Dumplings & Things

Xi’an Famous Foods is probably my favorite Chinese restaurant ever. This seems to be the widely held sentiment among New Yorkers (and please God let Xi’an be a secret kept from tourists — for now anyway). At the Xi’an near my workplace, the line is typically out the door and down the block. Sure, it’s a hole-in-the-wall space, but the demand for high-quality Chinese foods has reached a fever pitch since Xi’an came on the scene in full force a few years ago.

There’s a Xi’an in Flushing, and I’ve even gone there with MDP for take-out to bring back to our home 30 minutes away — that’s how good Xi’an is.

dumplings & things pork and chive dumplings

pork and chive dumplings

But, now I don’t have to travel to Flushing for authentic noodles and dumplings because Dumplings & Things (see menu here) has opened up shop in Sunnyside. Yesterday was the opening day, and I’m fairly certain it will be the first and last time I ever actually eat there. The hungry crowds are coming, and I suspect they’re looking for Xi’an-level deliciousness. They’ll certainly find it at Dumplings & Things.

I wouldn’t call Dumplings & Things a chain, but there’s definitely another outpost in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, which has garnered rave reviews. It’s no wonder. Dumplings & Things serves up delectable Chinese (and sometimes Korean) fare for affordable prices — think $3.50 for a plate of five dumplings. Yeah, that cheap.

MDP and I were dead-set on sampling a wide variety of Dumpling & Things’ offerings, so we went about scanning the menu and choosing a food from just about every category: dumplings, noodles, baos, rice platters (we’ll try next time), and appetizers.

dumplings & things melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

So, let’s start with the dumplings. We opted for the pork and chive (steamed) type. The filling was nearly bursting from the tightly wrapped skins, which goes to show the value you get when you order dumplings from this amazing place. And they weren’t just plump — they were delicious, too. Unlike some pork and chive dumplings that are typically “chive” in name only, these had a distinctly chive flavor that made the entire experience of biting into each dumpling feel fresh and clean.

We had to get noodles, and Dumplings & Things has a nice selection on their menu. You can either get your dish with rice or “regular” noodles (which, I think, are either ramen or la mien), and with broth if you choose. We got the braised beef noodles and melt in your mouth pork belly ones. Wow, both were just out of this world. While Xi’an’s wide hand-pulled noodles are pretty impressive, Dumplings & Things’ noodles are also up there on my list. They, like the dumplings, were bursting with flavor. Our respective meats were beautifully flavored and heaped aplenty on the top of our noodles, which cost a mere $6.50 and came out in a giant traditional bowl.

dumplings & things braised beef bao

braised beef bao

MDP wanted to try a bao, so he ordered the braised beef one. It’s two baos per order, so I was in luck. I bit into the bao, with sliced cucumber and carrot, as well as crushed peanuts on top, and was blown away. One of the best restaurants in Sunnyside, Salt & Fat, used to serve unique pork belly baos. I think Dumplings & Things is giving them a run for their money in the bao department.

I wanted to try the garlicky cucumber salad, to compare it to Xi’an’s version, so we got that, too. It was good — not great, like Xi’an’s — but MDP figured out that, if we doused the cucumber pieces in soy sauce, the dish would taste better. It did. Somehow the soy sauce brought out the garlic flavor more intensely, and I was a happy clam.

dumplings & things garlicky cucumber salad

garlicky cucumber salad

All this food cost about $29. Twenty-nine dollars! The seating arrangement inside is fairly utilitarian, with simple stools and small tables for patrons to dine at. It’s no sit-down and order through a waitress place, either, so snag a table before you put in your order at the counter. Getting your food could take upwards of 20 minutes because I think Dumplings & Things has a few kinks to iron out in the kitchen process yet, so grab a gourmet ginger ale and sit tight.

I highly recommend Dumplings & Things. If you’ve been looking for your local Xi’an, this is it.

Dumplings & Things
45-26 46th Street (between Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Ave.)
Sunnyside, NY
Take the 7 train to 46th Street. Walk south for one block. It will be on your right.

MP Taverna

So, you want some chicken souvlaki. What do you do? You go to Astoria, where Greeks have made a point to settle and share their delectable cuisine. But, with all the options available, which restaurant do you choose? I’ll make it easy for you. MP Taverna is where you want to go. Here’s why.

mp taverna meatballs

meatballs

Chef Michael Psilakis’ Astoria outpost is gorgeous. Situated on a corner steps away from a busy intersection (and two CVS pharmacies, for some reason), MP Taverna is a pleasure to walk into. When you enter, you pass by a long bar on your way to the back of the narrow interior. There’s an upstairs, and I’m not sure what happens up there, but the downstairs area is certain to be hopping. We were seated at the rear of the first floor at table for two with a distinctive light source overhead, shedding just the right amount of illumination on our table.

Laminated menus were presented to us with an extensive beer and wine list on the back. I selected a beer I had never tried before; one that was inflected with vanilla flavors and a certain punch at the end. MDP ordered a rye whiskey. The waiter was garrulous, sharing reflections on the current beers on tap and the appetizer selection. He recommended that we order an additional appetizer in addition to the three dips that we planned to try, so we opted for the calamari, which took some time to arrive. Good thing Chef Michael Psilakis was on hand–he sent out a complimentary order of the most delicious meatballs I’ve ever tried in my life to satisfy us while our calamari was prepared. The crisp-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside meatballs were made from lamb, I think, with generous bits of parsley integrated. They were served with a yogurt-dill sauce, which was a welcome change from my childhood experience with meatballs drenched in gravy.

mp taverna dumplings

dumplings

The calamari was worth waiting for. Octopus was mixed in with chickpeas and cauliflower, all doused in the same batter and flash fried to an ideal texture. The calamari was served with a yogurt-dill sauce and a tomato sauce. I favored the yogurt to the tomato, just because I felt it was a little bit more Greek. I enjoyed the chef’s interpretation of this dish.

And the not-to-be-overlooked dips were excellent, as well. We received chick pea, yogurt and eggplant dips neatly arranged in a cute tray. The yogurt one, which featured bits of cucumber and dill, was far and away my favorite, with the delicious chick pea/sun-dried tomato one as a close second. The eggplant dip was fine, but not nearly as flavorful as the other two. I’d still recommend ordering the three dip combo, as opposed to separate dips, since they’re all worth trying. And the pita that was served with the dips was divine–so tender, so thin, I’ve never had pita like this in my life.

For our entrees–which I was sure I would be too full to sample–I opted for the chicken souvlaki, while MDP ordered the dumplings. The chicken souvlaki was served with the most delicious “smashed” fries, which were steak-like fries condensed into tender, potato crisps. They were fantastic. I wish I could say the same for the chicken souvlaki itself. The flavor of kalamata olives overtook the entire wrap for some reason, even though only a few kalamatas were included. I favor a more mild souvlaki than this one, but I ate most of it anyway. The chicken was fine and the ingredients were clearly fresh.

mp taverna baklava

baklava

MDP’s dish was incredible. Bits of dumpling were covered with spicy lamb sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, feta and spinach, with some pine nuts mixed in. The dumplings themselves were extremely tender and delicious, and the accent of feta and lamb sausage delighted my palate. I greatly enjoyed his dish, and I suspect it’s one of MP Taverna’s signature offerings, so you might want to try it.

At any Greek restaurant, it’s just about law that you need to have their baklava for dessert, and so we did. But MP Taverna’s baklava is an interesting interpretation of the traditional dish. Instead of thin, light layers of phyllo dough, their baklava features three thick layers of dough that is far crispier and dense than phyllo. A seasoned apple mixture was part of the dessert, with some pistachios making a brief cameo. The real highlight of the dish (for me, anyway) was the fascinating ice cream that accompanied the baklava. It tasted of almond extract and cardamom, and was quite good.

Though the service was erratic and the place seemed a bit disorganized overall, MP Taverna is not to be missed. If you haven’t been to Astoria, you should really see it. And going to MP Taverna is the perfect excuse to visit the popular Queens neighborhood.

MP Taverna

31-29 Ditmars Boulevard

Astoria, New York

Take the N/Q to the very last stop in Queens. Walk around the corner. 

Midori Matsu

I was in the mood for hibachi. Recently, I was looking at Google Maps and found Benihana in midtown and thought, “Wow, I haven’t been there in a long time, let’s go.” Then, I learned there would be crowds. Then, I learned there would be no reservations available. So, I began a quest to find decent hibachi somewhere else. And I certainly found it.

las vegas roll

las vegas roll

Located in Forest Hills near the 75th Avenue subway stop, Midori Matsu is hard to miss. A huge sign that reads “HIBACHI” hangs overhead as you walk into the establishment. Upon entering, you find a room with hardly anyone in it except for someone who’s making sushi. Then, you’re asked if you want hibachi. At that point, you’re escorted into a larger room with approximately six hibachi set-ups. And you’re delighted to be there.

MDP and I were quite hungry, as I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast that day, so we went whole hog and got dumplings, sushi and hibachi for each of us.

The gyoza, or vegetable dumplings, were very green and filled with vegetables such as edamame. I scarfed down three of them within a few minutes and felt pretty sated. MDP liked them also.

We ordered the Las Vegas roll sushi, which was salmon with avocado, cream cheese, jalapeno and some kind of sauce on top. I enjoyed it, but MDP especially liked it. The jalapeno really added a certain kick to the end of the eating experience.

hibachi entertainment

hibachi entertainment

Now, for the hibachi. I ordered the steak and chicken hibachi, while MDP got teriyaki chicken. We were served an onion soup and a salad with that delicious orange dressing on it, alongside our hibachi.

The hibachi chef came out and immediately put on a show. He threw his utensils around and made clanging noises, so loud that the child sitting at our table began to cry. He began by making shrimp for all of us, and put a bunch of rice on the hot surface to later make fried rice. He also put a medley of vegetables on the cooking surface that would later accompany our foods.

A delight to watch, the hibachi chef created an onion “volcano” by lighting on fire a few rings of an onion. This terrified the young girl at our table. She put her hands over her ears and started to cry. He said, “That’s okay. The volcano won’t hurt you.” But she persisted.

more hibachi

more hibachi

My steak turned out perfect and the chicken was quite good also. The chef gave us some dipping sauces, which were, I think, mustard and ginger, respectively. They were a nice accent to the food.

MDP’s teriyaki chicken was quite good, as well. It was thickly flavorful.

All and all, Midori Matsu is well worth the hike. And it’s great for groups if you get there early on a Saturday night, like we did. The hibachi chefs all seemed quite entertaining, so you’re certain to have a good show whenever you decide to go.

Midori Matsu

111-16 Queens Boulevard

Forest Hills, New York

Take the E/F to 75th Avenue. It’s a few steps away from the subway entrance on the south side of Queens Boulevard.