Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chinatown Dumplings: Vanessa's Dumpling House

Cheap and tasty doesn't often come together in the New York foodie scene. Paul and I found one exception earlier this month: Chinatown dumplings.

Paul was in the mood for dumplings, and I was an enthusiastic supporter of his suggestion. After all, I'd never had dumplings in any Chinatown restaurant, and that certainly needed to me remedied. But I didn't want to go to just any dumpling shop. Only the best would do -- especially when the best costs about $1 per plate.

The fine people of the internet narrowed our choices to two: Prosperity Dumpling and Vanessa's Dumpling House. We opted for the latter because it seemed to have more seating (which, as we later found out, wasn't saying much).

Vanessa's Dumpling House was bustling when we got there about 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday. Our order:
  • 4 cabbage and pork fried dumplings ($1)
  • 8 cabbage and pork boiled dumplings ($2.50)
  • 3 pork fried buns ($1)
  • 1 steamed red bean bun ($1)
  • 1 steamed vegetable bun ($1.50)
  • 1 sesame pancake with vegetables ($1.50)
  • 1 sesame pancake with peking duck ($2.25)
  • 1 coconut bubble tea ($3)
  • 1 soybean milk (1.25)
Total bill: $15. And we left completely stuffed. In fact, we each threw away part of our steamed buns (me, after scooping out and devouring the yummy red bean filling).

$15 of food (plus drinks)

The dumplings were steaming hot and juicy, but they weren't my favorite part of the meal. Those honors go to the pork fried buns and the sesame pancake with vegetables. The pancake was really more of a sandwich in the shape of a pizza slice, filled with cilantro along with julienned carrots and cucumbers. So delicious, and really a meal by itself.

Sesame pancake with vegetables; pork fried bun on left

The worst part -- and really, a small price to pay -- was the seating. You seat yourself, if you can find one. When it's busy, as it was when we were there, everyone has their eyes on the 20 or so lucky patrons, waiting for them to make the slightest move indicating they're about to leave. We ate standing at a long table along the window for about 10 minutes before snagging some seats.

When (not if) we return, I'll get only the pork fried buns and sesame pancake -- more than enough for a meal. Maybe the red bean bun if I want a little something sweet. What started as a quest for dumplings turned into one of my favorite New York meals -- and the dumplings weren't even the highlight.

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