Review: Dumpling Cafe

No matter how you eat them, these dumplings are winners
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  April 8, 2011
4.0 4.0 Stars

 MOUTH MAGNET Who can resist the promise of delicious dumplings?

Come for the dumplings, stay for a full Taiwan-style menu, with enough familiar "Chinese food" to keep the kids away from your "house special razor clam meet [sic] & pork with chives in hot sauce" ($12.95). Actually, you might just come for the dumplings. The important ones are soup dumplings, here cunningly concealed as "mini steamed buns with pork" ($5.95). You get five — a significant number in Chinese culture — pouch-shaped dumplings filled with steaming hot broth as well as a pork-based meatball. They are served in a bamboo steamer, with a ginger/black-vinegar dipping sauce.

Soup dumplings are the subject of a developing geekery, with some fanatic Anglos learning to pronounce their Mandarin name, xiao long bao (roughly "shy long bough"), or shorthand it as "XLB," or "Shanghai dumplings."

Cyberspace is littered with instructions on how to eat them. Newbie method 1: bite into it (result: hot soup explodes all over your clothes and those of others). Newbie 2: pop the whole thing into your mouth (result: burnt mouth). Newbie 3: demand a fork (result: combined issues of newbie methods 1 and 2). YouTube Chinese-American method: use chopsticks to lift dumpling to spoon; raise to mouth and artfully bite off the top knot, evading steam; spread the opening with chopsticks; remove and eat the meaty filling; turn shell to spill soup into spoon; eat soup, then eat shell. YouTube UK method: use chopsticks to place dumpling in spoon; pick up dumpling with chopsticks and bring it to mouth; bite off top knot; let it cool in spoon and eat it whole, all at once. Philly defense: refill with dipping sauce after slurping out the broth. Malaysian technique: dip first, then place in spoon, bite off top, suck out broth, add more sauce to dumpling, and eat whole. Philly II: As previous, but put some dipping sauce into the spoon before beginning. New York Chowhound approach: Get the dumpling onto the spoon, bite off the top, turn dumpling to spill soup into spoon, enjoy soup, then eat dumpling. New York Chowhound approach II: poke dumpling with a chopstick to make the hole, then as previous. Crude, but avoids the difficult biting step. Atlanta high-tech plan: bring a straw.

However chomped, the XLBs at Dumpling Cafe are pork-based, with a spicy broth, and a delectable pouch. Or you could have regular Peking ravioli, here "beef and cabbage dumpling," or "pork and leek dumpling" (both $5.95 steamed, $6.20 fried). We had the former, fried, 10 superb ones with thin skins, and fresh vegetable and meat flavors. You might need extra orders here.

Especially when protecting an oyster pancake with gravy ($5.95). The pancake is so eggy it is really a flat omelet, the fresh oysters are cooked and placed on top with steamed spinach leaves, and the gravy is a subtle pink sauce that I think might have a little hoisin in it. You won't have as much trouble keeping the others away from a steamed Taiwan-style meatball with gravy ($3.50), because it comes to the table looking like a big jellyfish. The mound-like shell is a transparent dough of pure starch, but inside are delicious cubes of meat and mushroom, and a gravy that has that same fascination.

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