Vanessa’s Dumpling House

Whether you’re suffering boredom on a Saturday night or starvation due to study sessions, the one food that makes all icky feelings go away is dumplings. One restless summer evening, I was stuck in the loop of lounging in front of the air-conditioning and Netflix, when a friend suggested that we get something to eat. Bear does need to get out more, I thought. And so a simple proposition turned into a magical adventure into the land of Vanessa’s Dumpling House, where good food and low prices combine into the quintessential dumpling experience.

vanessa's (entrance)

Vanessa’s Dumpling House has three locations, two of which are in Manhattan and the remaining one is in Brooklyn. We visited the Chinatown location, on Eldridge Street between Broome and Grand Streets. It’s a short walk from the Grand Street station on the B and D trains, as well as the Delancey Street station on the F train, and the Essex Street station on the J, M, and Z trains.

vanessa's (counter)

Vanessa’s Dumpling House is small, but bustling—as you would expect a good dumpling house to be. The establishment is long and narrow and not quite large enough for the crowd that was there. One side has the counter and the kitchen and the other side is lined with tables.

vanessa's (ordering menu)

A large menu looms over the ordering counter, but most customers seemed to already know what they want. I asked about the ingredients, and they said no problem, no dairy or peanuts in my food. I couldn’t decide between wonton noodle soup and roast pork noodle soup, but the woman taking my order said no problem, I can combine them and add a can of orange soda for only six dollars! After several posh dinners and overpriced brunches in the past, Bear and I are always happy to save money on a great meal.

It was basically impossible to snag a table on this particular summer weekend night, but it was warm enough to find a closed storefront nearby to eat. People around us seemed unfazed, something that suggests that this happens often. This would be a good time to start carrying around my own collapsible folding chair.

vanessa's (food)

Now that the weather is getting brisker, I don’t know if I would still spend my meal outside, but that hot soup really warms you up fast. The main problem of eating on the sidewalk was that the picture quality was very poor. I assure you, it looked like normal noodle soup. (Note: The conversation during the meal largely focused on the poor food photography of this blog, so we will be making every effort to improve with our limited technology. This post admittedly has the worst photography of recent adventures.)

vanessa's (bear)

I had an enormous serving of soup and every bit of it was delicious. The roast pork was not cut into small enough pieces to make the eating of it dainty, but when you’re sitting with a teddy bear and wrestling a plastic container with chopsticks on the sidewalk of Chinatown while your friend laughs on in mockery, eating prettily will not help you very much. The greens were particularly tender, which is crucial to a good noodle soup, especially in contrast to the thick pork and crunchy bean sprouts. The wontons were so freshly cooked that I burnt my tongue on every one of them (it was worth it).

vanessa's (dessert from babycakes)

On top of all the deliciousness, Vanessa’s Dumpling House is just a few short blocks away from Babycakes NYC, where a cookie sandwich—the dumpling of desserts—polished off a wonderful meal!

The nights are getting longer and colder as we approach the heart of autumn, a season during which dumplings are increasingly essential as the temperatures drop. As budgets also drop, Vanessa’s is a great place to pick up those crucial dumplings and soup at a wallet-friendly price! All you need to bring is a bear and a chair!


As you can probably tell by the embarrassingly long hiatus, the fall semester has fallen upon Morningside Heights, meaning shorter days and longer nights—most of which are spent in the library. Nostalgia for another summer gone by lingers among the books and papers, as the Brunch with Bear team has reluctantly begun to wear scarves. One of the things we miss most about the summertime is all that delicious barbecue (Bear-becue?), but luckily, Koreatown has it all year round!

If you’re picturing charred hot dogs and piles of watermelon, then Korean barbecue (KBBQ) will be quite a shock to your senses. Instead picture sizzling hibachi grills with thinly sliced, expertly marinated meats, and stone hot pots filled with rice, veggies, and eggs. While every restaurant has its specialties and variations, Kunjip is a great place to start with the basics.

Kunjip is located in the heart of Manhattan’s Koreatown, on 32nd Street between Broadway and 5th Avenues. The closest train stations are any of the 34th Street stations on the 1, 2, 3, B, D, F, M, N, Q, or R trains, or the 33rd Street station on the 6 train. While there are many restaurants on 32nd Street, Kunjip is often very crowded and has a line, due to its quality service and hip atmosphere.

kunjip (restaurant)

Efficiency seems to be key to the operations of Kunjip. The last time we went, it was particularly crowded, so we looked at menus while in line so that we could order as quickly as possible, and all around us, tables were filled and cleared in record time. Getting into Kunjip on a crowded night is like getting onto a Disneyland ride on a Saturday: the line is longer than you want it to be, but you can hear how much fun everyone on the ride is having and the closer you get to the front, the more excited you are about the whole prospect. The atmosphere was very energetic (i.e. loud) and smells of spicy food and sounds of large parties waft everywhere.

Our waiter was really enthusiastic, and immediately wrote down my allergies to dairy and peanuts. “No problem,” he said, “we don’t use any of that stuff here.” Talk about easy! He had a server bring us water right away and repeated our orders to make sure he got it right the first time (another efficiency booster).

kunjip (small plates)

Part of KBBQ is the little side dishes that you get as small plates, like Korean version of tapas. While most KBBQ is shared family-style, it is also acceptable to order your own dish, particularly when with friends who are not used to family-style dining or whom you don’t know very well.

kunjip (bibimbap)

While I’m partial to any chance to order bulgogi, a Korean barbecued beef, or kalbi, Korean short ribs, this particular time I settled for a hot bibimbap, which is a stone hot pot filled with rice, veggies, meat, and egg, and you stir it to create a sort of fried rice dish. Bibimbap is a lot of fun, because the egg cooks itself on the stone bowl, and it’s also a good way to remember to eat your vegetables!

kunjip (tofu soup)

My order also came with a tofu soup, which was not my favorite thing, but it could have been because I was so full from my rice dish. I took half of it home in a little container for lunch the next day. Like all fried rice, it heated well in the microwave.

The most difficult part of dining at Kunjip was probably splitting the check. Fair warning: KBBQ is usually on the more expensive ends of dinners, but with the right people, worth the extra few dollars. We did an amalgam of cash and cards, but our hostess seemed accustomed to the assortment, probably due to the large crowds of young people.

kunjip (bear)

Kunjip is a great place for the New York college scene, as most of the clientele seemed to be students and young professionals. Kunjip is close to several karaoke bars, which probably heightens its appeal for this crowd. Everyone seemed comfortable squished into close quarters with other parties. Several people in our party during this last trip to Kunjip were new to the idea of KBBQ, and seemed skeptical at first but then were able to pick it up quite easily. An open mind goes a long way when trying new cuisines, and everyone enjoyed their food.

As summer fades fast into fall, the Brunch with Bear team is happy to have a place that will still have warm and freshly grilled barbecue for us, even when the temperatures start to dip into sweater weather! We look forward to the new school year with high hopes for good friends and good food!

The Ice Cream Shop Formerly Known As Lula’s Sweet Apothecary

Ah, summer, the perfect confection of lemonade stands, sunsets over the ocean, and new superhero movies. Nothing says summer like sitting on the porch and eating an entire carton of ice cream—unless you can’t eat ice cream, that is. Those of you in the dairy-phobic cohort will recognize the scene well: sitting around in a friend’s living room, someone suggests that you all go on an adventure, and suddenly you’re at the ice cream shop, protesting to everyone that, really, you’re okay, and you ate before, and don’t apologize, and please, just stop talking and eat the ice cream. (Never mind that it’s blisteringly hot and you’re wondering if it would be weird to ask for just a cup of ice. Or maybe just a cone filled with gummy bears.) Well, pals, welcome to the future, where ice cream sans cream is now locally (relatively) available!

Following the Barnard Dining Hall and Afterwards St. Luke’s Hospital Incident in freshman year, a friend from an old summer program came to visit the city and surprised me with my very first ice cream cone at age eighteen, dragging me to Alphabet City with smug secrecy. Then known as Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, the ice cream shop was totally vegan and dairy-allergy friendly. Made with non-dairy milk, like soy or cashew, it is also peanut-free (provided you don’t get the peanut butter flavor). And so I sat in the middle of a new city, clutching a sugar cone and staring in awe of the vanilla and raspberry double-scoop melting in my hand. Fast forward a year later, and that outing, combined with a trip to Babycakes NYC, inspired a food allergy blog and more ice cream outings.

lula's (storefront)

Today, Lula’s Sweet Apothecary has apparently undergone a series of management changes leaving it a nameless establishment on 6th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B, but remains a little oasis of ice cream. The ice cream shop formerly known as Lula’s Sweet Apothecary is a leisurely walk from the 1st Avenue stop on the L train, or the 2nd Avenue stop on the F train. If you’re making an evening out of it, it’s also close to the Westville‘s Westville East location. Because Lula’s has no sign or awning, it is a little difficult to identify for you but trust that you will know it when you get there. Here we include a picture of its nondescript, but welcoming storefront. (It’s also still listed as “Lula’s Sweet Apothecary” on Google Maps.)

lula's (counter)

Just a few weeks ago, the Brunch with Bear team hopped over from a sweaty and dehydrated day in Williamsburg for another delicious ice cream Sunday. The counter is small, but the tasting spoons are real metal spoons instead of that plastic nonsense, allowing for a better tasting experience that is also eco-friendly!

lula's (cone)

Though every flavor we sampled was delicious, I settled on raspberry and cookies and cream, both of which I’ve had before, and the combination was an inspired choice. The raspberry scoop was delightful both in its rich color and tart flavor, while the cookies and cream scoop had Oreo-like chunks that were like dessert to the dessert itself! Packed up in a sugar cone, the ice cream was a decadent way to polish off a Sunday afternoon! Another nice thing is that the shop has cups and a large cooler for water, which was perfect for the muggy and sluggish weather.

lula's (pints)

Although gourmet ice cream is often more expensive than Trader Joe’s, let us remember that ice cream in general is outrageously expensive in NYC, where a pint can easily be over $15. In addition, an extra dollar for safe ice cream is a small price to pay, compared to the thousands that I might spend at the hospital later, if a regular dairy ice cream store didn’t properly wash their scoops or carefully separate their flavors. In addition, the staff at this store is friendly and informative, and I noticed they were very nice about giving new cones to the two customers after us, who catastrophically dropped their ice cream on the ground in a bout of clumsy and unfortunate circumstances!

lula's (bear)

The shop seems to attract the Young and Hipster scene that has populated Alphabet City for decades, due to its vegan offerings, but also the local parents and children looking for a cold treat on a hot day. The ice cream shop formerly known as Lula’s Sweet Apothecary welcomes everyone, even bears!

As the summer days start drifting away, it’s important to remember what summer is really about: good friends, warm air, and ice cream. Take some time to enjoy a last few ice cream Sundays before summer is over!

Bear Goes to Brooklyn: Crème de la Crème

One of the best things about summer vacation is the lack of homework, a lack which allows for longer forays into the city for food! Another great thing about summer is that it’s very hot, and gives you an excuse to eat lots of ice cream. Behold, the Brooklyn Flea Market Crème de la Crème Annual Ice Cream Bonanza, also known as the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and clearly named for Edgar’s concoctions in the inspiring 1970 feature film The Aristocats.

creme de la creme (sign)

According to the Brooklyn Flea Market’s website, this annual ice cream festival is a the result of Ronald Reagan’s declaration that July be National Ice Cream Month. A smart man, this Reagan. In its fourth year (the festival began in 2011), the Crème de la Crème features a dozen vendors with a multitude of flavors at both the Fort Greene and the Williamsburg locations.

creme de la creme (info sign)

One of the first things people say to me when they discover that I have a food allergy is, “Wait. So you can’t have ice cream?” They proceed to make assumptions, and then ask several more times just in case the answer is different after the seventh time, and then conclude that I live the worst existence in the universe. Welcome to the twenty-first century, pals, where non-dairy ice cream is finally a reality! Thanks to Alchemy Creamery, People’s Pops, Steve’s Ice Cream and other establishments, a non-crème de la crème day was afoot!

creme de la creme (crowd)

The Williamsburg location for the Brooklyn Flea Market is at 50 Kent Street, between 11th and 12th street and just a short walk from the Bedford Avenue station on the L train. They are open every sunday from 10 AM-5PM, and make sure to give yourself plenty of time to sample all the delicious vendors!

creme de la creme (takumi taco sign)

The Williamsburg market has a number of food vendors, but it was too hot to eat a lot of “real” (read: warm) food, so I only sampled the shrimp tacos from the Asian-fusion-inspired Takumi Taco.

creme de la creme (takumi taco menu)

The man running the booth made a personal phone call to the manager and discovered that the guacamole had sour cream, so a taco sans the guac was a perfect light meal for a hot day. It was spicy, with corn salsa and chips that gave it a succulent and refreshing texture. Tacos are awesome finger food, so it kept me busy while my friends wanted to shop around.

creme de la creme (takumi taco tacos)

Other establishments include beef brisket sandwiches (though the bread has dairy), Mexican tacos, rice bowls, etc. The next time I’m in Brooklyn for lunch, the Williamsburg market might be my first stop!

Onto the good stuff, though, right? Alchemy Creamery, an all-non-dairy establishment, had a number of flavors available with a number of toppings.

creme de la creme (alchemy creamery flavors)

In addition, they had their signature ice cream “push-pops, which is basically a scoop of ice cream with toppings already inside a plastic box with a handle. Very convenient for wandering through the various vendors and not dripping all over a $350 vintage leather attaché or a set of artfully mismatched antique spoons.

creme de la creme (alchemy creamery push pop bear)

Though the chocolate chips and the cookie crumbs in my strawberry push-pop were sweet and crumbly, the ice cream itself was not so potent. I could tell by the faint pink color and a hint of flavor that I had indeed gotten the strawberry, but as a strawberry lover, the flavor profile didn’t match up as much as I would have liked.

creme de la creme (alchemy creamery push pop)

In the case of Alchemy Creamery, it was as if making ice cream without the cream meant just making ice. The consistency was fine, but the diluted flavors were not great for more than staying somewhat hydrated. If I was looking for flavored ice, however, I would have preferred to stick with People’s Pops.

creme de la creme (people's pops sign)

People’s Pops is a regular establishment at the Williamsburg location, and they specialize in exotic flavors of popsicles and shave ice.

creme de la creme (people's pops menu) I tried a small cup of the plum orange blossom shave ice, and I can only say two words: spoon straws. That is what People’s Pops are missing. Nothing is better for a hot day than eating a cup of ice, but I would have loved a spoon straw to distribute the flavored syrup in a time-tested, 7-11 fashion.

creme de la creme (people's pops bear)

Holding the cup was also a great way to cool down, although it was a little drippy after a while. The plum orange blossom flavor was very sweet and maybe not as subtle as it should be, but I think cold temperatures have a way of dulling flavors a bit. It was also a beautiful color, which is not necessarily the point of eating something, but makes it all the more delicious. I definitely recommend the People’s Pops as the perfect dessert-first option to a lunch at the market.

creme de la creme (steve's flavors)

And finally, for the true crème de la crème. I come from a family particularly fond of food, most especially dessert. We are known to sit and reminisce about a particular cookie or cake for years, and I think I have found one to add to the list. Imagine the tingly feeling of delight that a scoop of cinnamon coffee ice cream and blueberry preserves sandwiched in a cinnamon sugar doughnut, all allergy-friendly and all amazing, can bring you in the midst of a hot, sweaty, cranky afternoon. Steve’s Ice Cream partnered with Babycakes NYC to create the most perfect ice cream sandwich I have ever encountered in my entire life, and I think my greatest regret is not getting another one.

creme de la creme (steve's bear)

It is rare that I fall quite so in love with a food, but I can’t wait to recreate it at home with some freshly baked cinnamon sugar doughnuts and a pint of Steve’s from the nearest Whole Foods.

creme de la creme (steve's ice cream sandwich)

I have often said that it is a dream of mine to walk into a bakery and order anything that I want, and while I still love that image, I would like to add an allergy-friendly ice cream shop next door. After all, the crème de la crème of dessert wouldn’t be complete without a perfect scoop on a hot day.

creme de la creme (steve's ice cream sandwich bear)

Lazy summer Sundays are excellent for wandering around, eating ice cream, and watching hipsters and the Williamsburg flea market is the ideal location for all three. Though, as most things are in the foodie game, everything at the market is irksomely overpriced and though it was a little warm for a fluffball like Bear, the novelty of enjoying ice cream on a hot day is still one too rare for me to pass up. Until the next Crème de La Crème National Ice Cream Day Bonanza, I will be dreaming of desserts gone by.

Ivan Ramen

After an early infatuation with Italian restaurants, it would seem that Brunch with Bear is becoming increasingly obsessed with ramen. Ramen, besides being excellent comfort food, is a great food for the summer. Warm, spicy, and satisfying, ramen has all the qualities of a successful summer evening. Last week was my friend’s birthday and he had originally wanted to go to Totto Ramen. After attempting to wait out the crazy line for about ten minutes, we found our way towards the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, a hip and happening establishment amidst the other hip and happening establishments of Gotham West Market.

Gotham West Market is located on 11th Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, just a short walk from the 42nd Street Station on the A, C, and E trains. You can take pretty much any of the trains into Times Square, but the market is far on the west side, so I suggest crossing over to the exits by the A, C, and E trains in order to be closer, or catching a crosstown bus. On a breezy summer night, it was a perfect walk away from the nauseating bustle of Times Square.

ivan ramen (entrance)

Gotham West Market is similar to Chelsea Market, where the Brunch with Bear team visited Friedman’s Lunch, in that hipster food hall way. Picture an upscale NYC food court, and that’s the general idea. They have multiple vendors within a single communal dining hall, with individual bars and counters for each purveyor. Ivan Ramen is very close to the entrance, and we were lucky to find a much shorter line than Totto, but with equally crowded tables. The employee on the phone had encouraged us with her friendly demeanor and enthusiasm.

ivan ramen (bar)

Ivan Ramen has all the standard shoyu and shio ramen choices, but I opted for the more unique roasted garlic mazemen, considering how I order shoyu at almost every ramen place. Add-ons are an additional cost, but ramen isn’t really ramen until you add an egg, so I was willing to fork over the extra dollar or whatever. Our server was really nice—potentially the same employee from our phone call—and was able to make suggestions and give information about the different dishes without being pushy or rushed, even when there was a long line forming. She checked and double-checked about the allergies, and it seemed like all the servers knew that the ramen was dairy-free and peanut-free.

ivan ramen (counter)

Ivan Ramen wraps the spoon and chopsticks in a darling wrapper, which are served with your perfect bowl of ramen on a silver platter. Like Starbucks, you pick up the tray when you hear your name, and attempt to find an empty couple of chairs at the communal benches. Water is available at a water station, but beware, the bottles that you can fill for your table are slightly top-heavy. Not saying that someone knocked over an entire, mostly-full bottle of water, but hypothetically, if he did, it was a really messy and soggy accident and it’s really hard to pour water when you have paws without opposable thumbs and the bottle is taller than you.

ivan ramen (tray)

Imagine a fragrant and hearty hug, one that envelopes you in a comforting cloud and makes you feel secure and warm. That is what I imagine garlic to be in the food world, and this garlic mazemen was like eating one of those hugs. The scallions on top were sprinkled with the roasted garlic, and the soup, though less than the shoyu, was intensely flavorful and complementary to the main garlic vibes. Roast pork in ramen is usually sliced thinly, but this pork was thick and juicy, and the soft-boiled egg added a silky texture that really brought the whole meal together.

ivan ramen (ramen)

As with all cuisines, there are restaurants that do well with traditional dishes, and others that do well by “reinventing” foods, or basically adding weird things to them to make them good in a weird way. Ivan Ramen did a nice shoyu and I’d be interested to sample some other classic dishes, but I think they get major flair points for this particular creation.

ivan ramen (bear)

Gotham West Market is a great place for a casual meal, and I can see it being a welcoming and friendly atmosphere at any time of the day. The majority of the other customers were definitely young professionals, out for a leisurely bite on a Friday night. Ivan Ramen itself was immensely popular, and we were able to enjoy our New York moment. The one complaint is that the prices are a little expensive comparative to the portion size, considering they charge extra for things like eggs and chili oil, and they could have easily put twice as many noodles in the bowl. However, for a special occasion and a real treat, the garlic mazemen was worth the extra dollars, as it made for a memorable and enjoyable evening.

Though I’m still partial to the enormous portions of Totto Ramen and the breathing space of Jin Ramen, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop was a pleasant surprise. I’d be excited to check out their flagship location in the East Village, but the Slurp Shop in Hell’s Kitchen is the perfect place to grab a bite before seeing a show, catching a movie, or people-watching in Bryant Park!