Let’s say you have this girlfriend for a few years and everything is so perfect that it feels like you’re living in that post-coital sequence from 500 Days of Summer (except with more Hall and Oates), and the next thing you know you impulse-buy an engagement ring and you’re ready to order her that baby name book on Amazon, because it was rated 4.82 stars and you can get it with Prime shipping. Then, she dumps you. You trudge along for a while like a burlap sack in the wind, and then you meet someone that looks like your ex, kind of. But you discover she’s boring and no fun at all.
And that’s exactly how we feel about Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar. When our favorite Russian dumpling place, Vostok Dumpling House, closed forever, we were devastated. So we crossed our fingers and prayed that Pel Meni could be Vostok’s replacement, making us feel the same kind of way cuddling on the couch with some takeout or eating them in-house with some beers.
And we had reason to hope: Pel Meni’s location in Capitol Hill looks like a circus - in a good way. Like if Jekyll & Hyde’s lab were a bar, not a murder den, and also served dumplings. There are light-up letters on the walls, and also skulls. It’s pretty cool.
But just like the sad non-replacement for your girlfriend, turns out Pel Meni is also a sad non-replacement for Vostok. We’d have some drinks here amidst the Rocky Horror Picture Show vibes, but that’s it - the restaurant is tiny, the dining crowd seems sleepy, and the dumplings do not stand a chance next to the late Vostok. We’d use a 1940’s Hoover vs. a 2017 Dyson vacuuming comparison here, but ironically, Pel Meni are the dumplings that actually are really good at sucking.
If you must have some pelmeni in your life, you’ll pretty much have to come here, and there are some dumplings that are decent. But is Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar getting its own Hall and Oates sequence? Nope. It’s getting a sad, introspective Temper Trap montage instead.
These are probably the best dumplings on the menu. The beef doesn’t taste like nothing, green onion adds a fresh crunch, and bacon heals all pain. It’s not Vostok’s Ivan the Delicious and never will be, but if you’re eating here, this is what you want.
No. We don’t want to live in a world where there’s a cheese sauce that tastes worse than velveeta. The potato filling needs a giant shake of salt, and we had to monsoon these dumplings in sriracha to consume. And, we definitely did not need cold shredded cheddar on top. Avoid at all costs.
A mountain of chicken dumplings with lemon butter, feta, cucumbers, red onion, Greek olives, tzatziki, and pita bread. Despite us definitely not coming here for a Greek gyro salad with many carbs on top, it’s actually tasty, and the raw vegetables make us feel better about eating boiled dough.
These sound pretty good on paper: pork and cabbage dumplings with hoisin sauce, pickled carrot and cabbage, green onions, wasabi sour cream, and wonton strips. But the alarming presence of cinnamon in the dumplings brought us back to our mall food court days when it was okay to eat Panda Express and Cinnabon in the same bite. It isn’t okay anymore.