One of my favorite places to visit in Manhattan after work is the Eldridge Street Dumpling House, which is located on Eldridge Street (duh?) in Chinatown. The Dumpling House used to be a little hole-in-the-wall place where you had to almost fight to get your order placed. There was no place to eat, except for a small counter with stools, so I would exit and enjoy my meals in a nearby park (and watch the squirrels beg, more on that later), or carry it home on the bus and watch the reactions from other commuters to the vapors emanating from the bags. Recently the Dumpling House has undergone an extensive renovation which more than doubled its size, added tables, and even a numbered ordering system. It still gets pretty hectic, but is much more pleasant a visit. The price of the dumplings went up slightly, but is still an incredible bargain at four-for-a-dollar! Other items of interest are the stuffed sesame pancakes, and the soups, specifically the hot-and-sour which is the best I have found.
This last visit, I ordered 4 dumplings, a roast pork sesame pancake, and an order of kimchi. I have developed a liking for kimchi ever since being introduced to it by a former employer at one of his favorite Korean restaurants. This kimchi was a bit watery, but had an interesting sweet-hot flavor. As I worked through the top layer I ran in to something white, and wedge-shaped. At first I was thinking cucumber, but as I bit into the mystery chunk, I couldn't mistake the texture. It was an apple slice. There were five or six total in the whole container, and it added a nice twist to a classic dish. The dumplings and the pancake were excellent as always.
Which leads me to the squirrels. Back in the fall, I grabbed some dumplings-to-go one night and looked on Google Maps on my Blackberry for a park somewhere nearby to sit and eat them. Seward Park looked good. It was at the corner of Essex and Canal, and next to the East Broadway "F" station. I walked down and found that the main portion of the park closes at dusk, but there were stone benches surrounding it. I sat down and started to eat.
I noticed some wildlife scurrying around at a distance, and didn't think much of it. There was a little bit of light from the streetlights. Just enough to see my food, and the scurrying squirrels. As I ate the squirrels got a little braver and came closer. I figured they were used to people throwing bits of bread from sandwiches and other things, so they expected me to drop something. As I continued to eat, and the squirrels got even closer, I noticed that they were a little smaller than the grey squirrels I was used to from upstate. They were more the size of a red squirrel. Then they started to come right up to me. I was about to see if they liked dumpling dough when I noticed that they all had hairless tails! I gathered what was left of my food and left quickly, a little creeped out, but mostly laughing at my "city squirrels".
Since that night, I stick to better lighted areas, and I have also gotten new glasses.