I’ve never written a restaurant review. Our recent experience of dim sum at RedFarm inspired me to start sharing our restaurant experiences with you. If I can get you to experience what is probably the best dim sum I’ve ever had, I’ve done my job.
You might be surprised to find restaurant reviews on my site. I usually espouse the virtues of cooking meals at home, but here’s my perspective: my dedication to cooking at home is fueled in part by the pleasure I get from great restaurant experiences.
Food is art for all the senses.
Going to a great restaurant is like being inspired by great works of art at a museum. You can look at pictures of the same pieces of art online, just as you can cook meals at home from cookbooks authored by great chefs. But both are just approximations of the real experiences.
Last weekend, we experienced the fine art of Chinese-American cuisine, both artistic and delicious, at RedFarm on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Although my in-laws have lived in this area since before RedFarm opened, they had never visited this dangerously-close location. We were glad they saved this experience for our visit.
Please excuse the messy photos: this food was under consumption.
I had approximately 2.5 seconds to snap each one of these photos with an iPhone before lunch was devoured. We had worked up an appetite that morning visiting the Central Park Zoo and wandering across Sheep Meadow. This was a lot of input for our 3-year-old, who by this time was quite tired, and ready to melt down if he didn’t get a glass of milk right now. I took these photos while feeding myself and this little guy. Judge accordingly!
Dim sum delights
To the delight of my dim sum-loving husband, RedFarm’s starters, salads, and dumplings are all sized to share, and conveniently marked with the number of pieces on the menu. Our friendly server helped us decide how many plates to order for the group. We inquired about noodle and rice dishes suitable for the kiddo, and chose Long-Life Noodles with Mushrooms. They arrived first (right after the milk, thank goodness!) and did not disappoint.
We enjoyed the simple and earthy sauté of long noodles, a variety of mushrooms including chanterelles and shiitake (there may have been different mushrooms that I missed), topped with thinly-sliced sugar snap peas. This was our only dish that was not considered a small plate or dim sum, and it was worth ordering. The kiddo loved it, as long as we could help him with the very long noodles.
Next up in the dim sum parade: Spicy Crispy Beef.
Spicy Crispy Beef had all of the best qualities of any quintessential sticky-sauced, crisp-fried Americanized Chinese dish, and was executed with exacting care. The beef was tender and delicate, yet crackling crisp. The slightly-spicy, sticky-sweet sauce was hot and flavorful. The dish was topped with scallions, red onion, and a refreshing garnish of julienned green apple. If you like this type of Chinese-American cuisine, consider this dish a required part of your order.
But the winner of this first round of dishes was unanimous: Katz’s Pastrami Egg Roll.
Katz’s Pastrami Egg Rolls are the combination you never knew you needed, and will never forget. Legendary pastrami from Katz’s Delicatessen is stir-fried with vegetables, rolled into egg roll skins, deep fried in soybean oil, then refrigerated until you order them. At this point, they’re dipped into a special tempura batter and fried to hot, golden perfection. The accompanying honey mustard sauce is the perfect foil for all that richness.
Chef and Owner Ed Schoenfeld himself describes how RedFarm makes Katz’s Pastrami Egg Rolls in this video.
I think there are half-sour pickles in there, folks. Pickles. In an egg roll. I need a minute.
And they don’t just use any pastrami – this is the world’s best. (I will accept no arguments.) In fact, RedFarm is the largest single purchaser of Katz’s Pastrami. Put in good, get out good.
Next time we visit New York, we just might have to take a taxi directly here from the airport, and welcome ourselves with these egg rolls and a cold drink.
Refreshing, inspiring coolers
RedFarm has some spectacularly refreshing non-alcoholic fizzy drinks. We tried the Thai Basil Lemonade and the Thyme and Cucumber Cooler. Both were well-balanced, not too sweet, and lightly fizzy. I love herbaceous additions to cocktails and drinks, and I’ve been inspired to create my own drink combinations with sparkling water, fruit, and herbs at home. (Great use for that pineapple sage we have, maybe?)
Next time, I’m going to try the Blackberry Ginger-Lime Soda and the Jasmine Peach Iced Tea. One for each hand!
The Main Event: Dumplings!
Our second round of dim sum was all about dumplings. I have been known to say “you had me at dumplings” when deciding on a restaurant. I’m also a fan of most food that’s served in little pockets. Dumplings are the heart of a great dim sum experience, and here are the ones we tried:
“Pac Man” Shrimp Dumplings
“Pac Man” Shrimp Dumplings are four varieties of shrimp dumplings shaped like the four ghosts from the iconic 80s arcade game. “Pac Man” is a tempura sweet potato – my favorite tempura veg. I chose the lobster and shrimp dumpling, and it was meaty and delicious. (Insert Pac Man’s ghost-gobbling sound here.)
My only complaint about this presentation is that offering one each of a variety of dumplings makes it difficult to share the dish and try all of the flavors. The obvious solution is to have each diner order their own, which is probably what we’ll do next time.
Pork & Crab Soup Dumplings
There’s only one thing that’s cuter than food in pockets, and that’s tiny individual serving pieces. It’s selfishly satisfying to be served a little dish of something that is all for you. RedFarm’s soup dumplings were served in these individual bamboo steamers, capped off by a little goji berry.
If you’ve never experienced soup dumplings, they are a treat. The dumplings are filled with a jellied consommé and usually a meat or vegetable ball, then steamed until the consommé becomes liquid like soup. You place one on a spoon, pierce the top carefully with a chopstick, and drink the soup, then eat the rest of the dumpling.
RedFarm’s soup dumplings are large, and I had difficulty eating the whole dumpling in one bite. Oh, I did manage to eat it though, and I was happy to linger over this dish a little longer. The broth was rich and balanced, and the pork and crab filling was remarkably light – not dense and doughy like a lot of soup dumpling fillings. They were the best soup dumplings I’ve had.
Three Color Vegetable Dumplings
The presentation on these vegan vegetable dumplings is more beautiful than this photo can convey. The dumplings were served in a steamer along with a sauce that, unfortunately, I did not try. I thought the vegetables were broccoli, mushrooms, and sweet potato, although the orange veg might be carrot. These dumplings were good, but not great. I’ll bet the experience would have been better with their complementary sauce.
Crispy Duck and Crab Dumplings
The final dumpling I enjoyed, and was happy to end the meal with, was a Crispy Duck and Crab Dumpling. Four of these little animated dumplings were arranged on the plate around a Thai vegetable curry. The “tails” of the dumplings were fashioned from a crab claw, making it easy to eat the crisp dumpling like a lollipop.
Tempura battered and crispy, these rich and complex dumplings were loaded with large chunks of crab – including the meat inside the claw, which was fun to pick at after eating the rest of the dumpling. The accompanying curry was probably made with duck stock, which seems to improve just about everything. I was sold as soon as I found a Kaffir lime leaf in it. There were some unusual vegetables in here too: tomatoes, broccoli… okra? I could have made a satisfying meal of this dish alone.
Even this little guy tried to sneak a bite.
If you are looking for imaginative Chinese-American cuisine, RedFarm is worth a visit. Their Upper West Side location is just south of 77th on Broadway. They don’t take reservations for parties smaller than 8 people, and sidewalk seating is available.