Where to Find Chinese Food in the Hudson Valley
Little dishes with big flavor and dumplings to delight the masses
Delicate flavors: Homemade dumplings filled with pork and chives accompany hot and sour soup at Palace Dumplings in Wappingers Falls
Dumplings Delight the Masses
By Mary Forsell
Dumplings have gotten a bad rap in America. Often they are leaden things that are mostly dough with very little filling, requiring liberal doses of soy sauce and dripping with grease. At least, that’s what you find in take-out joints.
But true Chinese dumplings are staple foods and meals in themselves. Bite-size, delicate concoctions, they are usually filled with shrimp, pork, or fish. It’s a family activity to prepare them, with everyone busily taking on a job, whether that be mincing pork, chopping vegetables, or pinching dumplings into crescents.
Remarkably, you can get authentic dumplings in Wappingers Falls at Palace Dumplings. Owned by the wife-husband team of Jenny “Yanmei” Hu and Joe Conetta (she’s Chinese, he’s American), the restaurant could easily be overlooked in its strip-mall surroundings. But the fact that there are Chinese characters that precede the English description on the menu should tell you something right away.
How it’s done (clockwise from right):
Skillful hands roll, fill, and pinch closed the dumplings at Palace
“It’s not fusion. It’s authentic northern Chinese cooking,” says Conetta. “My wife is from Harbin, northeast China, and owned a fish dumpling house before coming here.” The couple met through a mutual friend in China when Conetta, a retired environmental pathologist, was visiting friends there. He heard about Jenny’s popular business, and visited during a mid-autumn festival that is celebrated by making dumplings. “I watched her whole family making them. The recipes have been in the family for almost 90 years,” says Conetta.
The décor is spare yet elegant at the three-year-old Palace. Soft music, plain wood tables, and a few lanterns enhance the ambience. “This is deliberate so that the focus is on the food,” says Conetta, who works the front of the house while Jenny supervises kitchen staff. The crowd is a lively mix of locals, college students, and foodies who travel across state lines to taste these fabled dumplings. In fact, the CIA sometimes sends its students there to sample real northern Chinese dumplings.
Eating them takes a bit of know-how. “Oh, you don’t want to do that!” Conetta tells a patron as she tries to stick a fork into a fresh hot dumpling. “The juice will just squirt out in your face!” Far preferred is taking each succulent dumpling with a chopstick and popping it into your mouth whole for an explosion of flavor.
You can easily scarf down a plate of 12 in minutes, seasoning each one with a variety of house sauces that sit on each table: red chili pepper, sweet, soy, and a savory ginger sauce.
There are 37 succulent varieties in all, plus some daily specials. The most popular are the pork dumplings with chives or scallion. Egg, chicken, beef, lamb, and seafood dumplings are available, too. They are boiled by default, but you can also order them as potstickers, lightly pan fried on one side. To go with the dumplings, order some of the cold and spicy vegetable side dishes. The horseradish cucumbers are heaven — and so light.
Though the restaurant is licensed to sell wine, they won’t (but feel free to BYOB) because Conetta feels it overshadows the taste of the dumplings. Instead, they offer three different kinds of authentic Chinese beer, whose hoppy character harmonizes with the herbs in the dumplings. Jasmine tea is another beverage that won’t overwhelm the palate.
A parting note: If you have leftovers, prepare them at home by dropping them into boiling water for about five to 10 minutes, until they no longer stick together.
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Photographs courtesy of DimSum GoGo
Dim Sum: Little Dishes, Big Flavor
By Wyatt Olson
China’s cuisine is more regionally diverse than perhaps any other in the Pacific. The northwest favors Muslim-influenced mutton dishes and flatbreads. In greater Beijing the locals are partial to pickled veggies and stir-fry. Spicy-hot dishes are standard fare in the central provinces of Hunan and Sichuan.
But it’s China’s southern area that bequeathed its style of cuisine to America via immigrants to San Francisco in the late 1800s. Lighter-tasting dishes and plenty of seafood dominate south-central China — home to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the city formerly named Canton and the namesake of Cantonese-style cooking.
Highly regarded among the Cantonese is dim sum. A kind of Chinese tapas, it features such dishes as steamed or fried dumplings stuffed with seafood, meat or vegetables. These “snacks” are served with morning tea at many large restaurants in South China, with lines of would-be diners snaking out the doors.
A few years ago I was marooned in Guangzhou in January for four days. Each frosty morning I’d leave my unheated hotel room and make my way to a bustling restaurant that was toasty warm with steam from dim sum, tea, and a scrum of customers.
Not for that reason alone am I partial to dim sum, so I was eager to try DimSum GoGo in Beacon, which opened about a year ago. Restaurant co-manager Darren Chan said it’s been a challenge to familiarize Hudson Valley locals with the style.
“When they come in they think it’s a regular Chinese take-out restaurant,” he said. “We have to introduce these dishes to certain people — and we do that.
“We do serve typical American-Chinese food, like chicken and broccoli, but we have plenty of other dishes that are authentic, and you’re not going to find them elsewhere, unless you go to Chinatown.”
The eatery is in a former bank building, complete with vault (above)
In American restaurants, dim sum is usually served as a Sunday brunch, but DimSum GoGo has made it central to its menu. The eatery has a host of other dishes, such as wonton soup with shrimp and pork ($3.95); chicken, beef, lamb, and pork entrées ($12.95 to $23.95); seafood, such as calamari, flounder, and prawns, served in one of six different sauces ($14.95 to $18.95); a Peking duck for $40, and many others. They also offer a nice selection of microbrewed beers and Taiwanese bubble tea.
I took a friend visiting from China to the restaurant on one of this winter’s snowiest nights. She’d been reluctant to eat at a Chinese restaurant in America, having been warned that the flavor and mix of ingredients in many dishes would be strange to her palate. We ordered seven items from the roughly 40 on the dim sum menu, which were priced at $4.25-$4.75 apiece for dinner (each is a dollar less at lunch).
I judge the quality of a dim sum restaurant by three “hard core” items: chicken feet, turnip cake, and beef tripe. The chicken feet were steamed to a tender state of melting in the mouth amid the black bean sauce they’d been steeped in. The pan-fried turnip squares had been well ground and mixed and were flavorful.
I was disappointed to learn that tripe wasn’t on the menu. “We don’t think it would be popular here,” Chan said, who added that the restaurant routinely rotates items to see how well they sell in Beacon.
Our other choices, however, more than compensated: Shrimp dumplings were delicately encased in steamed rice flour; the Shanghai pork soup dumplings held a bit of rich broth within; cilantro-filled steamed dumplings and dainty steamed veal ribs were also flavorful. Each dish comes with its appropriate dipping sauce, such as ginger and soy sauce or sweet and sour. My friend introduced me to the cruller rice roll, a crunchy Chinese fried breadstick rolled up in a steamed rice-flour slab. And our waiter served us a complimentary dumpling filled with a mélange of peanuts, garlic, chives, pork, shrimp, and mushrooms.
My friend proclaimed the dishes authentic, and with that we were ready once again to face the chill outside.
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