Dumplings have always had a way of getting my hopes up. Chewy and starchy, warm and juicy, a genuinely good dumpling is the ultimate comfort food. Yet the dumpling's potential also makes the bad ones all the more memorable. From the mess of wilted vegetables and rubbery skin I ordered once at a Chinese restaurant in East Harlem, to the definitely-not-chicken chicken dumpling I ate as an eleven-year-old in Texas, these disasters haunt me still. So when I walked out of the subway to A-Pou's Taste, a Taiwanese dumpling cart just south of Astor Place, I was nervous about what I might find.
I had to wait five minutes while the dumplings cooked, and thinking about it only made matters worse. What if this, too, were another purveyor of horrible dumplings? A-Pou's Taste was a Vendy finalist in this year's Rookie category, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee a good dumpling. (Pacing ensued.)
I had heard good things about the Chinese Spaghetti (basically Lo Mein), but there was none available that day. I decided to try the Corn Chowder Soup instead, and found a nice surprise—sweet corn and potato swam in a starchy base, with strands of egg white swirled in like white paint in a Pollock. It was sweet and satisfying; I wished only for a dash of black pepper.
Finally, my dumplings were ready. And they were good—quite good, in fact. I got the Hong Kongese Experience and the Taiwanese Special, both of which were cooked covered on a long smooth grill.
The Hong Kongese Experience was filled with chicken, delicately sweet with green onions, ginger, and garlic. The hot sauce, also sweet but with more of a kick than one might expect, really made these dumplings, picking up the flavors just a smidge more.
The pork filling in the Taiwanese Special already had its own little pick-me-up—it was heady and spicy, with pepper flakes, onions, and jalapenos. Both had the same skin, substantial but not gummy.
That said, the dumplings at A-Pou's Taste are not flawless. I'm all for crispy, but some of them grew too dark on the bottom, a few to the point where the entire bottom half took on a burnt taste. And like many dumplings, these were much better fresh. The ones that I tried after I got home had lost a lot of their appeal.
I now understand why A-Pou's Taste made it into the Rookie finalist circle. Everything I tried was at least tasty, and some dishes were wonderful; I also missed out on several about which I had heard rave reviews. Yet I also understand why this cart was not named the winner. There are definitely still a few kinks. I'm excited to see how A-Pou's Taste fares in the future.
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