“We are China!” Dumpling Tea & Dim Sum’s website shouts. “We don’t have orange chicken, we don’t carry sweet & sour sauce nor will we serve packaged food. We are authentic. We are real and we homemade (sic) our dishes.” It’s not an empty promise.
When Fen Wang opened the small shop a few months ago in the space recently vacated by Ji Wang Noodles, she painted the walls a pale celadon green, covered the tables with neutral cloths, and hung photos of the dishes she was serving on the wall — an abbreviated selection of traditional dim sum offerings.
Missed them? Read our recent reviews of Fiesta Oaxaca, Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, and Cuchara del Inca.
Your reaction to the menu may depend on what you expect to find at a dim sum restaurant. You won’t find chicken feet here or ribs or congee or taro root or turnip cakes, which are standards at many such restaurants. Wang’s dim sum selection is almost totally composed of dumplings, buns, and wontons. And those dumplings, buns, and wontons are exemplary — fresh, freeform, and made by hand in the middle of the dining room. The all-important wrappers are thin and perfectly cooked whether you order them steamed, lightly panfried or floating in a bowl of soup. If we have any complaints, it’s that there are only two choices of filling here: pork and vegetable. (The website also offers a shrimp filling, but it was not listed on the printed menu or available in-house on the three occasions we visited.)
The pork fried dumplings — aka pot stickers — ($7.99 for six), pork steamed dumplings (also $7.99) and steamed pork buns ($9.99 for six) all share the same filling: finely minced pork, ginger, and onion lightly seasoned with sesame and soy sauce. If there was garlic in there as well — garlic, ginger, and scallions are the holy trinity that deliver the underlying flavor of much Cantonese cooking — it was well below our ability to taste it. Served piping hot from the kitchen, the pork-filled dumplings and wontons are savory, saucy, and satisfying.
The wonderfully silky-delicate wontons, also house-made, are stuffed with the same mixture and served in a flavorful pork soup broth ($9.99).
The filling for the vegetable fried and steamed dumplings (both $7.99 for six) was less interesting. We found the finely minced blend of cabbage, carrots, onions, mung bean noodles, and a mushroom-like dried fungus bland. A dose of the sriracha and soy sauces sitting on each table upped the flavor nicely for us, but vegetarians and vegans should beware: Wang blends a bit of umami-rich fish sauce into her soy sauce. We also overheard a customer who craved a bit more bite ask for — and receive — a small bowl of red chili oil.
The vegetable noodle soup ($9.99), which featured slivered carrots, lettuce, celery, zucchini, and green onions, was also curiously bland. The soup broth is usually pork-based, although a more watery vegetarian/vegan version is available upon request. The toothy noodles, also made in-house, are the best part of the soup.
Those noodles make another appearance in the only Sichuan-style dish on the menu — a more soupy than saucy version of dan dan noodles ($9.99). The slick of red chili oil shimmering on the pork broth warns you that there is some significant spice here, and the first bite or two is fiery, but the head-clearing heat and lip-tingling bite of Sichuan peppercorns do not get worse and does not overwhelm the flavor of the broth and noodles. A larger portion of the ground pork and roughly chopped lettuce that make up the rest of the bowl would make it even more satisfying.
A crisp, salty fried scallion pancake ($3), a crunchy, lightly fried egg roll ($3), and two salads round out the dim sum menu and provide some contrast to the hot soups and sensuously soft dumplings and buns. The lightly chilled salad of cucumber coins ($5.50) is marinated in a light soy and sesame oil dressing, with perhaps a touch of sugar, then tossed with mild sliced red chiles. The more exotic celery-peanut salad (also $5.50) combines large shreds of soaked dried tofu that look like chicken (but don’t taste like it), sliced celery, and finely julienned carrots, and tops it all with peanuts.
Food comes to the table quickly, but it’s not always what you had ordered. We got vegetable noodle soup instead of vegetable fried noodles, a double order of pork steamed dumplings instead of buns, and placed beverage orders that never appeared at all. We also had to request tableware, napkins, and water and overheard other customers having similar problems. That said, the service is friendly, and Wang appears to be actively trying to make improvements in the fledgling restaurant: There are more servers on the floor, ordering is easier, and the register is running more smoothly.
Perhaps the weakest part of the menu is the tea service — or almost complete lack of it. Dim sum is also called yum cha, which translates to “drink tea” in Cantonese. Unlimited, freshly brewed tea for the table is an important part of the dim sum tradition, and there are no teapots to be found here (no chopsticks either, but that’s another story). The mango bubble tea and mango smoothie were the only things we tried that did not taste freshly made. The chai was flavorless. The loose-leaf black, green, and white teas that traditionally anchor a dim sum experience are not on the menu, although some bagged tea may be available if you ask for it.
How happy you are with Dumpling Tea & Dim Sum may depend as much on your past experience and expectations of dim sum as on the food on your table. You can’t go wrong with the core concept: dumplings, buns, and wontons. ◀