Talk about Fantasy—the Westchester food fantasy of being able to find all the same foods as in New York City? The fantasy that someday we’ll be linked up with the subway and can zip off to Chinatown for soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai? Well, we’ve just gotten a little closer to that with Fantasy Cuisine in Hartsdale, which opened in July where Café Azzuri used to be.
A mostly Asian crowd filled the place (which is pleasant and modern) when we were there—and it’s no surprise. Soup dumplings! As good as Joe’s Shanghai’s! And classic Sichuan cuisine of the type we don’t normally get to have here either.
Pork soup dumplings.
In case you’re not familiar with these slippery creatures: soup dumplings’ tender, doughy skin contains not only a delicious pork meatball, but a portion of flavorful, fatty broth, which is chilled solid before the dumplings are steamed. By the time they reach your table, they’re liquid filled…pick up the sagging thing with chopsticks or tongs, dip it in the gingery sauce, place it in your spoon, and take a tiny bite to release the soup into the spoon. There’s a right and a wrong way to do this, so to avoid humiliation, watch this video.
The ones on offer here are pork, and crabmeat and pork. Unlike at Joe’s Shanghai (and many others), the pork and crabmeat do not seem to join forces in the filling—the crabmeat is in the form of a yellow paste placed atop the dumplings. It’s eye-catching and adds a grace note of flavor, but is not much of a departure from the regular pork version.
Do you shabu-shabu? (another cuisine you might have become familiar with in Manhattan, most famously at the restaurant of the same name, where you cook food in boiling water at your table). Come back soon when they’ve got the burners at the tables running. Meanwhile, indulge in the authentic Sichuan dishes, conveniently ranked from mild to very spicy with an arrowed scale in the menu’s margin. Coming in at #6, Dry Pot Style (we ordered it with shrimp) is served in a mini wok in a sauce hot enough to make you stand up and take notice, with whole Sichuan peppercorns floating around and serious red chili peppers mingling among tree ear and shiitake mushrooms, green and red peppers, snow peas, onions, bamboo shoots, and slices of lotus root in all their lacy glory, tasting like they’d make previous acquaintance with ginger and garlic.
Shrimp, dry pot style.
Bringing up the rear at #3, Crispy Rice Style presents those vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce, served on what the menu describes as “pillows of sizzling crispy rice”—square rice cakes that add textural interest to a blander dish. As this one is offered with tofu as a main ingredient choice, it’s a good option for vegetarians looking for something unique.
The crispy rice with tofu is perfect for vegetarians and meat-eating Asian cuisine aficionados alike.
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The vegetarian at our table also ordered a cold appetizer of tree ear mushrooms, redolent with sesame oil and mixed with onions, cilantro, and slivers of red pepper. As it happened, all the mains we chose were also heaped with tree ear (including one of the $8.95 lunch specials, black tree mushroom with fish fillet). If you’re a fan of these dark, delicate, slightly gelatinous ruffles, you will certainly find them growing on trees here. And if finding anything dim-sum-like around here gets you excited, you’ll be happy to see the “steamed” and “flaky” (read: fried) buns offered for dessert. The red-bean-filled flaky pastries have the delightful advantage of being shaped like flowers or stars but are almost too greasy for my taste. Go for the steamed custard buns, which I reveled in briefly before my daughter appropriated them.
20 N Central Ave
(914) 358-9046; fantasycuisine.com