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dumplings

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Went to Amherst for an early Thanksgving with the in laws. So much delicious food. Papa Amherst got this as a freebie turkey, and brined it into this delicious beauty. That man can make anything taste awesome.
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Looks like I was so excited for dinner, I forgot to take pics of the rest of dinner. But so good.
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And dessert! Blueberry pie, pecan pie, and white chocolate pie with quince drizzle.
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Papa Amherst makes such good pie crust. Crispy, flaky. So good.
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I brought a white chocolate tart with a bit of quince and rosewater jam. The white chocolate didn’t quite set up at room temp (too much cream), but the metered dose of quince + rose jam cut the richness a bit.
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Papa Amherst’s mom used to make quite the spread during the holidays, and it’s a trait he’s picked up. He also made pecan pie (!). So good!
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New fireplace
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And pensive pup photos.
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Queen of the blankets. All of them.
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We checked out Oriental Flavor in Amherst, the new Sichuan/Canto restaurant downtown. The name is super generic, but they’re legit Chinese food in Amherst.
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They had BEEF TENDON on the menu! $8 or $9 for a plate of spicy Sichuan-style beef tendon served cold and chewy. It would have been a bit much for one person to eat, so it’s a nice app to split for a group.
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They also had har gow and xiao long bao on the menu. I was skeptical, since it’s a pretty small restaurant (give or take a about a dozen tables) and it wasn’t super busy, but I asked and they said they made them both fresh daily. The har gow were very good! Pliant and supple-soft rice noodle exterior, and a fresh shrimp interior.
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The prices are a bit on the high side, but hey, it’s cheaper than a road trip to Flushing if you live in Western Mass. Soy bean wrapped pork is in the background. This was too sweet and I suggest skipping it if you’ve had it before. Turnip cakes were good and worth ordering – nice crispness to them. Siu mai in the front.
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Go for the har gow, skip the XLB. In some ways, the per-prepared ones may have been a better way to go than putting forth the effort of making these themselves. They seemed to be made with wonton skin type wrappers, which meant they all cracked and lost all soup, kind of defeating the purpose of ordering soup dumplings.XLB are the popular kids in dim sum now, so I get why they’re on the menu. The meat inside was a dense meatball, and a bit on the sweet/bland side. Though to be fair, they are taking on two very difficult dim sum dishes to make from different regions of China. Har Gow = Cantonese/Hong Kong style. Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings = Shanghai. I’d be more surprised if they did both very well. They could also probably scratch this from their menu, since they’re more disappointing if you’ve ever had a true soup dumpling.
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Seasonal veggies were also very nice. I wound up eating most of the garlic ^_^

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After that, the ladies split off and went shopping for horrific christmas gifts crafts.

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As opposed to the slutty earrings I’ve been wearing all these years. Just kidding, I hardly ever wear earrings, and even then it’s mostly stainless steel industrial/unbreakable stuff.
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They also had sweet straw/hay sculptures.
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The Fuj mentioned some new dishes on Taiwan Noodle‘s menu over the winter, and after the third or so mention, I asked him and Elise to meet Albany John and me there for a meal recently, and they kindly obliged.

First up: Spicy Shredded pork stomach ($3.95) on the left, 5-Spice Beef Shank on the right ($5.95). Hefty portion of beef in that dish. Served cold like deli meat, still very meaty. The pork stomach is served over a bed of peanuts. It’s can taste a touch gamey, but if you order the fried pig intestines it tastes mild by comparison.
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The onslaught of shareable plates. Wood ear in the fore front, adding in the fried pig intestine (the red stuff top left) and scallion pancakes. Woah, the pig intestine was some stuff yo’ A-ma or Yeh-Yeh would be eating. That stuff was intense. Albany John is an old man at heart and he loved them (thank god, because the rest of us were not into them).
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Squid rings! These had a nice breading and chew on the squid. I could eat a plate of these on my own. They had a side of seasoned salt, which was already in the batter. They said it wasn’t really necessary, and it wasn’t, but I guess they’ve had enough people ask that they now just bring some out.
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Wonton soup on the left, and a dish from a new part of the menu – baked rice. This baked rice was seafood. It was a gravy type dish over rice. Kind of like baked fried rice, but with gravy. I’m not a huge rice fan, but I was really into this dish.
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Pretty sure I ate close to half of this on my own.

Oh wait, did we also get Xiao Long Bao? I think we did, but I must have been too busy gobbling them down! Haha.

 

 

Last weekend I drove down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It was our first year celebrating without Yeh-Yeh, our family’s patriarch. That didn’t really hit me until shortly before my drive down, but for me simply having these traditions with family keeps us together and that is what is important.

The drive down was a breeze (when I drive to Flushing from Albany I go: 90E > Taconic > 84E > 684S > 678SHutchinson River Pkwy> Whitestone Bridge. It’s about 15 minutes more than taking 87S down, but it saves on the tolls up until the Whitestone Bridge ($7.50) and breaks up the drive into smaller chunks so I don’t get bored. It also probably seems more complicated to hop off of the Taconic onto 84E, but it’s a much smoother drive with better drivers than taking the Taconic down all the way (you avoid where the road narrows, and all of the crappy drivers on it).
I got in shortly after 5, and figured I’d have to drive a while for parking, but found free street parking within 30 minutes! Woo hoo! I didn’t have to move the entire time I was there. I don’t know about you, but when I head down to NYC, I like to park and just leave my car until I’m ready to head back home.

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For dinner we went to Jin Cheng Restaurant, which I protested because last year we had a pretty craptacular experience at the kid’s table, and I thought we went there more for its close proximity to Yeh-Yeh’s condo than the quality of the food. I’ve since discovered they are better at lunch, or when they’re not busy, so they’re not a total lost cause, but I had prepped myself for a less-than-awesome Chinese New Year dinner because Chinese New Year Weekend in Flushing = every Chinese Restaurant is gonna be mobbed.

I was pleasantly surprised with how GOOD dinner was. Maybe it’s because we were a smaller group and not two big tables. (Maybe Yeh-Yeh was in the kitchen yelling at the chefs for me ;) ) It was my dad, his best gal, my uncle, Albany John, and me.

We started off with Beef and gai lan. Great wok hei on the beef, and super tender.
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Honey-walnut-mayo prawns with broccoli on the left. Plump and fat shrimp, no complaints there. Fresh crispy skin chicken at the top, and the same beef on the right (after initial decimation)

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Lobster Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. We got two big lobsters. So perfectly cooked. I would say this is one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. This way, or just steamed.
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Whole steamed flounder. Mmm. It looks big, but it’s easy to eat a lot of. So light and good.

Albany John and I went for a little walk after dinner to digest. Naturally we wound up at Tous Les Jours, a French-Asian bakery.

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Like most Asian bakeries, there’s a bunch of goodies laid out for you to pick yourself, plus refrigerated things behind the counter.

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I wanted to keep walking, so we had a late-night (for Flushing, i.e. 9 PM) picnic on a bench near the police station (I know romance).

I usually love the stuff Tous Les Jours makes, but man this was mixed bag. The vanilla milkshake was really unpleasant – lots of large chunks of ice, and cheap vanilla ice cream. Bleh. And $4.50 to boot.
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Here was the statue we noshed at, right in between the hubbub of traffic.
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Macarons: skip. Red velvet on the left and Oreo on the right. Red velvet had no notable red velvet flavor, and used a pasty vanilla buttercream as the filling. The black “Oreo” macaron also bore no flavor of its namesake, and was equally pasty. Disappointing. I should have avoided from the start because while these were not cracked, they had some cracked macarons on display, and if they took pride in their macarons, the cracked ones would never be up for sale.
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Albany John got a cream cheese pastry. These are epically delicious in an it’s-so-bad-for-you kind of way. I’m pretty sure I could hear one of his arteries start to clog. They don’t skimp on the cream cheese.

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I had a backup pastry which was tasty – a soft and fluffy bun filled with sweet potato filling and covered in almond flour/meal. Yum. Stick with the baked goods you can pick yourself and you’ll be good.
The next day we kicked off the day eating (of course).

Joe’s Shanghai to start for breakfast. We got there right when they opened at 11 AM and had no wait.

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Bready, soft scallion pancakes.
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Big steamer full of 8 Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). If you go to Joe’s Shanghai, you absolutely must get xiao long bao. The tongs are kind of unnecessary, and the teeth on them can pierce the skin of the dumpling, and there goes all of your soupy goodness. Their skins were good (but Ala Shanghai’s are thinner!), but the broth is where these dumplings shine. Each soup dumpling contains a glorious broth. Each dumpling is a treat, and if I think just a bit, I can relive those flavors for just a moment. The broth is thick and rich, with hearty flavors from both the pork and crab, but neither standing out over the other and instead combining to make this magical soup that you can’t get enough of.
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Shanghai style rice cakes, with some veggies and meat. Nice softness and wok hei.

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Two big bowls of soup. I think their soups are a bit on the bland side, at least after eating the xiao long bao. Beef chuck on the left, pork and veggies on the right. Noodles are okay, but they need a little salt or something. I think the soups at Taiwan Noodle are better though (deeper broth flavors and better noodles).

Then Albany John and my uncle split off to do their own thing, and Dad and his gal and I were off to have more adventures. I was SUPER excited because I was planning on going to Sunrise Kitchen & Hardware Supplies (4205 Main St, Flushing, NY). This place is awesome for all of your Asian kitchen gadget needs.

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Sadly for me, they took the week off for Chinese New Year. No cheap and awesome kitchen supplies. Next time. Sigh.
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Saw some lions on the street.
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Went to Rose House for an English-style tea break. Overall, I’d say it’s a nice place if you want to get away from the loudness and crowds in a pretty atmosphere and comfy seats, but that’s about it. All of the teas seemed to taste the same, and they were on the expensive side – $9.00+ per small pot.

Service was weird. A server initially told us there was a 2 hr sitting limit because it was the weekend (which was fine and totally reasonable), but then after being there for a total of 40 minutes the same server took away our tea warmers and started checking the pots. There were no crowds waiting for a table, either.

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Their butter cookies were decent, and despite finding a hair in the rose hips jam after I spooned some on a cookie it was freaking DELICIOUS.

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I broke off to explore on my own and found Pho Hoang on Kissena Blvd.

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There are tables, but order here at the counter for to-go orders. It also shares space with a Chinese butcher further near the front of the store. It’s not the cleanest looking space, but $4.00 for a banh mi was calling my name.
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Hello gorgeous. A nice baguette tucked into a parchment sleeve.

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SO GOOD! Look at that bread. It’s deliciously perfect little baguettes with a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, squishy interior. Great for banh mi and stuffing with julienned veggies, pate, meat, and cliantro. Yum, yum, yum.
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$4.00 for all of this, versus $6.50 (to start) for a small banh mi at Pho Yum in Albany that doesn’t even use the right bread.

I wound up going to a friend’s that night.

The next morning we went to Jade Restaurant for dim sum with one of my aunts and some cousins.

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More lions!

The wait wasn’t too bad, but my aunt saw a friend of hers who was a manager, and we got whisked off to a side room that I’ve never seen before (that was opened up to handle the Chinese New Year crowds). That was awesome – less loudness and craziness, all of the carted dim sum goodies.
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Food, food everywhere. So good.

We hung out for a bit, but soon it was time to hit the road.

But not before hitting up Pho Hoang one last time since Albany John was back.
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And there was a DRAGON group that came in!
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I got a regular banh mi ($4.00) & a duck banh mi ($6.00).
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They withstood the drive up pretty well – the bread stayed crisp and the interiors didn’t get soggy.
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Duck on the left, regular banh mi on the right.

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We both thought the regular/standard banh mi was better than the duck banh mi. Better flavor overall. The duck was good, but man, the veggies and meat are just SO good!

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Chinese New Year 2014, The Year of the Horse, has been one festive year so far! I began celebrations with friends at Ala Shanghai. After seeing their specials for Chinese New Year, I couldn’t wait to get in!
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Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) were a must to start with. And these were perfect!
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The skins were so thin you could see through them!! See how it bulges a bit on the left? It’s because the skin is so thin! So much soupy goodness. Yum, yum, yum.

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Wine soaked cold duck appetizer.
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Scallion pancakes, always a treat.
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Wontons in a spicy peanut sauce. Good balance on the peanut/sweet/spicy.
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And now for the mains! Double Happiness special entree ($19.88) in the front – salt and pepper fish fillets and squid. LOVED this! The salt and pepper coating was perfect – crispy (not fluffy or beer-batter-y) and not the least bit greasy or oily.

Pork with fava beans in the back. Yum, yum, yum. Big fat fava beans with tender slices of pork.
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Squid and fish heaven!
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Hands down my favorite dish of the night was the Golden Duo ($23.88), which was soft shell crab & whole shrimp coated in a salted preserved egg batter and fried. Ala Shanghai has a soft shell crab-only version of dish on their normal menu, so thankfully this goodness is available year-round.

If you’ve never had an egg-yolk coated dish, you must try it. It’s so rich, salty, and good! The egg yolks are preserved in salt, then mashed up to be part of a batter coating. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor to a dish.
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Also had to add some veggies to the meal. Yum. Chinese broccoli is my favorite – nice and crunchy stalks and tender greens.
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Rice cake with pork and capsella as our starchy/rice/noodle dish (always gotta have one at a big meal). What’s not to love about chewy rice cakes?
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Crispy beef coated in a sweet-ish sauce. The beef still stays crispy! I thought I ordered this spicy, but it came out plain/non-spicy. Good, but I think I like the kick of heat to even out the sweetness.
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And (free) dessert because of Chinese New Year! What a pretty plate of fruit. Great way to end the meal.

There were 6 of us, and we wound up at about $20 per person before tip for all that food. There’s still time to grab a few friends together and try some awesome specials to ring in the Year of the Horse. Gung hey fat choy!

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Want fresh handmade dumplings? Northeast Dumpling House is your bet for freshly made squidgy dumplings. I think they still have some kinks to work out, but overall they’re a nice new addition to the Chinese food scene in Albany. Here are my experiences on two recent visits:

First visit:

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Woodear and cucumber on the left (aka cucumber & black fungus $5.99) and boiled dumplings on the right.

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I went with about 6 other people on this first trip – you want to bring a large group when you go to Northeast Dumpling House because there are 15 dumplings to each order. It’s kind of a crazy-large amount and it’s kind of weird that there isn’t a smaller amount available. Boiled dumplings are $7.99-8.99 and fried are $8.99-$9.99 per order. There’s beef, pork, and lamb options, and they are all pretty solid. I think my favorite so far are the pork and chive boiled dumplings.

 

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We got an order of the spiced potato and special pancakes on Jeff’s recommendation from All Over Albany’s Eat This article. They didn’t ask us how we wanted the potatoes done (hot or cold) and they came out hot. Eh, they were okay, but they tasted pretty bland to me, even with the occasional pepper slice in there to jazz things up.

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BAOS. BAOS. Get the baos when you go here. We got several orders (2 per order, $2.99) of beef baos and lamb baos. These buns were nice and squidgy (squidgy is very good when it comes to baos and dumplings), tender, fluffy soft baos, and there was a bit of juice inside each bao. They also weren’t stingy with the meat inside! I hate it when you get a big bao, and you’re all like “YEAH, bao!” and then it winds up being 90% bun with a dollop of meat inside.

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You also really, REALLY want to get the Spicy Sauce & Squid ($6.99). Most of their side dish items are cold, and this is no exception. Hot pepper slices, chili oil, chili flakes, and perfectly cooked squid.

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The fried beef dumplings were some of my favorite fried dumplings. I think the meat in the dumplings is a little smooth for my liking, but this is just my personal preference. I generally prefer coarse grinds of meat.

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2nd Visit:

Daniel B. came up for a weekend away from New Jersey and had Northeast Dumpling House on his list. Albany John, Jon in Albany, Chef Brian Bowden and his gal, and another pair of friends joined us on a Saturday night for a festival of eating.

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Daniel wanted to try the spicy potato & special pancake. I passed since it wasn’t my jam the first time around. The pancakes are cool, but I’m just not down with the potato.

We also got to try the pork & pickled veggie soup. That was really rockin’ soup, and I’m willing to bet the noodles are hand made since they’re making the dumplings to order. They were tender, but still had that delicate chew fresh noodles get. The broth was also solidly porky and balanced, although a jab of sriracha didn’t hurt.


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Cucumber & dried tofu ($5.99). This was sheet bean curd, and I think this should be easy to recreate at home. Basically just tofu sheet, cucumber, carrots, chili flakes, and a dash of chili oil and vinegar. Pretty refreshing to me, but meh to others.

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The beef omasum ($6.99) was another awesome dish from their cold side dishes menu. The tripe was very well prepared¬† with just enough heat to make it interesting (I wouldn’t really call it spicy. Yes, there was a little heat occasionally, but nothing that had me reaching for the tea). The texture was both tender and chewy, if that makes any sense. Sometimes tripe can be chewy almost to the point of being like chewing gum, but this was not like that. This had something more of a tendon amount of chew to it.

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The fry job on the dumplings was pretty heavy this time, lots of slick oil on the plates. We pretty much ordered one of each dumpling this time.

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More spicy squid!

Another new thing we tried was the shrimp and egg boiled dumpling, which I enjoyed. The egg was pretty muted, it was more like a shrimp and veggie dumpling.

NE Dumps (my nickname for them) is still in the “new” phase. Both times I went in they were pretty dead. Which is kind of crazy for a weekend.

Here’s some areas for improvement:
Customer service – both times we had to flag down the waiter to order, then to get the checks. Tea refill on the first visit was inattentive on the first visit, and nonexistent on the 2nd visit, even though I did the “move the lid” trick to signal that we were empty. This slowness in service is also mind boggling to me, because Chinese service is usually quick, quick, quick. The dishes came out quickly once we ordered, this seems to just be a FOH issue. I’m guessing they are new to owning a restaurant and still learning the ropes as service was a little better on the 2nd visit.

Some specials listed only in Chinese. I am a “bad Chinese” and can’t read most characters, so like many of their other non-Chinese customers, I have no idea what the specials are on the board.
Consistency. The fried dumplings on the first visit were much less greasy than on the 2nd visit. The baos on the 2nd visit weren’t quite as tender as the first visit, and there was no soupy goodness inside.

Dumpling orders in quantities of 15. Orders of 8-10 would be easier for smaller groups of people to try more variety. The “Bull Paddywack” aka beef tendon is already crossed off the menu.

Cool Stuff they have going on :
BYOB

No huge rush, which is different from the “turn-n-burn” style most other Chinese restaurants have, so you’ll be fine to linger at the moment.

Some really delicious dishes on the “Side Dishes” menu that aren’t on any other menu in the Captial Region. I’ve never been much of a tripe fan, but NE Dump’s take on tripe (omasum) will bring me back here to try it out.

Cheap. If you go with a group, you can order most of the menu and still walk out for under $20 per person with tip.

Hand made to order dumplings!

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I know it’s almost the end of January, but how was your new year?¬† Mine was spent up in a cabin at Dippikill, the campground SUNY owns up in Warrensburg, NY. Since NYE was on a weekday, we got the White Pine cabin at a steal – $270 for a night! We split it so it came out to something like $20 per person, which is a cheap way to spend New Year’s eve with all of the friends you like.

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But first, there was dim sum at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro before we left with Amanda M. and her guy, plus another friend. We feasted well, and ended up getting out of HK Bakery for $12 per person with tip included!

Turnip cakes on the left, stuffed tofu-skin on the right.

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Veggie & shrimp-filled rice flour dumplings, I think that’s ribs on the right.

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Har Gow. These were massive. Not as good as Ala Shanghai or Taiwan Noodle, but freshly made. The skins were a bit thick and gummy.

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Endless plates of cheung fan with shrimp and duck, and steamed pork buns on the right. Such a good way to kick off a relaxing day. I am SO, so, so happy to have a place in the area that makes their own cheung fan! So quivery, tender, and good.

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Then it was time to hop on the road! White Pine is able to handle 25 people. What I didn’t realize about this cabin is that there is lodging attached for staff in the back. But they didn’t seem to mind our noise. This is also one of the few cabins with parking right on site. No hiking in!

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It was cold when we got in. We never got it to sauna-level like we did with the last cabins, despite loading the fire up with logs.

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I made some crostini – focaccia (made with this recipe by Julia Zeigler-Haynes on Vice) was awesome, then I topped it with some ricotta and sauteed gai lan (in place of broccoli raab). Gai lan is a bit lighter and not so bitter when cooked, and it shows in this application. Eh, okay, but broccoli raab would have been better.

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And lots of cookies, because who doesn’t like cookies. Cacao nib eggnoggy sables in front, green tea sables and coconut-lime cookies in the back.

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Fire. Lots.

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Pulled pork in banana leaves with pickled onions. So good!

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I foisted cooking a duck off on one of the guys, and yum!

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Just ducky.

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We hung by the fire most of the night, drinking and playing a few board games. I haven’t been drinking much lately, so two shots took their toll on me. Man, late 20s = even less of a tolerance than ever.

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Champers at midnight.

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Cheers!

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And then Twister until the wee hours of the morning. I’m sure you can guess which one of these three I am, hee hee.

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When the temperatures dip, I start craving hot, comforting foods. One especially frigid night, I went to Seoul Korean Restaurant in Peter Harris Plaza. The interior is pretty sparse so far, but brightly lit and inviting all the same.

Service was good – friendly and on-point but not in-your-face. 5 banchan were on the menu that day – lightly cooked sesame oil’ed veggies and a white seaweed salad on the top row. Spicy radish, kimchee, and spicy cucumbers/onions in the bottom row. Very well flavored, all of it. I was especially fond of the white seaweed – it tasted a touch creamy and sweet, with an addictive texture that was part chew, part crunch.

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The soups are huge, and in the $12 price range. A great value for the amount you get, and the flavors they yield. Tteok Manduguk in the foreground, and I think it’s yook gye jang in the background – a spicy beef soup (comes with rice).

Tteok Manduguk is awesome – mandoo/mandu dumplings in a light bone-style broth, then add in tteok. Oh man, I can’t think of a way to make a soup much more awesome. Dumplings + soup = Awesome. Dumplings + Soup + Chewy Rice Cakes = Awesome^n
So good, and so piping hot. The dumplings had delicate skins that held up well to being in a soup (good structural integrity, no disintegrating)

I’m foggy on the name of the soup in the back, but it was a spicy beef soup that came with a side of steamed rice. It was spicy and well flavored, and not so hot that you’d start sweating while eating it.

Overall, I can’t wait to get back and try more of their dishes. The menu is small and focused, and the food was satisfyingly hearty without being heavy. But I can’t imagine trying more than just the soups on my own – time to go back with a group to tackle more of the appetizers and entrees!

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