg made the rice cold and the barely cooked egg white was thick and had a mucus texture, particularly when it was mixed with the rice.  Maybe others like this dish, but I found it gross.

The Dumplings:  The pork and shrimp gyoza were perfectly cooked.  The bottom surfaces of the gyoza were skillet blackened and crisp and the rest of the gyoza wrapper was steamed so it had a soft and supple texture.  However, two of my gyoza contained pieces of gristle, a sign that they are using low quality pork to make their dumplings.  The shrimp didn’t contribute much flavor and were mushy, so they didn’t provide any texture either.

In addition to the three styles of gyoza, Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar also serves takoyaki, which were a lot better than the namesake gyoza.  I am not sure how they do it, but I think these were the most perfectly spherical takoyaki I have ever been served.  After my own misadventures making this dish, I know how hard it is to create even vaguely ball-like takoyaki.  The takoyaki had hard crisp outer shells and creamy interiors with several pieces of chopped octopus inside.  Zurutto uses a tasty tako-sauce and have a light touch with the mayonnaise, and adorn the takyaki with an abundance of bonito flakes.

I recommend the Takoyaki over the gyoza, and unless cold poached eggs appeal to you, avoid the rice bowls.

The Dipping Sauce.  The gyoza come with two dipping sauce, one was a mix of soy and rice vinegar and the second was a sweet orange colored sauce, which seemed like it was the duck sauce you get in little packets at Chinese take-out restaurants.   Both sauces were served in small shallow bowls that were not big enough to truly dunk the dumplings in.

The Location. Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on 72nd street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.  It is mid-block on the south side of the street.

Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, New York City, Pork, Potsticker, Shrimp | Leave a comment

Kimchi Big Gyoza Dumpling, HMart House Brand Frozen Dumpling

Rating: 

Kimchi Big Gyoza Dumpling aka Hansang Kimchi Gyoza are one of the HMart supermarket chain’s house brands. The packaging pretty much says it all, they are filled with kimchi, they are big, they are gyoza shaped and they are dumplings.  The packaging could only be more accurate if they re-branded as “Excellent Kimchi Big Gyoza Dumpling”.

These gyoza are filled with salted cabbage, nappa cabbage kimchi, spring onion, garlic, leek, sweet potato and radish.  The kimchi was really at its peak when it was wrapped into these dumpling, well fermented with a deep and complex flavor but still with texture and crunch.  The kimchi is flavored with salted shrimp and salted anchovy which give the dumplings a slight briny, umami, funk flavor, in a good way.  The red pepper in the kimchi isn’t overdone, the heat is there but it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors.  I suspect that a Korean would label these as mild for spice heat, but for me the heat level was where I like it.    

Five or six of these dumplings, pan fried up and then finished off with a little steam, makes a satisfying meal and a bag of these tossed into the freezer means there is always a quick, delicious meal or late night snack easily available.       

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Gyoza, Kimchi, Korean | 1 Comment

Mom’s Dry Noodles, Pepper and Sesame Flavor

Happy Christmas Eve day, this post is way off my dumpling hunting brand, but I just had these noodles and had to write about them. They were so good I had them for dinner two nights in a row.  Mom’s Dry Noodle is a Taiwanese company that makes a line of Asian instant noodles that you cook in boiling water but then eat as a dry noodle dish.  Once the noodles are cooked you drain them and then toss the noodles with the contents of flavoring sachets that come with the noodles.  The Pepper and Sesame noodles comes with four flavoring packs – sesame oil, ground black pepper, soy sauce and sesame paste.  Once sauced the noodles had a sensational nutty sesame flavor with some mushroom notes layered over the top.  They reminded me a lot of old school New York City Chinese take-out Sesame Noodles, but surprisingly these instant noodles are a refined version of that classic dish.  The noodles had an excellent bite and chew to them when cooked for 3.5 minutes in boiling water.  The Pepper and Sesame noodles are vegan and come with four packets of instant noodles in a plastic sack.

The Ramen Rater blog has reviews of several of Mom’s Dry Noodles and a video of them visiting the manufacturer.

Posted in Noodles, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

A Little Ska and Efes Mediterranean Grill, New Brunswick, NJ

Spinach Manti with Yogurt Sauce

New Brunswick, NJ is home to the great Ska/Reggae/Oi/Punk band The Hub City Stompers, whose recent release “Haters Dozen” is on near continuous play in my home, and the city was also the launching pad for the excellent ska band Bigger Thomas.  Members of HBS and Bigger Thomas have overlapped over the years and make up the core of the new version of Rude Boy George – who do ska covers of 80’s New Wave and Post Punk.

New Brunswick is also home to Efes Mediterranean Grill, which has been a local stalwart since 2001.  Efes has two floors, the first has a counter and seems to be mainly set up for take-out, while the second is a full sit down dining room.  The restaurant, and its sister restaurant in Princeton, NJ, is named for Efes, the ancient classical city in Turkey once ruled by the Greeks and the Romans.

The menu covers most of the bases of Turkish cuisine and includes two types on manti, a type of dumpling popular in most Turkic cuisines, as well as in Central Asian, Afghani, and Chinese Islamic cuisines.  Wikipedia has an extensive discussion on the many forms of manti, their origins and possible links to Korean mandu, Chinese mantou, and Japanese manjū.

Spinach Manti

The Dumplings: there are two varieties of manti available at Efes, lamb filled and spinach filled.  The spinach filled ones were small and star shaped with a thick, pleasantly chewy dough wrapper.  They were served with a mild garlic yogurt sauce and melted butter seasoned with red pepper.  Because of their small size, each manti contained only a tiny amount of spinach which didn’t provide a lot of flavor.  I also thought the pepper sauce could have been spicier to provide a dynamic interaction with the cooling yogurt sauce.  But, the manti were cooked to al dente perfection with a toothsome texture and chew, and overall I enjoyed the dish.

The Location:  Efes Mediterranean Grill is on the corner of Easton Ave and Somerset Street in downtown New Brunswick.  It is one block from the Amtrak/New Jersey Transit Rail Station.

Posted in manti, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Fulgreen Kimchi Mandoo and BCD Home Soon Dubu Kit Review

Rating: 

This week’s frozen dumpling review is a twofer – Fulgreen Frozen Kimchi Dumplings and BCD Tofu House Home Soon Dubu Kit.   Both are are excellent products and get five stars.

Fulgreen has changed the logo on its frozen Kimchi dumplings and so I didn’t realize that I had already reviewed these dumplings until I got home from the store.  Fulgreen is definitely consistent in the quality of its Frozen Kimchi dumplings and with their off the radar corporate presence.  The dumplings were still packed with crispy crunchy, very tasty and very spicy kimchi and there is still practically nothing about the company on the web.

I paired these dumplings with Soon Dubu made with BCD Tofu House’s Home Soon Dubu Kit.  Soon Dubu is a Korean, soft tofu stew that is served so blazing hot, it is still boiling when it gets to your table.  Soon Dubu is also crazy spicy, so between the temperature heat and the spice heat, Soon Dubu feels like a dish that fights you back as you eat it.

Beginning in 1996 with a single restaurant in Los Angeles solely focused on this dish, BCD Tofu House popularized Soon Dubu in the U.S. and then re-popularized it in Korea.  BCD Tofu House now has locations across the U.S. and in Korea and Tokyo and sets the standard for Soon Dubu.  They recently released their Home Soon Dubu Kit which can be found in the refrigerator section of Asian markets and comes in Plain, Medium, Hot and Extra Hot varieties.  What you get in the package, is a block of soft tofu and a packet of powdered soup stock and the secret blend of BCD Tofu House spices.  As expected the home version is not as good as the restaurant version, but it is very good.  It is closer to the restaurant version of Soon Dubu than any dried ramen packet or gourmet home ramen kit gets to restaurant ramen.

I made the Soon Dubu following the instructions on the package and added some enoki mushrooms as the stock started boiling and then once the broth hit a full boil, I added a raw egg and poached it.  As the broth cooked, I pan-fried the frozen mandoo and added them to the  Soon Dubu when the broth finished cooking.  This combination of Fulgreen Frozen Mandoo and BCD Tofu House Home Soon Dubu Kit turned out great and makes an quick and easy flavorful meal.

The Fulgreen Frozen Mandoo are vegan but the BCD Tofu House Soon Home Dubu Kit lists oyster and beef extract on the ingredient list.

* Bowls in the photos made by Dumpling Hunter

Posted in Kimchi, Korean, Mandoo, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Return to Yu Kitchen, New York, NY

Pan Fried Fish Dumplings

Pan Fried Veggie Dumplings

I really enjoyed the house made pork dumplings I had during my first visit to the Upper West Side’s Yu Kitchen. For my return visit I decided to branch out a little on their extensive dumpling menu and try the fish dumplings and the veggie dumplings.  I got both orders pan fried, pot sticker style for which they charge an extra buck each, which seems a little lame to me.

The fish dumplings were filled with Sole that had been mixed with a small amount of slivered scallions.  Usually when you fry or saute sole it is quite light and flaky, but when used as a filling in these dumpling that had been steamed and then pan fried, it took on a little bit of a chewier texture.  It had a light fresh, fish taste that I initially thought the scallions would overwhelm, but the chef had balanced the proportions perfectly.

The veggie dumplings have green spinach juice colored wrappers and are filled with tofu, finely minced carrot and a type of Chinese green that the waiter could not translate into English for me.  They also contain egg, so they are not vegan.  These dumplings did not have a strong flavor identity, but made an excellent dipping sauce delivery vehicle.  There were a lot of greens in the dumpling and the tofu and egg contributed some protein, so I felt pretty healthy about eating them.

Yu Kitchen is on Broadway between 100th and 101st streets, on the East side of Broadway.

Posted in Chinese, Fish, New York City, Pan Fried, Potsticker, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | 1 Comment

Jane G’s Dim Sum House, Philadelphia PA

I went to a large group lunch at Jane G’s Dim Sum House where many dishes were ordered.  I didn’t get to try all the dishes that came to our tables, so this review will be just a sample of what we were served.   Jane G’s is on the second floor of an apartment building and has a bar/lounge with street views and a pool table, two dining rooms and a private dining space.

We got all four soup dumpling options on the menu, Pork, Pork and Crab and Spicy Pork Xiao Long Bao and the Fried Soup Dumplings (Sheng Jian Bao).  My overall critique is that the Xiao Long Bao were both overcooked, the wrappers of several dumplings in each basket had ruptured and lost their soup, and then had been allowed to sit too long before they were brought to our table, so that the dumplings had cooled and the wrappers had become rubbery.  The flavor of the soup and meat was really good and the spicy ones kicked my ass, but the dumplings suffered from poor execution and service.  The Sheng Jian Bao were also really tasty but had also been allowed to cool and didn’t contain any liquid soup; I assume the soup had all been absorbed by the dough wrapper.   It is clear from the Xiao Long Bao and Sheng Jian Bao that Jane G’s knows how to source and season tasty pork for their dumplings, but they need to work on their cooking and food running technique.

The Shrimp Shu Mai were large and packed with coarsely chopped, exquisitely fresh tasting shrimp.  These were probably the best of the dumplings we had and I wish we had ordered more of them.  The BBQ Pork Buns were also standouts.  Generally I avoid the BBQ Pork Buns at dim sum, they are usually so large they fill me up, but these were small, golf ball sized buns, filled with deliciously seasoned, sweet Chinese BBQ Pork.  These were some of the best BBQ Pork Buns I have had in a long time.

Location:  Jane G’s Dim Sum House is in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood, near Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. It is on Chestnut street between South 39th and South 40th streets.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Crystal Shrimp, Dim Sum, Har Gou, Philadelphia, Pork, Sheng Jian Bao, Shumai, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment