Monday, April 25, 2005

Tour 1: Dumpling World Tour

TOUR: Dumpling World Tour
DATE: April 23, 2005
RESTAURANTS: Mandoo Bar, Bruno Ravioli, Teresa’s, Tasty Dumpling

If Adam and Eve were a food, what would they be? Not the proverbial apple, that’s long since been beaten into the ground. What about the dumpling? Few other foods show our (as in the entire worlds) common cultural heritage better than a pocket sized piece of dough filled with fish, meat, cheese or vegetables. Could we all have sprung from loins served either steamed or fried? In fact, I’d even go so far as to argue that dumplings are symbolically relevant – what other food better illustrates that it’s what’s on the inside that counts?

With these overly grandiose accolades in mind, Danny and I began Dumpling World Tour 2005 last Saturday ready for the emblematic and delicious alike. Mandoo Bar, located at 2 West 32nd Street, was our first stop. After watching employees roll the dumplings on our way in, we ordered the Seafood Mandoo (Korean dumplings). These rose bud pockets were brimming with minced shrimp, squid and vegetables and tons of flavor. Served ten to an order, there were plenty to split between two and dip in the soy sauce, vinegar and spicy red pepper sauce that reside as tableside compliments. What was impressive with the Mandoo was that like a good sandwich there was an abundance of the filling. The shrimp was especially prevalent and it’s nice when the meat in a dumpling filling comes in large enough pieces to be recognizable.
PRICE: $5.00 for a 10 dumpling order
RATING: 7.4/10

Next in our tour was Italy and Bruno Ravioli. Let me just preface what follows by saying that the Bruno Ravioli Café on 8th Avenue we had intended to go to was closed, so instead we had to go the chain’s take-out only place on Second Ave. So perhaps we didn’t get Bruno’s best so to speak. But what we got were some limpid excuses for pasta that have provided me with my first entirely negative review. These raviolis wouldn’t have passed in my elementary school cafeteria, as even the fat woman in the hair-net (needed more for the sprouts emanating from each of her repulsive witch moles) would’ve decided to serve better. This is the type of crap that gives American-Italian food a bad name and keeps Olive Garden in business. We ordered the goat cheese and spinach, though I can only assume these were the ingredients in the ravioli, as I tasted neither. The sauce added unmixed oil and little else. All in all, the $5.25 we spent on this crappy Italian counterfeit seemed an ultimate jib, and suggested that Bruno isn’t quite fit for his title.
PRICE: $5.25 for a 10 ravioli order
RATING: 3.0/10

But onwards and upwards. Well eastwards, rather, as the tour pushed on to Poland and the ever gut pleasing taste of pierogi’s, sautéed onions, and applesauce. Since moving to New York, pierogies have become my dumpling of choice, the East Village the de-facto Warsaw for my cravings. Grass’s Oskar carried a drum, but he might have been less cantankerous (and certainly less tiny) if he pounded his stomach with these hearty puffs instead. While Little Poland and Polania both have excellent pierogies, prior to visiting Teresa’s (located on 1st Ave. between 6th and 7th) I preferred Veselka’s mix and match combinations above all else. Teresa’s surprised me however, and made up for Bruno’s failings. We ordered four potato and three mushroom and sauerkraut and while the potato were excellent, especially with applesauce, the mushroom and sauerkraut were just amazing. Eating these dumplings was like reading Theodore Dreiser – nothing overly innovative or flashy, but excellence in the traditional. The pierogies were also huge and I can’t wait to go back to Teresa’s, possibly while inebriated and feast again in the manner of my Eastern European forebears.
PRICE: $4.95 for a 7 pierogi order
RATING: 7.7/10

The final stop on Dumpling World Tour 2005 brought us all the way to Asia and to the now ubiquitous Chinese dumpling and Tasty Dumpling (54 Mulberry St.). An article on the restaurant’s wall points out that for you could eat at Tasty 66 times for the price of eating at Jean-George’s 66 once, and this is probably an underestimation. An order of five dumplings is a dollar, though they could certainly charge much more. My theory is that Tasty Dumpling is secretly owned by some holdovers from the Great Society program, who realizing that the governmental urge to help the less fortunate died sometime around Reagan’s second day in office, have attempted to address the expanding socio-economical divide by offering ridiculously cheap and outstanding food. Common man that he claims to be, our illustrious President would feel out of place here, as I doubt any of his corporate executive pals would be willing to even venture into Chinatown in the first place. Lucky for the rest of us. Tasty’s pork and chive dumplings are masterful, best when fried and covered in the soy and hot sauces on each table. Though the pork can’t be healthy, there wasn’t a fatty taste to the meat and the dumplings hadn’t been bathed in a McDonald’s-esque deep fry, the browned undersides much closer to a pan seared crust. The only problem with the prices, is that there’s no deterrent to gorging yourself.
PRICE: $2.00 for a 10 dumpling order
RATING: 7.4/10

What was most interesting about this gastronomical tour, was the near music like variations on a common theme that the dumplings presents. Where mandoo are light and buoyant, pierogies would steal even the thinnest against a tundra winter. The Chinese dumplings and Italian ravioli must be bastard cousins and are strong support for regional evolution if I’ve ever seen it.

Three out of four ain’t bad and Dumpling World Tour 2005 should certainly be considered a success. It was nice to end on the positive notes of Teresa’s and Tasty Dumpling and Danny and I both looked at it as a trial run for the five borough pizza world tour we have coming in May. The lessons of the dumpling still persist even though the tour has ended. An inexpensive, satisfying food common to multiple cultures, dumplings have gained their universality for a variety of reasons, none more important then the simple fact that they taste pretty damn good.

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