As summer rolls out and fall formally comes in with a nice (yet unexpected) chill in the air it means the end of food stalls/events outdoors with the impending winter. This also means it's a damn good time to have yourself a food crawl before the weather gets really unpredictable.
As such, and as promised, we had ourselves a Dumpling Crawl in late September. Coincidentally it was also on my mom's birthday. (She was there in spirit if not in corporeal form.)
After having about 3-4 food crawls last year this was my first for 2016 sadly. I still have my sights set on doing a Mac n' Cheese crawl in the near future but the logistics of this haunt me. The amount of cheese that will be consumed may not end well for anyone.
My fave part of a Dumpling Crawl is the bite-sized nature of the item we're feasting on as well as it's pricing. In a group and depending on where you go you can get a crapton of dumplings for very low cost. After touring Chinatown to make sure some of my spots were still in existence and asking Beth to help call to ensure said places were also open I mapped out a decent route that began in Chinatown and ending in the East Village. I mean, it you're going to do a food crawl for Asian food you have to start in Chinatown. There were impromptu stops, missed opportunities, and Taiyaki! Good times were had by all.
We started strong with a group of 13 people (including 2 children and a pre-teen). Yes, families are welcome on food crawls, folks.
Our first stop was Joe's Shanghai on Pell Street. While I had heard this is more a touristy spot for soup dumplings and not necessarily a place for good ones it helped as a meet up spot. Unfortunately our group members, myself included, kept coming late. So by the time our group of 9 was to be seated in came 4 more people that could not be accommodated. So we had to leave. Not without a quick lecture from the hostess though. So FYI, Joe's is always busy because it's a tourist stop. It's not highly rated, particularly by natives for the soup dumplings, but if you wanna do a compare contrast and happen to have the time if it's not a long line why not?
But this was okay because I had mapped out the route! Next up was one of my fave spots when I worked in Tribeca, Tasty Dumpling. Their dumplings are cheap. Let me repeat: Their dumplings are cheap. As in you can get 6 for $1.25. No other place we visited was comparable in this pricing. We got shrimp & chive and chicken & mushroom dumplings. I liked the chicken & mushroom more for the umami flavor that came through. Their wonton is pretty thick, like udon noodle thick so if you eat about 8 you may get somewhat full. Not us though, we had one each and were set for more.
After bypassing Shanghai Deluxe Cafe due to another long weight for a group of 11 at this point we headed to Excellent Dumpling House not too far from the subway to take us uptown. We got one of the last big tables and were able to sit and have a range of dumplings including very tangy pork soup dumplings, pork dumplings, shrimp dumplings, and vegetable dumplings and spinach dumplings. The spinach took the longest and had the least flavor tasting like a wonton full of spinach. Sadly, Excellent's would be the only soup dumplings we managed to snag but not sadly they were delicious(!) though their skin was quite fragile and broke easily so we had to fight for the broth dripping through the steamer.
Since this is a food crawl I co-planned you know there'll be sweets involved. So we went to the newly opened Taiyaki NYC two blocks away from the subway to get some ice cream in a custard fish cake. SO good. These were smaller in size than the ones I had in Flushing and their custard inside the cake was a bit more egg-y in flavor but overall a good investment. The younger kids bypassed the cake for the ice cream itself and we beat the crowd resulting in more happiness as we watched a line start outside the very small space.
A quick ride on the 6 train to Astor had us headed to Drunken Dumpling but we made a stop at Dumpling Man for more sweet dumplings when I mentioned they usually have a pumpkin one available for fall. Right next to Dumpling Man was Dun-Well Doughnuts so my friend, her 2 daughters and I partook. (Side note: I was not impressed with their cinnamon sugar doughnut, it was dry and had a weird after taste to the sugar glaze with cinnamon.)
Anywho, people liked the pumpkin dumplings at Dumpling Man and felt the banana was too sweet and tasted somewhat artificial. This may be because perhaps a very ripe banana was used to cook it, maybe not. It was overly sweet.
And now we're walking we're walking we're seeing that Drunken Dumpling home of the oversized XLB is out of everything until 6pm. It was after 3pm. So we made our way to the next spot Mimi Cheng's Dumplings. Our group got pared down to 9 and we added two more so we were still a lively bunch.
Now, I had some issues with Mimi's. First off, no cash. Whereas spots in Chinatown may say "No cards" this was the opposite. A friend commented, "This eliminates a whole demographic who may not have cards." True though it does make it easier not to have cash on-hand I guess. Also they were the most pricey. Six dumplings came in at over $8. Eight dumplings over $10. Yes, all organic ingredients blah blah blah but come now. Limited menu where Tasty Dumpling had a vast one and also kale. They had kale in dumplings!
Funny enough several people said Mimi's was a winner because of the wonton wrapping (very tight and none too thick). And they dug the vegetable dumpling flavor more than what we had at Excellent. I wasn't as enthused with the flavor as it tasted too earthy and too healthy for me. Not necessarily what I seek when I eat a dumpling. But glad I tried it.
Our last stop was Vanessa's Dumplings right on 14th Street. By now we were 4 adults and 3 kids, the remainder of the group done and full. At Vanessa's you can get a batch of frozen dumplings to make at home and they have a solid range. Like Tasty their wonton wrapper was thick, definitely made onsite and their fillings ranged from meaty and seafood to veggie options. I was able to consume one more dumpling at this point which I believe was chicken and it was solid but not my favorite of the batch we had that day.
And then, our ragtag group went for bubble tea and that was the culmination of our food crawl, first of fall.
Dumpling Crawl Notes:
- I planned spots to visit as well as possible alternates just in case for a seamless walking experience. While I had 8 (including 2 alts) dumpling spots on the list we successfully dined at 5.
- Of the places visited Tasty and Excellent seemed the faves for taste and pricing
- Of the places visited Excellent, Tasty, and Vanessa's have the most available seating for a larger group. At Mimi's we had to spread out and Dumpling Man had tables but they were quickly filled.
- Of the places visited Dumpling Man is the only one who offers a dessert-type dumpling.
- Drunken Dumpling is a spot you have to get to early if you want to try their XLB.
- Taiyaki is delicious and everyone should try it at least once.