It seems like the main complaint about Mahjong Dumplings, a new dumpling house on Upper East Side, is two things; Thick dough and unidentifiable (or too international) fillings.
Even though I managed to turn myself in Mahjong, I guess I was afraid of what I was going to eat. So, for cleansing my palate purpose, first thing I ordered was cucumber pickles ($4). Its generous portion surprised me. Cukes soaked in refreshing vinegar with just perfect dose of sesame oil was delish! Fresh ginger was tangy, sesame seeds were toasty, it was surprisingly good. Almost like Korean pickles you eat with spicy cold noodles. Good start.
Having my comfort food by my side, I gained confidence to order 'unidentifiable' or 'exotic' dumplings. Mahjong is still in progress of fixating menu. The Italian job, Thai Mania, Spanish Breakfast, A La Farm are gone. Also there are some changes on remaining menu items. Every dumpling dish has 3 dumplings and is $4.25.
Run Forrest; Shrimp with coconut curry sauce. Big pieces of shrimp were nice bites then the sauce was actually yummy. Right spiciness, right density, it was not bad at all. Shrimp & coconut curry worked so well that I asked a question. ''So why do I need this dough to separate them?"
Traditional Monkey is filled with ground heritage pork with sweet/sour sauce. Maybe it's the most similar thing to regular Chinese dumplings I've eaten. Thick dough was alright with dipping sauce. Plain, nothing radical about this one.
Ratatouille is a veggie one. Zucchini, Japanese eggplant, onion with...Behold...Truffle oil with Parmesan cheese. I liked the blandness, actually. Very soft, not so distinct taste. Indeed truffle oil was there adding a different level to commoner's dumpling. But nothing memorable.
By now, I couldn't help asking the same questions that others asked. "Why is dough too thick?" Doesn't this chef (who grew up in Israel and studied at Le Cordon Bleu) read reviews? So I asked. "Is there any particular reason you make this so thick?" This message was sent to the chef, Shlomi Biton.
Then his answer came back thru waiter. "I absolutely agree with you. But the dough is made of rice flour, so it's hard to make it thin. But we're working on it." Aha! Rice flour was the reason. Then you know what? I didn't feel so bad about thick dough. It's healthier than regular flour and I know how hard to make thin dough out of rice flour. It's not easy to work with.
Boardwalk Crab was the only fried one among we had, and probably the most sought one. It's full of sweet crab meats. Light mustard oil dipping sauce works wonderfully with dumplings. Also, this one will not allow you to complain about thick dough since it's not. And when fried, dumpling brings out different character. Yum.
Mom's style is filled with braised pulled beef with caramelized onions on top. I had an initial bite, then "huh?" moment. Pulled beef somehow worked against the very concept of dumpling. Dumpling fillings are usually diced, therefore there is not much of chewing job needed. So when I realized I was chewing on beef longer than I expected, I frowned. Also the beef taste was too distinctive for me. However, It's not fair judgement since I don't like pulled beef in general. My brother loved this one. Reason? "It has a very distinctive taste!"
Like dumplings, the place is international (meaning many things at one place). There are traditional seatings, bar, group sofa area, then sport bar like panel TV. Cocktail menus are international with heavy Asian influences. Sipping cocktails like Smokey Asian (sake, vodka, black sesame ice cream) , Geisha Tea (shochu, chilly infused vodka, aloe vera), Bloody Samurai (vodka, wasabi, ginger), you can watch games with one or two dumplings....
To finish exotic journey of dumplings, we chose 'Monkey Want a Banana' ($4). Crispy, warm fried banana dumpling had such a sweet aroma. Then marriage of chocolate sauce and creme fraiche was PERFECT. It was the most yummy dumping we had at Mahjong, probably.
After six different dumplings including dessert, I was stuffed. But not my brother.
Over all, it was fun to explore differently interpreted dumplings, but was it worth to do for $40? I kinda think so. I don't mind giving a chance to young chefs like Shlomi Biton (26 years old) to play with foods. New ideas come and go, and in between, he will find something. I like that educational part of it.
My brother? No. Even though I picked up the bill.
*Update : Chef Shlomi Biton is not at Mahjong anymore. He left a comment to this post. Read his comment to see what's going on at Mahjong now. Thanks again to chef Shlomi for clarification and update!