Soho converted me to a calamari lover

Soho has been known as one of the go-to food trucks for dumplings in Madison for years, but now that they’ve opened a storefront in Fitchburg, they’ve expanded their menu. And boy were those good additions! Of course they still serve dumplings, but if you’re going to the restaurant in Fitchburg I would suggest some of the things they don’t serve out of the cart.

I like being Michelle Li's roadie!
I like being Michelle Li’s roadie!

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IMG_3247Before trying calamari at Soho with Michelle Li, I had tried it several other times and didn’t like it — both fried and sauteed. I thought the texture was terrible and the taste was worse. But Rocky at Soho really knows how to do calamari. His secret…promise you won’t tell…is cornstarch. I could eat an entire order of it by myself. The batter is salty and crispy. The calamari is tender and not fishy. And to my surprise, the pieces¬†with the tentacles were the best ones because they were crispier. The calamari comes with a tasty dipping sauce, but it is not necessary. All you need is a little lemon juice squeezed on top and it’s time to dig in! If you don’t like calamari, do me a favor and give Soho’s a try. They will convert you.

IMG_3250We also got to try Soho’s green beans and fried tofu. I know, you’re thinking that both of those sound boring, but trust me…they aren’t at Soho. The green beans are charred, salty and in some sort of sauce that was so good I started eating them before I even had a fork, and couldn’t stop.

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IMG_3251Now for the tofu. Every time I try to cook tofu it ends up mushy and tasteless…so I usually avoid it. Well apparently the secret is to deep fry it…because everything is better deep fried! The tofu soaks up the sauce they use, so it’s soft and flavorful on the inside and super crispy on the outside. As a non-tofu-lover I was surprised that I just kept popping cubes of tofu into my mouth.

Soho pork and chicken dumplings
Soho pork and chicken dumplings

FOOD NOTES: Soho’s dumplings are good…there’s no question about it, but if you’re going to their store in Fitchburg instead of their food truck I really suggest giving some of their other menu items a try. I would venture to say their calamari tops most of the places in Madison and they really know how to serve up usually boring green beans and tofu with flare.

Potato dumplings perfect at Paul’s Pel’meni

When looking for Paul’s Pel’meni on Gorham you have to be careful not to walk by. It’s tucked in a side entrance between State and Henry streets. The trickiest part is that the main door has an art supply store sign over it. Again, make sure you pay attention because you don’t want to miss this place,

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The tiny dining room with a half dozen tables and a counter by the front window has an industrial feel with modern colors. The simplistic feeling is accentuated by the simple menu and the simple preparation area. The menu has basically one option with a couple different variations that are prepared ahead of time, frozen and dropped into one of four pots of boiling water. They offer full or half orders of dumplings that can come stuffed with meat, potatoes or both. Then they offer “the works” as a topping. The works includes butter sauce, curry powder, chili sauce (which I was told is Sriracha and rice vinegar), cilantro and sour cream.

Paul's Pel'meni with the works on top
Paul’s Pel’meni with the works on top

I went to Paul’s for lunch with a friend and the full size was enough for the both of us plus leftovers. We got a combo with the works and I thought they were great considering they are so simple. Both the meat and potato fillings were good but the potato one really shined. The meat one tasted like a standard pot sticker, but the potato filling was buttery and creamy, and a really good vehicle for the spicy topping. The thing that makes Paul’s Pel’meni stand out from other dumplings is the topping combo they offer. I’m not a fan of cilantro so I plan to get the works without cilantro next time, but the rest of the toppings worked really well together. The butter sauce gave it a hearty flavor while the curry powder and chili sauce gave the dumplings an intense but flavorful heat. The sour cream was a nice compliment to the spicy toppings.

The price was a tad high for the amount and simplicity of the food but it won’t keep me from coming back. ALERT: They only take cash so make sure to hit an ATM on the way.

FOODNOTES: This hidden gem on Gorham has a great feel and dishes up amazing food. The simplistic menu means they were able to perfect the options they do have. Both meat and potato fillings are good but the potato one shines. Next time I go I will probably just get the potato filling. As for toppings, if you like spicy food I would suggest getting the works. I know it sounds like an odd set of flavor combinations but they all work really well together (of course I won’t be getting the cilantro). I would say Paul’s Pel’meni is a great lunch place and will definitely be back, but I think the limited menu would not make for a good dinner stop. And remember: they only take cash!