My wife and kids and I stopped by the Dumpling House on Saturday. In the days of yore, I went there alone or with friends, either nursing an evening past or with the Times and 4 dollars to my name. In the 90s, the House sat at capacity, 10 - 15 people, sitting, standing, slurping, and chomping, all in mass just to taste "magic for a buck".
Today, following a sleek expansion and a signal to a more discerning Lower East Side / Chinatown wanderer, the Dumpling House is set to prove that four dumplings for a buck reinforces a New York anomaly, and despite a loss in seed factor, the initial attraction, the taste is still there. I came to New York in the early 90s thinking that the gold medal food find was a dimly lit storefront where the food was remarkable, flavored, unique and served in a generous portion for under 10 dollars, OK, make that five. That was the Dumpling House in spades.
Today, The Dumpling House largely meets that standard. In reviewing the menu, see menupages or some other posting, you would surely assume that you’ve stumbled upon a roll back the prices weekend at a New York institution, founded in the 50s. We were four, granted 2 of us were under 6, and left the Dumpling House for $20. And we didn’t skimp one bit.
As I remember it, we shared the following:
8 pork dumplings (fried)
8 shrimp dumplings (steamed)
One large pork noodle soup
One scallion pancake
One scallion pancake sandwich with Peking duck (yes, I was skeptical also, it was $2)
One small wonton soup
3 fried pork buns
Two waters and a diet coke.
The Bill: $ 19.26 Holy Hot and Sour . And it all tasted good.
The ordering process include an initial harnessing , I was tempted to walk to the counter and order by just saying, YES. Instead, I breathed deeply, consider the potential for cardiac arrest, and ordered the menu above. I did this out of ear shot of my watchful and skeptical wife, simply asking my standard “babe, why don’t you calm the kids, get a table, and I’ll take care of the ordering “. That line works on occasion, though this time with precision. Even my bride wouldn’t try to offer me wisdom on Eldridge Street in the heart of culinary nowhere.
The dumplings are the start and crown jewel at Dumpling House, crispy shell, perfect sweet and moist pork filling and fresh as of ten minutes earlier. Evidence of freshness can be seen by viewing the ladies in the window stuffing and crimping each wonton wrapper; Its Willy Wonka, Chinatown style. Dress the dumplings as you like, hot sauce, soy,.........I eat them straight, why mess with a good thing. The shrimp dumplings, steamed, were a nod to health? Though they were also terrific, the shell a bit gummy though the shrimp was not a seafood surprise but moreover a mouthful of sweet prawn combined with scallion. The only surprise was the underwhelming fried pork bun, perfectly fried bread dough gave way to a less inspiring brown chopped pork which tasted more like a ground chuck with a faint spice.
The soups were good. My daughter exclaimed" oh daddy, I just love the broth, “and she was right. It was perfectly salted, rich, complex, and held broad noodles, bok choy, and pork bites with grandeur. The pork is a browner, richer piece of meat than the traditional Chinese pork that hangs in the window. Some pieces are a bit fatty, but full of flavor. What do you expect for $3.50. My scallion Peking duck sandwich was very good. The fried bread served in a large triangle slice is combined with rich duck meat and spring vegetables like cucumber and scallion. After the last bite, I felt like a venture capitalist, imagining a vendor business exploding all over china or maybe even encroaching on the dirty water dog. “ Get your scallion pancake with peking duck here ! “
The scene at Dumpling House is one part New Yorker in the know, one part tourist in the Frommer, and one part Chinese in the hood. If you are in the mood for fried love, a communal table, and an open kitchen before David Bouley and others made it common place, give it a try, it the most bountiful 5 dollars you have ever spent.