New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells often reviews the work of well-known chefs like Ivan Orkin and high-profile restaurants, such as Cherche Midi and Tavern on the Green. However, from time to time, Wells turns his attention to off-the-radar hidden gems of the city, as he did this week in his review of Dumpling Galaxy in Flushing, Queens.
Wells centers much of his piece on the restaurant’s proprietor, Helen You, who “As a young girl in Tianjin, China … was taught to cook by her mother and grandparents. Her dumplings are sturdy, knobby, domestic creatures in the Northern Chinese tradition … her dumplings are stuffed to order, and Ms. You fine-tunes them with the sensitivity of a natural cook who listens to her ingredients … she builds exhilarating harmonies.” There are an astounding 100 varieties of dumplings on the menu, and the critic calls out his favorites for the reader: pork and chive; lamb with green squash; lamb with cilantro; spicy beef; duck with mushroom; chicken with broccoli; cod with roe; squid; dried octopus and chives; shrimp and celery; wood ear and cabbage; dill and egg; pan-fried dumplings; eight treasures and pear sweet dumpling; and pumpkin with black sesame tang yuan.
He does caution that not every variety is a hit: “It would be a miracle on Main Street if all 100 varieties at Dumpling Galaxy were equally lovable. They aren’t. The one with shrimp, scallops, and crab meat didn’t deliver the sweet seafood luxury it promised. Steamed har gow were less juicy than those wheeled around on the best dim sum carts.” Still, he drives home the fact that these are exceptional dumplings with his declaration “I’ve eaten entire meals that delivered less flavor than a single one of Ms. You's dumplings.”
Unsurprisingly, Wells shifts his focus to the rest of the menu approximately three-quarters of the way through his review. Although it is a dumpling house — and a supremely good one at that — the critic takes a cure from the Chinese families in the restaurant, as he observes that “their dumpling consumption was considerably less piggish than mine. They might share a single order, a mere six dumplings, before moving on to the dishes from Northern China, Hunan, and Fujian on the rest of the menu. (One cook specializes in each region.)… The Hunanese preserved pork stir-fried with stubby lengths of pickled long beans was superb, both fiery and tart. Triple delight vegetables (green chiles, barely tender potato, and eggplant so creamy it may as well be pudding) was an unusually good version of the Dongbei standby. Whole fish with spicy bean sauce was a hit at my table, even if we did use the marvelous sauce to obscure the fish’s slightly muddy flavor.” However, although many of the dishes were exceptional, Wells turns the spotlight back on the restaurant’s signature dish, because “You can find these dishes elsewhere, but no other kitchen offers such an embarrassment of dumpling riches.”