Disclaimer: The people at East Wind Snack Shop wouldn’t let me pay for my meal, so these dumplings were free for me.
A couple of Mondays ago I got a message on Twitter from the folks over at the East Wind Snack Shop, a tiny Chinese restaurant that opened up less than two blocks away from me. The message read, in part, “we have vegetarian soup dumplings every tues!” This was news to me — I had been to East Wind on the very first day they opened. Of course it’s a rookie mistake to try out a restaurant on their first day of operations, but it’s so close I just had to try it out. I didn’t have a great experience, and at the time they had a dish called Happy Buddha Vegetables (which sounds vegetarian) but topped it with Chinese sausage (they were willing to make it without the sausage if requested). I meant to go back after they found their groove, but I went out of town for a few months. Even when I was here the place was packed every time I walked by. They’d been getting some great press, and had revamped the menu. So when I got the message about soup dumplings I decided it was time to return.
Let me back up for a moment. I’ve been searching for vegetarian soup dumplings for years. I even wrote about it for my friend Molly a few years ago. If you don’t know, a soup dumpling is not a dumpling in soup. Rather, it’s a dumpling FILLED with soup (and usually some pork).
Back to present day. Chef Chris Cheung fills the vegetarian dumplings with sweet potato, though he’s looking for something more seasonal for summer. Biting off some of the dumpling skin from the top you can suck out the sweet, bright orange broth. Then dip the dumpling in a soy-vinegar sauce, which tempers the sweetness, and consume what remains. Remember, these vegetarian soup dumplings are only available on Tuesdays, so plan your trip accordingly.
East Wind Snack Shop — 471 16th St
The last time I was at Ganso, in Downtown Brooklyn, I said that their vegetarian ramen was held back from greatness by being too salty. Well I’m here to tell you that the vegetarian version of their summer ramen, served cold, is pretty great. There’s no broth here. The noodles (and if I were to nitpick I’d say that the noodles were a bit too soft, and could have been chewier, but that’s really a nitpick) are tossed in a soy vinaigrette (with a touch of wasabi?). They are topped with seasoned tofu, some raw veggies — tomato, bean sprouts, scallions — and, if you want, an egg. It was such a great balance of flavors and textures that I didn’t even consider adding any chili oil to it, which is my go-to move for improving mediocre ramen. This refreshing dish is a seasonal offering only, so grab a bowl
while you still can.
Ganso — 25 Bond St
My friend Damon (previously of the now-closed Elm) got a job at the new restaurant Myrtle & Gold, in Downtown Brooklyn, so we stopped by for dinner and cocktails. I got the mushroom bruschetta, and although it could have been warmer it was quite tasty — the roasted shiitake, maitake and oyster mushrooms were piled high on the crusty bread, and they were seasoned well. Even better the menu didn’t attempt to call them “wild mushrooms,” as many other restaurants do. There are a handful of other vegetarian options on the menu at Myrtle & Gold, but I haven’t had a chance to try them yet — I guess that’s a reason to go back.
Myrtle & Gold — 343 Gold St
So I was watching a food travel show about Rome and they talked about the dish trippa alla romana — tripe in the Roman style. Traditionally this is a dish using cow or pig stomach, cooked down with white wine, celery and carrot, tomato, and mint, until it’s a stew, and then topped with pecorino cheese. It looked delicious, so I was wondering what a vegetarian version might look like. I settled on Brussels sprouts for two reasons. One, they have a bit of a funky flavor, and even though I’ve never eaten tripe I imagine it has kind of a funky flavor. Two, I already had some Brussels sprouts in the fridge. So here’s what I did to make Brussels sprouts in the style of tripe in the Roman style. I started by slowly heating some celery, carrots, and onions in some olive oil with salt and pepper. When they had softened I added sliced Brussels sprouts and some torn mint leaves, and cooked them until the Brussels sprouts until they were lightly browned. Then I added some white wine, and then some canned tomato puree and some more mint leaves, and seasoned again. Then I let it cook over low heat until it was all soft. I served the stew with sauteed dandelion greens and a hunk of focaccia from Hot Bread Kitchen. The stew was slightly salty, slightly sweet, a nice combination but nothing spectacular. Maybe it’s better with actual tripe.
The owners of the Good Fork, Red Hook’s venerable Korean restaurant, are opening a restaurant and karaoke joint in Gowanus. Although the official opening date hasn’t yet been announced, they offered a sample of their food at Threes Brewing a few weekends ago. Threes Brewing has been hosting different restaurants in their kitchen, though this was the first opportunity I’ve had to visit there. There were clearly labeled vegetarian options on the menu, and I tried two of them. Above you see the crispy tofu bibimbap, a rice bowl topped with the tofu, egg, and a variety of veggies like bitter greens and sweet onions. The combination of flavors and textures was a good one, particularly when mushed all together with gochujang, the Korean red pepper sauce. The crispy vegetable fritter was a little bland, but perked up when paired with the vinegar dip provided. I’ve had better Korean food, but there aren’t many Korean restaurants in the neighborhood and I’m looking forward to the official opening.
Threes Brewing — 333 Douglass St
The first time I ever went to the Red Hook Ball Fields was the final year before the city forced them into trucks. There were grills and makeshift stoves around the park, some of them under tarps but most spewing cooking smoke into the open air. Things changed quite a bit when the trucks came, but you still had your pick of amazing food from Mexico, as well as a few Central and South American countries. As the years have passed the trucks gained in popularity and some of the vendors opened their own restaurants or expanded to other venues. Towards the end of the season last year I noticed a change. There were fewer trucks than there used to be, which meant less variety in the food. The 2015 season started just a few weeks ago, and last weekend I made my first visit of the year. Those missing trucks were still gone, though the parking spaces for them were left vacant as if everyone was hoping they might magically appear. And while I still had some tasty tacos and some fantastic fried plantains, things weren’t the same. I missed the multiple trucks where I could get the deep-fried palm known as pacaya, or the truck with almost a dozen kinds of juice. It’s true that the nature of living in a city like NYC is that things change, but this truly feels like things are winding down at the Ball Fields — so make your way out there at least one weekend this summer, because who knows how much longer things are going to last?
Hello again! I am back in Brooklyn, just in time for ramp season. Ramps, a variety of wild garlic that’s only available in early spring, explodes across the NYC food scene every year. And every year I buy a bunch, and every year I am disappointed in the lack of flavor the ramps yield. This past Friday I was at the Union Square Greenmarket and saw ramps on sale for $4 a bunch. I decided to buy them, though I was thinking, “Here we go again.” But then something happened that changed the way I feel about ramps. A customer in front of me, who was not familiar with ramps, was asking the vendor how to prepare them. “You should cook them,” the vendor said. “They’re pretty sharp raw, and cooking mellows them out.” A bell chimed in my head. What if I didn’t cook them? What if leaving them raw was the key to my enjoyment of ramps?
Turns out that was the right way to go. I made a simple pesto, using the raw ramps combined with olive oil, lemon zest, kosher salt, and a little pecorino romano cheese. I just put all of those ingredients into my small food processor and blended them coarsely. Then I tossed the pesto with some freshly cooked brown rice pasta, squeezed a little fresh lemon juice over the top, and sprinkled some more pecorino over the top. The result? The ramps were indeed sharp, almost spicy in the way fresh garlic can be. Balanced out with the saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness of the lemon the dish was a knockout. So it turns out the secre to cooking with ramps is not to cook them at all.