Tag Archives: Vanessa’s Dumpling House
It’s been a long time coming, but here is Episode Four:
When Adam doesn’t return his phone calls, Brian searches for a new sidekick to document the search for NY’s best dumplings. He finds somebody who looks like the perfect replacement. But looks can be deceiving.
I’ve always known that some of the big chain restaurants adjust their prices based on location. A sandwich at TGI Friday’s in Times Square is going to cost considerably more than it would at a location in Nebraska. And although I’ve never been to Nebraska, I’m guessing the prices are cheaper there than on Broadway.
I actually experienced this when I was in Scotland many years ago and we went into that familiar restaurant with the red and white striped awning looking for a taste of home (the Scottish food wasn’t great). We walked out before ordering when we discovered a burger would cost us the equivalent of 25 American dollars. Our first problem was walking into a TGI Friday’s. That was a long time ago and I have learned from my mistakes.
You can see the same phenomenon here in our great city with Vanessa’s Dumpling House. The original location is on the border of Chinatown on Eldridge Street and is a surprisingly roomy (for Chinatown) little spot with ridiculously cheap Chinese food. They’re known for their special $1 dumplings. Many bloggers and regular customers have recently cried about price increases because Vanessa’s used to sell 5 dumplings for a buck and now you only get 4. Is inflation the culprit or greedy restaurant owners? Either way it’s still one dollar!
But about twenty blocks north on 14th Street, you can find another Vanessa’s location and those five dumplings will cost you $1.99 (double the price!) What an outrage!! How could they charge $2!?! That’s unheard of. No wonder people say New York is so expensive!!
But seriously, it must be that the rent on 14th Street is more expensive than in Chinatown. Or they realize that most of the NYU students in the area are probably on a trust fund and can afford the extra dollar.
Because I don’t have a trust fund (but really because they were first), I made my way to the original location in the Lower East Side. I had been here before for one of my favorite dishes, the Sesame Pancake Sandwich, and I remember the line being daunting, but never quite like this.
I figured 3:00 was an off time since it’s after lunch and before dinner, but I forgot to take into account that this was a Sunday. When you don’t work the usual 9-5 (like me), weekends don’t seem to mean as much.
We got in line, placed our order, and then circled the tiny dining room like vultures looking for a place to chow down. After close to 30 minutes watching the factory-like cooking and waiting for our order to be called, I heard my number in broken English that required a repeating.
While I was watching them package up the orders (they wait until each one is complete to call the number), I realized my fried dumplings were ready long before my steamed ones. This is important because I think it ultimately effected the quality of the little guys.
When I tore into them, I found the fried ones were not as hot as I had hoped – probably because they were sitting on the tray for so long. They still had a bit of a crunch, but a touch less lively than I expected. The dough was a little thicker and chewier but the pork and chive filling was rather tasty.
I liked the boiled dumplings much better. In fact, I thought they were great. The ground pork had lots of deep, rich flavor. You could tell these babies were just made (hence part of the waiting time). I loved that they were not watery at all, but firm, soft, and tender. A squirt of the vinegar based soy sauce and a dab or two of the red hot sauce and the marriage of flavors and textures came alive.
These were quality, homemade dumplings that really satisfied – especially considering the affordable price tag. This meal cost us just $5 (that included the aforementioned Sesame Pancake Sandwich). Can you imagine paying that little in Scotland? Or on 14th Street, for that matter?
Does Vanessa’s Dumpling House have the best dumplings in NY? They’re pretty darn good, although I bet the fried dumplings would have been even better if they were served a little faster. But they still get an 8 out of 10 since the steamed dumplings were well worth the wait.
|VANESSA’S DUMPLING HOUSE|
|118 Eldridge Street (between Grand Street and Broome Street)
Lower East Side
|220 East 14th Street (between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue)
If Time Out New York can do it, so can I. I’ve been inspired and satiated by Time Out’s 2009 Top 100 list and look forward to conquering their 2010 list very soon. But from now until the end of the year, I present my own Top 100 Dishes of the year in reverse order. Look for another five dishes every few days.
90. HUITLACOCHE QUESADILLA at TEHUITZINGO
I’m always curious to see how Mexican restaurants translate or explain huitlacoche. I’ve heard it refered to as black corn, corn smut, and Mexican truffles. But Tehuitzingo’s translation is probably the most appetizing I’ve seen: corn mushroom.
And this stuff is just that, it’s a fungus that grows on corn. For some reason, it’s more expensive and more highly prized than the unvarnished yellow stuff. And I’ll tell you, it makes for a delicious addition to a spicy, cheesy quesadilla.
The version at Tehuitzingo (which is my favorite hidden Mexican spot located at the back of an unassuming bodega) is exemplary. It’s got just the right amount of flavor and texture to make a balanced snack, but doesn’t overwhelm the experience of the huitlacoche itself. You get a smoky earthy funk on the palate and an interesting soft pop as you bite into each black piece.
They can call it whatever they want, but I’ll still be back for a quick, cheap snack whenever I’m in the neighborhood. And you should too. Price: $3.50
|TEHUITZINGO DELI AND GROCERY|
|695 Tenth Avenue (between 47th and 48th Street)
89. BRUSSELS SPROUT & PANCETTA PIZZA at MOTORINO
I’ve been very vocal about my devotion to Kesté when it comes to neo-Neapolitan pizzerias. I find their dough and toppings to be the most delectable and authentic (not that I’ve ever been to Naples!)
Motorino might get more publicity and hype and while I’ve enjoyed them, I just don’t think they compete with Kesté.
Except when we’re talking about the Brussels Sprout & Pancetta Pizza, which seems to get better and better upon each visit. The sprouts are fresh and distributed well. The ham is salty enough with a meaty, earthy flavor that was balanced with the creamy richness of the fior di latte mozzarella. And the dough is charred, chewy, and heavenly.
It’s the kind of pizza I’d expect to find at Kesté. Except I got to give points to Motorino for this one. Price: $16 ($14 at Brooklyn location)
|349 East 12th Street (between 2nd and 1st Avenue)
|319 Graham Avenue (between Ainslie Street and Devoe Street)
88. CARROTS at BLUE HILL
Ok, now I’m doing it. This dish is something you can get at Blue Hill for free… if you order one of their tasting menus. I know it’s annoying, except you’ll get a great meal and get to taste the most amazing raw vegetables you’ve probably ever had.
For those of you that don’t know, Dan Barber’s Blue Hill gets all their ingredients from their own farm in Tarrytown, NY (there’s also an acclaimed restaurant attached, Stone Barns) or from one of the other nearby Hudson Valley farms. Talk about sustainabilty.
The carrots are served poked on a series of metal prongs as an amuse bouche (called Vegetables on a Fence). And they’re nothing fancy. No special sauce or foam. Just raw carrots with maybe a hint of sea salt.
And they taste amazingly sweet and earthy. This is where simplicity really proves itself. We’ve all had carrots so many times before but never really paid attention to where they come from or the depth of flavor they contain. It’s much easier when they’re this fresh, local, and beautifully presented. Included with prix-fixe
|75 Washington Place (between Avenue of the Americas and Washington Square West)
Photo courtesy of: pinkpignyc.com
87. SESAME PANCAKE WITH VEGETABLES at VANESSA’S DUMPLING HOUSE
Even though the shape is closer to a slice of pizza, the sesame pancake sandwich at Vanessa’s is a bit reminiscent of a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. However, it reminds me more of a NY bagel. I think it could have something to do with the litany of sesame seeds and the richness of the perfectly tender dough. But it’s lighter and cheaper than any bagel sandwich you’ll ever find. And features the cleaner, sweet flavors of the aforementioned banh mi.
The vegetable option starts at $1.50 (it’s even half that for just the bread) and reaches $2.25 if you choose the peking duck filling. All the sandwiches come with carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro, but in my mind these perfect little snacks don’t need anything else. Tucked inside the sesame pancake and brushed with a bit of sweet brown sauce, the vegetables are fresh, crunchy, and bursting with flavor. Not to mention colorful.
Sure, you could get roasted pork, beef, duck, or even tuna salad in that beautiful, warm pocket. But for a quick, flavorful snack, the vegetables are perfect and couldn’t be more affordable. And even though I try to compare it to other NY dishes, this is in a league all its own. Price: $1.50
|VANESSA’S DUMPLING HOUSE|
|118 Eldridge Street (between Grand and Broome Street)
86. YUCA FRIES at PINCHE TAQUERIA
I came to Pinche Taqueria because the Village Voice had raved about their fish tacos. It’s a step up in ambience from the Mexican delis/taquerias of the city but somewhere below the dark, crowded margarita party dens of the West Village. The casual fast-food vibe with part exposed brick and part nostalgic cheesy pink panelling, makes for a great neighborhood location.
And the Mexican food is affordable and tasty enough. It’ll do in a pinche (get it?), but it’s far from the most flavorful Mexican food I’ve had in the city. The fish tacos were light and crispy, but the al pastor tacos were a bit on the bland side and had a slightly off texture. But I’d be willing to give them a second chance, if to just have another opportunity to indulge in the side of yuca fries.
The one thing I’d come back for again and again here are the amazingly addictive yuca fries. They were served in a ridiculously large order and I had to really stop myself from finishing the whole platter. The fries were thin and had a greasy crunch that melted away to a starchy, delicate, salty finish. The cilantro mayo and jalapeño ketchup were the perfect dipping sauce.
The tacos seem to take center stage here and the fries are listed as a side. I understand that’s how you order such things, but I’d rather make this my meal any day and put the tacos on the side. Price: $4.50
|227 Mott Street (between Prince and Spring Street)
|333 Lafayette Street (between Bleecker and Houston Street)
Photo courtesy of: justcooknyc.blogspot.com