A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Apr. 23.

Special Feature
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Dumpling World Tour - Dumplings are among my favorite foods, and apparently the world agrees. From pelmeni to piergoies, to kartoffelklosse to kreplach, from pork buns to potstickers, so many cultures have their own versions of this filling appetizer. Determined to get just a taste of what’s out there, Vince and I devised the Dumpling World Tour, a jaunt across continents or at least across town.




Mandoo Bar - 2 W. 32nd St., Midtown West
Goon mandoo, Seafood mandoo, a can of Coke
$10

Kicking off in K-Town, we paid a visit to Mandoo Bar, a pleasant restaurant that felt sleeker and perhaps more corporatized than many of its neighbors. It reminded me, with its behind-glass display of dumplings being made, of Dumpling Man (see Jan. 6, Feb. 15), although it was less hectic and had much more available seating.

Waiting for Vince, and with my stomach grumbling epithets, I ordered an appetizer of Goon mandoo, a traditional Korean pork and vegetable dumpling that came pan-fried. It was very good, with a crunchy but not greasy dough, and a fresh if standard pork filling. But they did the trick, tiding me over until Vince arrived and we split an order of the Seafood mandoo. Ten boiled pieces to a portion, the peach-colored dumplings contained shrimp, squid and vegetables. I thought they were fantastic, the fact that they were hand-crafted and fresh a large part of their success. But the seafood was also delicious, making them -- sorry to ruin the suspense-- my favorite dumpling of the day. And though the dumplings here are more expensive than other spots in the neighborhood, it's a nominal difference and the variety and care that Mandoo Bar offer make it well worth the cost. 7/10



Bruno Ravioli - 387 2nd Ave., Gramercy Park
Spinach and Cheese Ravioli
$2.63

After Mandoo, we proceeded southwest, because of course, Italy is southwest of Japan. Ravioli became the name of the game, and we were counting on the varied menu at Bruno’s Pasta Express and Café to tempt us. Instead of mushroom or spinach fillings though, we found empty spaces and Closed signs. Bruno’s Chelsea outpost had vanished, leaving only two locations, one solely takeout and the other still unopened.

Daunted but not defeated, we reversed course for the takeout Bruno. Stocked with an impressive cache of cheese, sauces and Italian ingredients, my hopes for salvaging our ravioli adventure were raised slightly. This didn’t last long when I saw the pasta selection. It only consisted of what was sitting on the refrigerated shelves, a paltry showing especially compared to the Café’s wide array of choices. With only three kinds of ravioli, Vince and I settled on the Spinach and Cheese in a plastic tray. We did this very half-heartedly.

We were right to be reluctant. It was pretty much the same freeze-and-heat prepackaged pasta you’d find in any supermarket. Vince also likened it to cafeteria food, and he was right. It didn’t deserve to be in an Italian store, because pasta should have a better end than growing old and getting reheated. Somehow though, in this case, it didn’t feel like such a tragedy. The spinach taste was essentially undetectable, the cheese was generic, and the sauce was a shrug. Instead of a satisfying version of the Italian dumpling, we were left with disappointing what ifs. 3/10



Teresa's
- 103 1st Ave., East Village
A full order of potato and sauerkraut with mushroom pierogies, a large glass of carrot juice
$8

From Italy, it was on to Poland and appropriately into the East Village. While I hadn’t actually eaten any ravioli in Rome, I’d had more than my share of pierogies in Krakow over tall glasses of Zywiec with some of my favorite Australians in the world. So I was fully ready to be critical, to complain of inauthenticity, to acknowledge Greenpoint as the true Polish hub of New York.

I was also quite hopeful however that Teresa’s would prove itself worthy. I’d walked by its mysterious black awning countless times, wondering at the contents inside. When Vince and I walked in, I was surprised by how different it looked from my imagined image. Maybe all those late nights at Veselka (see Feb. 21, Jan. 31) had inured me to bright lighting and noise, because by contrast, Teresa’s was sedate and dignified, its red walls bearing oil paintings of flowers, its lights dimmed and its clientele middle-aged.

Like Veselka though, Teresa’s serves Polish and Eastern European fare alongside American standards. But we had a mission, and so we skipped past the pancakes and omelettes to the pierogies section of the menu. They came in four varieties – meat, cheese, potato, and sauerkraut with mushrooms, either boiled or fried. Deciding to have the latter two boiled, we reasoned that this way, two of our four dumpling stops would be vegetarian and the other two would be meat.

The waitresses seemed a little bored and slow, but once the food hit the table, we didn’t care. Starting with the potato and dipping it into the 75 cent extra applesauce, I was pleased with the result. The filling was smooth and savory, if somewhat dry. The other problem with the potato was that I tried the sauerkraut with mushroom right after it. This second pierogie was excellent, enlivened by the zesty flavor of the cabbage. I could have easily and happily eaten a full order of these, which ran a very close second for my favorite dumpling of the day.

By the time we had finished our portions, I’d changed my tune. Sure, Union Square might not be able to replace the town square in Warsaw and a glass of carrot juice might not beat cheap-as-water pints, but Teresa’s, at least pierogie-wise, does Poland proud. 7/10



Tasty Dumpling
- 54 Mulberry St., Chinatown
Fried pork and chive dumplings, a golden pancake
$1.50

For our last stop, Vince and I visited Tasty Dumpling, the sister restaurant to Dumpling House (see Feb. 5). The menu was almost the same if not identical, with its star attraction being the same startingly cheap dumplings. Again, I got the pork and chive dumplings, although this time, I knew that they were much better fried than boiled.

Another improvement from the Dumpling House experience was the setup of the restaurant. Instead of a mob clamoring for attention, there was a walkup counter and a short, orderly line. In addition to the few bar seats that both places offer, Tasty also had three tables. Thus, while the process wasn't nearly as noteworthy, it was peaceful and simple, allowing us to concentrate on the dumplings.

They ended up the same as Dumpling House's, which is to say very good. The pan-fried base gives them a nice crunchiness, the left-unfried dough on top making the contrast more apparent. The pork and chive filling in top lives up to the namesake of tasty, but at these prices, I think it's better not to wonder about the quality of the meat. Niman Ranch this was not.

Readers may remember my earlier curiosity about Dumpling House's golden pancake, and this seemed a prime opportunity to try this pizza slice-shaped treat. Coming in at a whopping fifty cents, the golden pancake is one of the best investments in town. It's filling, delicious and warm, closer to a Chinese focaccia than any American pancake.

And so with the pork-and-chive and the pancake, the Dumpling World Tour came to its inevitable conclusion. While we expected to be stuffed, I think the adventure just whetted our appetite for more. We both could've kept going, surprised at how quickly we'd torn through our four destinations. There were still gyoza and shumai, a universe of dim sum, varenyky, soup dumplings, wontons, samosas and waldviertler, among many other possibilities, to try, I wanted to protest. But instead of feeling down, we looked to the future with excitement, and the Pizza World Tour that's coming in May. 7/10

6 Comments:

Blogger Robyn said...

Awesome post! I just went to Tasty Dumpling last night and took a photo almost identical to yours, hehe. I have a food blog full of much ...fooding. I've only had pierogies once (from Veselka) but I've wanted to try Theresa's also. So much food, not enough stomach room!

1:09 PM  
Blogger Ikyoto said...

I would recommend trying the pierogis at Ukrainian National Home, which is a semi hidden restaurant next to Veselka. Going there makes me feel like an international spy because most of the folks there are transplanted Ukrainians and there is even shrubbery to hide behind.

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