Newly Open “Spring” Brings More Dumplings to Midtown
Dumplings, man. Dumplings. Jiaozi, baozi, howzi doing. I love ‘em. It’s hard not to. They’re one of the wonderful bits of food engineering that predate molecular gastronomy and don’t involve uber-salting/pickling/preserving as a miracle of pre-refrigerated goodness. I could down ‘em for entire meals. The major Midtown draw has been the heavily-contentious Rickshaw Dumplings truck and stand, with the occasional decent draw of xiao long bao or steamed fluffy buns at other Chinese-centric locations. You can get ‘em at Tabata. Now, though, you can get your dumplings in a hip space to hang out and have some coffee with your potstickers. Spring, which opened just this past Monday, answers the unasked question of “When can I be a dumpling hipster without venturing into the Cyclopean horror city that is Williamsburg?”
Spring’s temporary menu has a decent assortment of the basics. They don’t try to compete with generic dragon Chinese and rightfully so. Their space on 38th is barely a long block away from the glory that is Main Noodle House and a stone’s throw from Evergreen on 38th. They intersperse themselves in the dumpling and noodle soup space for now, but the idea of “Chinese tapas” is an eyebrow-raiser. The owner mentioned in passing that they weren’t quite dim sum since they stick to northern Chinese cuisine. Could be worth a shot, doubly so if the promise of “juicy buns” is more about xiao long bao and less about Kim Kardashian.
The seating area’s got a chillaxy coffeehouse look and vibe to it. Granted, it only has a modest handful of tables and chairs, they’re really trying to turn the look of the joint into a hangout spot. It’s got a couple of electric fireplaces but those don’t do much for a bit of a cool temperature. Maybe the HVAC isn’t up to spec yet but I’m sure that once more people come in, the temperature will come up. I’m not saying wear a parka into the place but you probably won’t be taking off your jacket while you wait.
Speaking of waiting – if you go for the potstickers, there’s no wait. They have combos. Nice alternative to the soup and sandwich if you aren’t sure what you want to get and are one step away from hitting the Hale & Hearty/Bread Factory/Cafe Metro/Guy & Gallard/other small crappy chain panic button. Their salad is what they call a “northern Chinese salad,” which looked like a mix of celery, carrots, mustard greens, and maybe Chinese broccoli with a radish slaw and vinegary dressing tossed together. They have Chinese-style corn chowder and hot & sour soup for the moment. Could be changing soon. The boiled dumplings are done fresh, though. I only waited about seven or eight minutes.
Here’s where I bring out the cynic. Seriously, why are you guys A) selling freeze-dried ramen when you’re trying to sell your own product? B) charging people $2 for the hot water to eat them there and stay to eat them AFTER they buy the way overpriced ramen, and C) Why would anyone even DO this if you’re going out to grab lunch? For $5 just shell out a couple dollars more and get their own freakin’ noodle soup. Or just get six dumplings. Sorry, Spring, but I’m going to ruin that line of business for you right now: walk down to 32nd and buy yourself a whole damn retail flat of Nong Shim or your college ramen of choice at H-Mart down in Koreatown. Spring, wipe those things right the hell off of your beverage rack and put in some crazy interesting Asian soft drinks.
After becoming embittered with that display, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone if they needed a drink. Wine and beer are en route as per the great and prophetic menu chalkboard. Grab some water or a book to read. Once they put a couple of easy chairs or couches in then it’s going to be a great chillax place. With a good HVAC system, I hope.
Pastries from Amy’s Bread. They don’t make it easy to go low-carb, do they? Might as well forget about it. Have a muffin with your ramen, go ahead. Or it could be a decent breakfast option if you’re so inclined.
Okay, let’s get our dumplings on. I opted for two sets of six: one set of pork & cabbage and one set of spicy pork dumplings. Each was $5.49, putting me over the $10 ML limit, but this was by my own doing. You can get 10 dumplings for $7.95 with the exception of two others as you can see above. I was quite happily stuffed after 12 dumplings, and not in a “Okay, now I’m full” kind of way – it was in a “Nice, okay, no more food please” way. $12ish after taxes does make it around $1 per dumpling, which is at the very top end of dumpling prices.
Yes, it is Rickshaw pricing, and yes, you can easily just take the N/R/Q to Canal Street and walk ten minutes to Fried Dumplings, then get 15 dumplings for $7.50 – $2.25 each way on the subway and $3 for three plates of five dumplings – which are in a totally different class from Spring’s dumplings. In a good way. I don’t wish to start a Midtown vs. Chinatown debate, because this isn’t Chinatownlunch.com, so I leave it to opinion which is the better between the apple and the orange here. If you don’t want to schlep on the subway or go to Rickshaw, now you don’t have to.
Just don’t do takeout if you have to walk too far. See all that water on the sides? That was steam from my fresh dumplings, which I foolishly walked from 38th and 5th to 34th and 9th. Eat to stay or bring a thermal bag, because all that steam left me with some modestly stuck-together dumplings.
The pork and cabbage dumplings blow most others straight the hell out of the water. When you bite into one there’s a real variance of textures – the bits of meat hold up on their own but are yielding to the bite, and the cabbage is cooked enough to exude some flavor but still has a nice airy crunch. There’s a subtle smokiness in aroma and taste. The skins are perfectly sealed and hold in the contents really well. They aren’t too think and aren’t too thin, with a nice wobbly give on the pinched-together parts. It feels like a perfect skin implementation, the likes of which your neighborhood Chinese joint should learn from (unless your neighborhood Chinese joint is Triple Eight Palace or whatnot). No risk of spillage here. They have just enough juiciness to say “I am not overdone. I am a correct dumpling.” Just a few drops of soy sauce help the experience out greatly, but I would kill someone for the black vinegar that you get with soup dumplings – it needs some bite to balance out the mellowness, smokiness, and vague sweetness in the dumplings.
The spicy pork dumplings are not in the same vein of darn near dumpling perfection as the pork and cabbage, though. The meat is a little more indistinct and is very definitely a different grade, or at least ground a lot more finely. They do well to include some carrot and scallion, but the spicy hits big and present, drowning out a lot of flavor. It tastes like the hot chili oil version of spicy, which is a pretty good complement. They aren’t really a spice-crazy-person’s ideal of blowing your brains out with pure uncut capsicum powder mixed with peanut butter or whatever passes for extreme hot sauce these days, but being one of those spice-crazy-people I enjoyed the nice piquant burn. I just wish something balanced it out more and the moderate application of soy sauce just made them soy-salty. I’d eat them if someone bought them for me but next time I’m going to go for the pork & chive. If you do get the spicy pork dumplings, my advice is to eat the other dumplings first so the spiciness doesn’t drown out their flavors.
I gotta admit, the quality of the dumplings speaks for Spring. I could eat the pork/cabbage ones by the pound and be very happy to do so, as soon as they hook me up with some Chinese black vinegar. The spicy ones will fill the bill for the pepperheads and the idea of Chinese tapas could do something for someone, but I can’t think of too much to slam them on. The place looks and feels like a nice spot to just hang out and eat dumplings, drink coffee, type pretentiously on your Macbook, or to just take a shot at lunch. Now, when they start serving liquor, that’s gonna turn it from an occasional lunch consideration to a great place for a drink and some jiaozi.
The + (What Rickshaw’s Twitter followers would say):
- These are some of the best-constructed, highest-quality and tastiest dumplings I’ve had in a while.
- I love the space – coffee and dumplings, books, and booze? Sign me up!
- It’s not too expensive!
The – (What Mosco St. old-hatters would say):
- I am not paying 79 cents for one dumpling at bulk rates!
- Stick to proper Chinese – it’s dim sum or it’s tapas, one or the other.
- Out of the way and surrounded by other options… stiff competition. Tough choice.
Spring, 36 W. 38th St. (Between 5th and 6th)