The Early Word: Mahjong Dumplings


The team behind Cascabel Taqueria recently opened Mahjong Dumplings, a small Upper East Side restaurant devoted to — you’ve got it — dumplings. And while the restaurant mostly celebrates pan-Asian cuisine, several of the dumplings offered don’t hail from the Far East. Given our love of anything stuffed between sheets of dough, we stopped by over the weekend to check it out.

Starters, soups, noodles, and dumplings comprise the menu, with portion sizes running small. Dumplings are $4.25 for three pieces — definitely not Chinatown prices, but then again, this is the Upper East Side. You’ve gotta take what you can get. The Traditional Monkey dumplings (pictured above) were filled with pork and came with a sweet Thai chili sauce. Not bad at all, but not necessarily worth $1.40 apiece.

One of our other favorites was the Run Forrest dumplings, which came stuffed with shrimp and dressed with a nicely spiced coconut curry sauce. Again, tasty, but a Thumbelina portion.

Somewhat less successful were the internationally influenced dumplings. The Italian Job dumplings encased chicken and basil inside the dough, but were basically lackluster chicken ravioli with pesto.

We did enjoy the Boardwalk Crab dumplings, crammed with crab, but weren’t wowed by the Mom’s Style, stuffed with braised beef, since they were bland and one-note.

Nor were we impressed by the thick rice noodle soup ($10) or by the cucumber pickles ($4), but the cold sesame noodles ($8) were zippy and pleasant, and the steamed pork buns ($6) were also quite good, filled with lean and crispy pork belly and drizzled with hoisin sauce.

Despite the food not winning us over, we will give mad props to the tasty cocktail selection ($9). The Calamansi Sour, with vodka and sake along with ginger, jasmine tea, and honey, was lovely and refreshing, while the Shiso Julep packed a punch and was flavored with yuzu bitters. Plus the Smokey Asian is made with togarashi-infused sake — how cool is that? Finally, the Et Tu Brootai also was a neat twist on a beer cocktail meets mai tai.

Final verdict: good for the ‘hood, but still best for cocktail hour (perhaps before dining at Cascabel). Go for the booze and maybe nibble on a couple types of dumplings.