If you find yourself craving dumplings and you have a group of 5-10 people to go with you, Northeast Dumplings House is the place to be. Unfortunately, if you’re on your own, you’ll be unhappy to find out that the restaurant only serves its dumplings in orders of 15. This setup makes it incredibly hard to sample different flavors, or even to order a few sides if you stop by on a regular outing. Northeast Dumplings House has been on my Albany must-try list for some time, but I was only able to dine in this past week when I finally found a group of dumpling enthusiasts large enough to make the experience worthwhile. The outing was kindly organized by Lorre of Albany Dish and attended by Steve N. of I Like Food, Daniel B. of Fussy Little Blog, and a few expert Yelpers.
The restaurant offers seven varieties of dumplings, which can be served steamed or fried. I tend to think fried anything is usually better, but we went with an even split to try all of the options. The most striking dumpling presentation was for the fried dumplings, which are brought to the table with a thin film covering the whole batch.
This really piqued my curiosity, so I did a little digging on dumpling preparation to find out what could be behind this fried sheet. My best guess as a non-dumpling expert is that the dumplings are first fried to the right crispiness on the bottom flat edge, and then essentially steamed the rest of the way. Some water mixes with the starch from the wrappers (potentially flour or cornstarch) inside a closed skillet and drips to the bottom, creating an extra fried layer holding everything together. For more detail, see the end of this explanation.
I won’t bore you with lots of pictures of dumplings, because truthfully they all look the same. I will, however, note that my favorites from the seven varieties were the pickled cabbage and pork dumplings, which had the most flavor contrast between the meat filling and the vegetable components, and the shrimp, egg, and chive dumplings. The shrimp variety could have used more shrimp (it was perhaps seventy percent filled with chive), but it was really different from the other varieties and had a very distinct flavor.
In general, most of the meat dumplings at Northeast Dumplings House were very similar, with a densely formed meat filling. Several pork varieties, including pork and celery or pork and (non-pickled) cabbage, were hard to tell apart. The beef or lamb varieties were also fairly simple. But they were all enjoyable, with a good amount of juiciness inside and dumpling shells that were the right consistency and thickness. Optional dipping sauces of vinegar mixed with soy sauce or a hot chili oil allowed us each to customize our experience.
One of the biggest surprises for me was how great some of the sides were. I half expected a place with dumplings in the name to only have one specialty, and perhaps neglect the rest of the menu. The cucumber and black fungus, which has an admittedly worrisome name, was one of my favorite dishes that I’ve ordered from anywhere in a while.
The “fungus” in question appeared to be wood ear mushrooms. They had a delightfully squeaky, chewy consistency. The entire dish was served in a sesame oil sauce with strong notes of chili pepper and fresh cilantro. It was a really complex and interesting sauce, and I loved the crispness of the cucumber mixed with the spongy mushrooms and the little bit of heat. This was a really standout dish.
We also tried a few other sides, including the chive and egg pancake and the vegetable and pork buns. I don’t really recommend the buns – they had a very thick, doughy shell and mediocre fillings. The pork bun had a formed meat patty inside instead of the softer, barbecue type of pork I was hoping for. The chive pancake was much better, with a nicely fried shell and a generous filling. It had similar flavors to the shrimp, egg, and chive dumplings, but with a higher filling to shell ratio and more fried crispiness.
Now that I realize that dumplings aren’t the only game at Northeast Dumplings House, I’m eager to come back and try some of the other offerings, including noodle dishes and barbecue. And maybe one day the restaurant will reconsider its dumpling serving size or the ability to mix and match flavors. Until then, I’ll be on the lookout for my next opportunity to gather a group of friends to share this terrific dumpling experience with.