For the past several years, Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle is where I turned for refuge after bad dates or rough days at the office in Manhattan, hopping off the F train for a plate of hot dumplings, and a bag of frozen ones that I would squeeze into an oversized purse. Cold against my hip, they seemed to soothe me even before they made their way into my freezer. So the news of Lam Zhou’s shutter last week stung like pouring grain alcohol into a kitchen wound.
The narrow restaurant opened in 2007 on East Broadway, where for the last decade regulars would hear the sound of a muscle of dough when it smacked the counter as employees made hand-pulled noodles. Eater critic Robert Sietsema points to it as part of the first wave of Fujianese-owned pulled noodle places.
Pour out some chili oil for my homies ... Sad news - Lam Zhou has closed after their lease expired at the end of last month. The boiled pork dumplings with chili oil here were only THREE DOLLARS for EIGHT DUMPLINGS, yet they were still so delicious. They had a menu full of tasty dumps and noods.. all so cheap and all so good. I was only lucky enough to know this place for the last year, but I'm glad I did. They're supposedly looking for a new space, so hopefully they find one soon.. but for now, RIP Lam Zhou, and thanks so much for the delicious dumplings ... #foodfomo #nycfoodfomo #RIP #chinese #dumpling #boiled #dumplings #pork #chili #oil #spicy #tasty #delicious
Even with its pulled-noodle specialty, Lam Zhou became a destination for pork and chive dumplings with their chewy but delicate wrappers. Diners craving dumplings to stay would order off a small menu posted to the wall. Ten dumplings were served on metal plates — their only accompaniments were bottles of soy, black vinegar, Sriracha, and burning orange pools of homemade chile oil. Food and travel writer Matt Gross remembers the first time he stumbled into Lam Zhou: “Basically, I’d eaten every by-the-bag boiled dumpling in Chinatown, and as soon as I tried them at Lam Zhou, I knew I’d found the best in Manhattan.”
Those dumplings could also be purchased in bulk: A bag of 50 went for $8 a couple of years ago to $11 in the past year. When the news broke that the restaurant was closing, The Splendid Table host Francis Lam posted to Facebook that he had a total of five dumplings left in the freezer and that he might never eat them. Others mourned the fact that they had let their stash run out.
“I don’t have any in my freezer right now, which is very sad...my wife was planning to pick some up on the way home today when I broke the news to her. God damn it,” said Gross.
It wasn’t just about the dumplings: Lam Zhou personified a dwindling sort of New York restaurant that will simply let you be. “I've ... sobered up with their dumplings and eaten my feelings with their minced pork sauce so many times,” says Max Falkowitz, who co-authored The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook.
Wilson Tang, who co-owns Fung Tu and owns Nom Wah, said he didn’t believe the news when he heard it. He walked over to verify and when he saw the closed gate, he asked the owner of a nearby kitchen supply store what happened. “He ... said that [the owner’s] lease was up and he did not want to renew and just packed up and is going back to China,” Tang says. “l walked away with a smile because I actually believed him and the owner quit while he was ahead. That is very satisfying to me.”
There are rumors that the team is looking for a new space, which we all want to believe. And even if the original owners don’t, Tang says he can envision a Lam Zhao II, launched by “another food entrepreneur, who sees an opportunity.” It’s hard to imagine it would be the same.
I, and many others, will have to start a new round of dumpling hunting. Ruth Reichl has pointed towards her and Calvin Trillin’s favorite, Super Taste over on Eldridge Street: I’ll start there, but if anyone has a bag of Lam Zhou dumplings in the freezer and is interested in selling them to me on the black market, you can reach me here.
Devra Ferst is a Brooklyn-based freelancer writer and editor with bylines in Bon Appetit, Vogue, NPR, and elsewhere.