13 November 2009

Two Dumpling Houses

It had apparently been a while since I'd been to the Dumpling House on Eldridge, my favorite place in Chinatown for a cheap snack (an order of delicious dumplings is $1, everything else is under $5). I remembered a hole in the wall with unremarkable signage, and the nondescript name of Dumpling House, something you'd pass by if you didn't know better. Now it's twice as big, considerably more polished, with lots of seating and a huge yellow sign—biggest on the block—that says Vanessa's Dumplings. (Vanessa is the owner)

The renovation apparently happened earlier this year, and Vanessa now has a place on 14th Street. According to a sign in the window, she's now a "celebrity chef." (I don't watch the Food Network, so I wouldn't know.) Inside, there's a row of tables and chairs along the left hand wall. The ceilings are high and the space is airy. The appliances shine.

I guess I should be happy for Vanessa, but I can't help but feel that my special little hidden Dumpling House has been homogenized, sanitized and Yuppified. There were hipsters and UPS workers all around. I miss the cramped quarters, the two or three measly stools, the rude but quick help. It could be a Chipotle, the way it looks now. The help's not nearly as rude, but it is much slower. I had to wait five minutes. I know, that's not much. But I used to wait, like, 15 seconds!

And that name. Dumpling House, to me, says "Chinatown." Vanessa's Dumplings says SoHo.

As for the dumplings, they're still good. But the expansion has apparently cost them, because prices have gone up. In the past $1 bought you five piping hot pork-chive dumplings. Now it buys you four.

By contrast, let's consider Prosperity Dumplings. Since first discovering Dumpling House years ago, I have stumbled upon other Chinatown dumpling joints. Prosperity is also on Eldridge, just three blocks south. Dismayed with the new Dumpling House, I walked to Prosperity.

Now, this is what I'm looking for. It's reminds me of the old Vanessa's. Small quarters, a counter, a plain menu, lots of fast Chinese talk, unsmiling service, just business. And FIVE dumplings for $1!! Still!! And, dare I say it, the dumpling were hotter, fresher, better than Vanessa's. Yes, I do dare say it. They were. Plus I waited 15 seconds to get them.


MartinD28 said...

As with many great food finds, the beginning of "the end" for the fabulous Dumpling House came with a notice in the New York Times. Almost five years ago, a Chinatown stroll brought Marcella Hazan and William Grimes to what has become Vanessa's. Since then, as Yogi Berra might say, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

Lex said...

Brooks, you're going to like this. Last month Prosperity opened a branch in Sunset Park. The dumplings are first rate and still 5 for $1.

While the Eldridge St. location has a certain gritty charm it's the size of a closet and can be really unpleasant when it's jammed. And it usually is.

The Sunset Park location is in a full sized store front with chairs and tables. It's really quite nice.

It's at 4317 8th Ave at the corner of 44th St.

Pictures here:

Melissa Sarno said...

I, too, was dismayed by the upgrade of the dumpling house. But I was happy that my favorite server was still there-- not smiling and harrassing me to order more quickly. I appreciate that. Thanks for alerting me that Prosperity Dumplings is nearby. I've got to check it out.

Bryan said...

I'm of two minds. The old DH had become so crowded by the time they remodeled that it was impossible to get a stool in the back and you had to wait in very long lines or elbow your way to the counter. I appreciate not having to do that in the new version -- though you're right, lines can be long.

The biggest complaint I have about the new one: it's not the hipsters, but the SaTC types who look like fish out of water, but somehow manage to save a whole table while their friend orders at the counter. Meanwhile, a whole family could have sat down and finished eating and left!

If the upgrade means anyone involved is getting paid a little more, though, I'm all for it. Even if it's only 4 for a dollar.

Ed said...

Thanks for the heads up on Prosperity Dumplings.

One thing I've noticed about the newer yunnified places in the city is that the service at them is really slow, though I blame this more on the clientele then on the servers.

Joe Gideon said...

Thanks for cluing us in, Brooks. I was outraged to learn of Vanessa's success and to find out that many, many New Yorkers who like eating dumplings (including UPS drivers, of all people--the nerve!) are now enjoying a tasty, inexpensive lunch in clean, bright, pleasant surroundings. What a sickening spectacle.

All that AND ... the price per dumpling has gone up FIVE CENTS! Wow, I bet you remember when you could have bought a lot of penny candy for that extra nickel, eh? Change sure is a bitch. I wish Vanessa would go back to being poor so we could have her nasty, crowded, and rude old hole-in-the-wall dumpling house back. New York will never be the same.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

OK, OK, Joe, I get it. I probably deserved that. But I don't think my point is lost. Vanessa's is still pretty good, yes, and very cheap, and more people can enjoy it now. But, every day a little death, you know...

JaneDoe said...

5 dumplings can still be had for $1 at the dumpling joint squirreled away on Mosco Street between Mott and Mulberry.

15 second service, cramped, a bit dirty, decent service, no hipsters or UPS drivers. Especially no hipsters.