This review of a New York restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
Given the superb range of Chinese restaurants available in London, I wasn’t planning on visiting any during my recent trip to New York. That changed when I was drawn to the fascinating Museum of Chinese in America which is located in Manhattan’s Chinatown – it therefore seemed natural to try out some Chinese food while I was there.
Since I was uncharacteristically unravenous that particular weekday lunchtime, I decided to go for a light lunch at the confidently named Excellent Dumplings House (ECH). It serves the usual array of westernised Chinese dishes aimed at the dreary, unadventurous diner as well as a more interesting array of steamed and fried dumplings.
ECH is located on a busy drag, only a stone’s throw away from the street hawkers peddling fake hangbags and watches. The place was sparsely populated during my visit, with only a handful of other tourists, Chinese students and coppers to keep me company. The drab, utilitarian, starkly lit decor and lack of a customer toilet (‘go to Subway next door’ I was commanded tersely) means it’s really more of a rough-and-ready diner than a restaurant, but at least service was quick and efficient.
I wasn’t expecting to find steamed spinach dumplings on the menu, so naturally I had to try them. The thin skins had a surprisingly wheat-like taste to them, rather than the rice flour taste I was expecting, but was nonetheless pleasant. The spinach had lost of much of its distinctive tang, but the soft carrots added a touch of sweetness and the spring onion chunks added a surprisingly nutty taste to the dumplings. Not a bad effort.
Don’t they look like shrivelled little brains?
The steamed crabmeat and shrimp dumplings are slightly deceptive in their naming since they don’t contain any crabmeat at all. This is hardly surprising at $6 for a portion of six though. The filling is mostly a generous dollop of juicy prawn with a touch of scallop for character. The thick, slightly gooey skins round out dumplings which are mostly a success.
I’m pretty sure there isn’t any crab meat in these crab meat and prawn dumplings.
I couldn’t eat at a dumpling eatery and not sample their Xiaolongbao dumplings which are steamed with a filling of meat and soup. Filling dumplings with soup may seem miraculous, but it’s merely a case of using flavoured aspic-like gelatine that melts inside the dumpling skins during the steaming process. The skins themselves were suitably thick and supple, while the simple, unadorned pork filling was generously large. The soup had a hearty, stocky flavour that was also slightly salty.
Judging from my case of severe drymouth immediately after eating all the dumplings, it’s probably safe to say that ECH use more than a smidgin of MSG. Thankfully the free, continually refilled tap water solves that little problem.
Although the dumplings at the Excellent Dumpling House aren’t flawless, it’s churlish to complain too much about a meal that was quite decent and cost just $16, or just £10 excluding tip. I’d be very surprised if there weren’t better dumplings available in Manhattan, but it’s a decent choice if you’re in the neighbourhood and you could do far worse.
Name: Excellent Dumplings House
Address: 111 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10013-4105
Phone: 212 219 0212
Opening Hours: seven days a week 11.30-21.00
Reservations: not taken.
Total cost for one person including free tap water but excluding tip: $16 (£10 approx. at time of writing)