Dumplings have a couple of big things going against them in the age of Instagram, according to Anna Ho, co-owner of the new modern dim sum bar Carma East (507 E. Sixth St.). To people unfamiliar with the art and tradition of dumplings, they all look the same, and there’s no way to know what’s inside until you bite into them.
“Now restaurants can stay in business even though they’re not very good because of Instagram,” she laments in the tone of someone who’s lost a favorite spot to the churn of the city. So when they were thinking of a concept to set Carma East apart, they thought, why not innovate the dumpling?
They started by making the dim sum experience more approachable, taking it out of Chinatown into the East Village, losing the carts and adding a bar serving wine and beer along with a list of about 10 sakes.
Ho describes their signature creation, dubbed the Laughing Dumpling, as “very honest.” The traditional dough pocket has been transformed into a star-shaped bowl, open at the top for you to peruse all of the fresh ingredients and smell the intense flavors of their sauces. No spice is held back here for delicate western palates, just one of the ways the Carma team is challenging the expectation of bland, oily dishes in Chinese restaurants.
I didn’t notice there wasn’t any of my beloved dumpling dipping sauce until I’d popped the perfect bite of sauteed black pepper fish in my mouth. They’re as juicy as the soup dumplings — the menu was created by the head chef at Taiwan’s renowned xiao long bao chain Din Tai Fung — where unusual ingredients like foie gras and truffle make appearances.
Or try one of their elevated takes on classics like kung pao chicken from the whimsical menu with headings like Comfort Food to Go with Other Comfort Food and Tapas to Get Drunk With. Carma East makes an easy case for starting your night with Chinese food, rather than ending with it.