The Phoenix is predictably cheap with expenses for "On the Cheap," which makes it challenging to review restaurants with broad menus without dipping into my own wallet. But occasionally a place is so good I say, "Screw it, I'm wading in." Gourmet Dumpling House is one such place, an ostensibly Taiwanese storefront in Chinatown that covers a broad range of northern and southern Chinese cuisines very skillfully, and helpfully offers an English menu with mostly accurate translations.
The namesake dumplings are terrific, especially Taiwanese-style pan-fried dumplings ($6.95 for eight): large pork dumplings with thin-yet-crisp wrappers and ginger/soy dip. Two Shanghainese soup-dumpling varieties — mini steamed buns with pork ($6.25/eight) or pork and crab ($6.95/eight) — have a delicious burst of scalding liquid aspic inside and a black-vinegar dip for bite. Crab/pork boasts fine, clear crab flavor, and pork-only a lovely hint of liver, but I'd prefer them smaller and more delicate-skinned. Pork and leek dumplings ($5.95/12) are bite-size, lightly doughy, and filling.
Sautéed eel with yellow chives ($12.95) is loaded with sliced eel and mildly hot green peppers — a Shanghainese dish of beguiling complexity. Beef julienne with Chinese watercress and sa cha sauce ($9.95) uses beef parsimoniously, but features a nice hit of dried-shrimp saltiness. Sautéed pork julienne with bamboo tips ($9.95) is superb, prompting the urge to throw your larder's canned bamboo shoots out the window. Sautéed Chinese watercress with garlic ($9.95) is simple, classic, and loaded with nearly raw garlic slices. Sautéed Chinese mushrooms over greens ($8.95) is oooh-inducing: an iris of baby choy of a tranquil, almost-unearthly green hue, surrounding a dark-brown pupil of shiitake caps in a glossy soy-based sauce. It's also simple and satisfying.
Given the menu's depth from Taiwan and coastal provinces from Guangdong to Shandong, decently executed Sichuan dishes are a pleasant surprise. For instance, a vegetarian ma po tofu ($7.95) presents the mouth-feel of wetly scrambled eggs with some real chili fire, though its heat pales next to sliced fish Szechuan style ($12.95), a carmine stew of flounder and choy that will have you gobbling white rice for relief. Asian lagers like Tsingtao ($7.00/21.6 oz.) and Sapporo Premium ($7.50/22 oz.) and good complimentary tea go down easy with this amazing food. And I've touched on only a handful of the 200 dishes offered at dinner. Despite generous portions and excellent value, this spotless, consistent restaurant will end up costing me: I'll be returning here soon to spend a lot more of my own money.
Gourmet Dumpling House, located at 52 Beach Street, in Boston, is open seven days a week, from 11 am to 1 am. Call 617.338.6223.