When chef Chris Cheung opened East Wind Snack Shop in Windsor Terrace last February, he envisioned something different than the average American Chinese restaurant. Chinese food outside of New York, and the U.S. for that matter, is one of the world’s most revered cuisines, but it seems to him that this reputation has lapsed over time as dishes have been adapted for an American audience.
“Speed and quality is almost never a match,” Cheung asserts. “You can’t put those two things together and get good food. That’s why all of the dumplings are made in-house and to order in this neighborhood gem.” In his own words, “There’s a thin line. Don’t make it fresh, not good. Make it fresh, good.”
Cheung’s Taishan grandmother cooked at home a lot and when his uncle opened up a coffee shop and wanted to have someone to pass his recipes down to, he took young chef Chris under his wing. His time at Nobu, Jean-Georges and most recently at Almond Flour Bistro—where he met the general manager and business partners for East Wind Snack Shop, Albert Kang and Suzhu Mei—put him on his dumpling path. He learned the art as a dumpling apprentice of a Hong Kong dumpling master that wanted to work under the radar in chef Chris’s kitchen.
Chris practices his dumpling art at East Wind Snack shop nine hours a day, six days a week. He carefully prepares every dish in this five- by four-foot kitchen with only six electrical burners. On a typical day, he’ll make up to 1,000 dumplings.
While the most ordered dish is the pork dumpling, the menu is packed with strong dishes like the sweet chili ribs and the foie gras bad bun (they’re chef Chris’s favorites to make, too). There are plenty of vegetarian options as well, and if you go on a Tuesday, he makes vegetarian soup dumplings filled with potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic and mushrooms.
Enough from us though—these dishes can speak for themselves:
Pork Belly Gwaco Bao
Taco meets gua bao for this dish. The bao is steamed fresh daily and plated like a taco, hence the name. The pickles are made in-house with secret ingredients. I could only identify the dill, and the chef wouldn’t share the rest with me either. Chef Chris wanted to use pickling ingredients that were a mix between American- and Asian-style pickling. The gwaco is topped with hoisin sauce and crunchy garlic.
Pan-fried Juicy Pork Dumplings
Ground in-house and made from scratch every day, these dumplings drive this place. Chef Chris says that he is not trying to compete with $5 dumplings, nor does he want to. He uses Niman Ranch pork and makes all the dough and skins in-house. The special ingredients he uses for these dumplings make them so juicy that he can’t even put them face up like a normal dumpling because they will leak.
Dry-aged Beef Potstickers
The dumplings are filled with a 28-day dry-aged beef. They are made with the same dough as the pork dumpling then caramelized on both sides. Chef Chris draws his influence for this dish from Shanghai, famous for a very particular kind of dumpling.
Salt and Pepper Vegetable Spring Rolls
Cabbage, sweet potato, mushrooms and onions on the inside with a crispy wrap and topped with a fragrant Cantonese salt, which has more than 10 ingredients (if you can name five of them, you get a free dumpling). Chef Chris says that these beauties are on the menu to make his wife happy.
Foie Gras Bao
Foie gras stuffed in fresh bao bun. Similar to the gwaco, this bao is steamed in-house every day. Chef Chris has perfected this recipe throughout his career.
Happy Buddha Vegetables
Chef Chris brings some vegetables to the table that many locals haven’t had before, like Chinese broccoli, water spinach, long beans, baby bok choy shoots, king oyster mushrooms and dried shiitake mushrooms. The vegetables are topped with a fermented tofu seasoning and a crunchy mix of ginger, scallion, garlic, cilantro, sesame seeds and shallot sauce.
Sweet Chili Ribs
Slow-cooked meat isn’t very common for Chinese restaurants, but these tender ribs are brushed with a sweet chili marinade that makes them unforgettable. They are served with pickles made in-house and jasmine rice.
Hong Kong Hot Cakes
According to chef Chris, these lemon sugar hot cakes were the Cronut of 1988. People used to line up outside of this Chinese woman’s stall in Chinatown all day for one of these warm hot cakes. He will make them to go, too—I enjoyed mine on the train.