I first heard about Bear’s Summer Dumpling House Pop Up from my good pals over at We Heart Astoria earlier this week when they featured a sneak peek at the menu and concept. Intrigued by Chef Natasha’s innovative sounding recipes, I stopped by after work tonight to give them a try.
In keeping with Bear’s culinary point of view, the dumpling pop-up menu blends Ukrainian and Russian recipes with a modern twist. While the recipes are various, the dumplings themselves are of two main types. The traditional Siberian-style Pelmeni Dumplings are handmade and filled with a mix of pork and veal. Chef Natasha’s brother Sasha let me know that Siberian dumplings got their name because they were one of the few foods that could be frozen and survive long expeditions across Russia.
The traditional Ukrainian style Vareniki Dumplings at Bear are 100% vegetarian and stuffed with potato and onions. Chef Natasha let me know that the Vereniki differs from the more well known Pierogi, in that it is smaller, more delicate, with a more balanced skin to filling ratio.
The first dish I tried were the Siberian-style Pelmeni Dumplings, fried up and served with a spicy hot pepper aioli inflected with fresh dill. A tuft of peppery palate cleansing parsley was perfect to chew in between bites of this outstanding appetizer.
Next came my favorite dish of the night, also Siberian style dumplings, served in a soy and ginger glaze, topped with caviar (pictured above). While the flavor combination surprised me at first, it worked perfectly, addictively sweet and salty with a touch of lingering brine from the roe.
With room for one more serving, I tried an appetizer size portion of one of the Ukrainian style Vereniki dumplings, pillow soft and served with caramelized onions, truffle butter and parsley. This was the most familiar dish I tried, having been raised in a household where the traditional Polish pierogi was highly regarded. I exclaimed that the dish felt like home, and chef Natasha remarked that this was in fact a Ukrainian “house dish.”
As a side, I had a radish and cucumber salad served with fresh dill and Smetana, a house cured sour cream. Light and refreshing, this exquisite summer salad complemented the dumplings perfectly. There were many more dumplings to try on Bear’s pop up menu, including a Siberian style dumpling in vinegar sauce with scallions that caught my eye for next time, as well as other entrées like their well-loved country fried chicken steak and a rotating fish dish of the day.
While Bear will also continue serving its renowned Chef’s Tasting Menu, the Summer Dumpling House Pop Up menu is more casual, laid back, and, well summery. With the doors of the restaurant flung open, I sipped a Nevskyoe Russian Ale, Sasha talked about relaxing summers spent in Russia, and Bear felt like the perfect place to be as the long, hot summer days stretch out before us.
Bear – 1214 31st Ave, Astoria