By Ava Stryker-Robbins
When Vanessa Weng immigrated from Beijing, China, to New York City, she quickly noticed a peculiarity. In Chinatown, a neighborhood with robust offerings of many Chinese dishes, she could not find a restaurant that served dumplings. So, she opened her own. Her first shop launched in 1999 on Eldridge Street, and eventually began to gain local traction. Since then, with the help of her sisters and Neal Glaser, her business partner, and his family, Vanessa’s Dumplings has grown to comprise eight locations throughout New York City and New Jersey, including one on Amsterdam Avenue (81st-82nd), which opened in 2021.
The chain produces 15,000-20,000 dumplings each day in their central commissary, located in Long Island City, Glaser told West Side Rag in a phone interview. From there, the dumplings are carried in refrigerated trucks and distributed to each location.
Vanessa’s offers seven types of dumplings, including: chive and pork, pork and cabbage, shrimp, spicy beef, a vegan iteration of spicy beef using plant-based products, basil and chicken, and vegetable. All options can be ordered pan fried or boiled. Vanessa’s also serves other dishes, including noodles, sesame-pancake sandwiches, soups, and buns.
The basil and chicken dumplings are delicious. The juicy, herb-infused flavor of the filling is enhanced by the salty dipping sauce. Each order comes with eight dumplings (which Vanessa says is a lucky number), and each tastes better than the last. In addition to the soy-based dipping sauce, they make their own hot oils by chopping cilantro and garlic daily. Vanessa’s Dumplings “adds elements of what the public is looking for without taking too much away from the Beijing family recipes,” Glaser said.
The basil and chicken dumplings were initially created for people who do not eat pork. The original recipe included chicken and mushrooms, but was later enhanced with basil. Glaser notes that all dumpling are color coded, both for the convenience of the chefs and aesthetics, using pigmented vegetables that are liquified in blenders “as big as you and me.”
Glaser, who had a 45-year career in hospital administration before this second career, said “it is easier to manage hospitals than a family of restaurants. There is a lot of planning and troubleshooting that truly takes a team.”
He loves it nonetheless. “I’m proud to have the opportunity to work with Vanessa to grow a baby,” Glaser said. “We give our heart and soul to the business. We’re very proud of what we built and we know that it takes a lot of work to continue to preserve the name, the reputation, and the quality. Because no one cares like an owner cares.”
Glaser and Weng opened the location on the Upper West Side to help ensure that more parts of the city could have access to their food. The quality is the same at each location.
The Basil and Chicken dumplings cost $7.48. Additionally, 25-piece frozen bags of dumplings can be purchased in-store for $16.50.
The Dish: Basil and Chicken Dumplings
The Restaurant: Vanessa’s Dumplings (452 Amsterdam Avenue between 81st and 82nd Streets)
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