310 Bedford Avenue (718-218-8809)
2015 was a record-breaking year in NYC, but for reasons a newly arrived Californian couldn’t bear to hear: “Coldest winter in over 100 years”; “Siberian Express.” My first snowfall was to be one for the ages, quite literally. Meanwhile, back at home, the West Coast sun throbbed, reaching unprecedented highs. I had traded one extreme for the other.
This shift slowly dawned on me over the next several months as I trekked in my ill-suited pea coat from my apartment to FWF headquarters in midtown, slogging through the slush, helplessly fending off the wind chill. The physical world tested my wits, but so did everything else during that period of my life: a furious work tempo I was unaccustomed to; exhaustion from weight loss and insomnia; and a deep sense of loneliness that FaceTime couldn’t cure. I crawled into bed each night feeling like a former shell of myself, washed up before I had even begun.
Desperate to snap out of this spell, I knew I needed a routine, something consistent to offset my uneasiness. That’s how I came upon Vanessa’s, a franchise dumpling restaurant a few blocks away from my shoebox apartment. For $3.75, I could have my fill of eight boiled pork and chive dumplings. Rather, I could crush
them, spike them with sambal, or drown them in tangy vinegar. It felt like I had cheated the system, deriving so much happiness—however brief it was—for so little, in a town full of rip-offs. It was my own little triumph at a time when victories were scarce.
The only soul-soothing warmth I could rely on was not the central heat in my apartment, but rather the penicillin sloshing around in those dumplings. So I ordered them consecutively, for weeks at a time, savoring those 10 minutes it took for me to kill them off.
That is, until I couldn’t stand the sight or smell of them. Nor could I initially wrap my mind around this prolonged dumpling spree. Maybe my palate had grown bored; but I'd like to think it was a sign that I had improved.
I’ve since moved to a different neighborhood, but I’ve never had the temptation to go back to Vanessa’s. With perspective, I see their dumplings for what they are—serviceable, unremarkable. And while I may haved dined on lavish omakase
meals and oyster flights in 2015, all that extravagance seems trivial compared to what I actually needed in that moment: nourishment. It was a love fulfilled, but one I’d prefer to leave in the past. To which, I humbly say, “Thank you.”—Justin Bolois