Cafe Charlie’s “Mandoo Bar” is Not Bad
All that talk about dumplings yesterday has put me in the mood for… well… dumplings. A quick look in the comments proves that there are no truly spectacular dumplings in Midtown. No one place here stands out as the best. (For that you have to head to Chinatown or to the outer bouroughs.) But there are some decent options, like the gyoza at one of the Japanese ramen spots (like Men Kui Tei, or Sapporo), wontons in chili oil from Szechuan Gourmet or Wu Liang Ye, or the new dim sum bar at Yushi. And of course there is the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, which has its fans (to go along with some very vocal detractors.)
For Korean dumplings (or mandoo) there is the well known “Mandoo Bar” on 32nd btw. B’way+5th . But the other day I read something in the forums about a new mandoo bar in Cafe Charlie, an otherwise generic Midtown deli on 41st btw. Mad+5th. Clearly an investigation was in order.
Cafe Charlie’s “Mandoo Bar” has no connection to the actual “Mandoo Bar” in Koreatown- but in many ways it’s interesting they decided to call it a “mandoo bar”. I love how Korean owned delis have started offering Korean food right along side their pay by the pound salad bars and standard pre-packaged sushi. But you have to wonder whether using the word “mandoo” is going to interest the average Midtown office worker (who probably has no idea what the word mandoo even is.)
I worked on me though. I might have been interested in a “Dumpling Bar”, but “Mandoo Bar” sealed the deal. Mandoo is just the Korean word for dumpling, and they can be served boiled, steamed or pan fried. The kind you see at the actual “Mandoo Bar” in K’town are more round and plump than say a Japanese gyoza- which tend to be thinner and longer, and the mandoo skin is on the thick and chewy side (but not as thick as some of the 4 for $1 Chinatown options.) Cafe Charlie’s version are only served boiled, and they have four options to choose from: pork, shrimp, chicken & vegetable. You get 8 pieces for $7 ($6 for the vegetarian) or you go for the combo of all 4 (12 pieces for $9).
I’m all for variety, so I want with the combo. Each of the dumplings are shaped and colored differently according to filling. Square white = shrimp. Long white = pork. Square green = chicken. Long green = vegetable. (I think anyway. They all kind of look the same in the photo!)
Pork and shrimp were my favorite (obviously), but if you’re looking for something a little more healthy tasting the chicken is the way to go. The vegetarian was ok, but the filling was more vegetarian mush (think standard veggie burger) than having any real discernable vegetables. In fact, all of the dumplings appeared to have some kind of non-meat filler. It wasn’t as noticeable when they were hot, but as they cooled down the consistency became less and less enjoyable (of course, that problem is easily fixed by eating them fast!) As for the wrappers, they were fine- although some were cooked a little bit better than others. And if you like your dumplings pan fried, you probably won’t be in love with these.
All in all I still enjoyed them. (I’ve never met a dumpling I didn’t like just a little bit.) Not as good as the Mandoo Bar (although I did like their shrimp dumplings a little better than M.B.’s weird seafood dumplings), but Cafe Charlie is a little cheaper and surprisingly filling. Plus if you work in the 40s it’s a lot closer than Koreatown, and for a generic Midtown deli I’ll take these over an $8 turkey sandwich any day of the week.
Cafe Charlie, 9 E. 40th Street (btw. Mad+5th), 212-725-1420