Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Celebratory Chinese New Year at Dumpling Café Boston

By: Jessica Cickay

On January 1 – New Years Day – most of us made a resolution to get healthy, exercise, and eat right. On February 8 – the Chinese New Year celebration at the Dumpling Café in Boston’s Chinatown – I made a rigorous resolution to get a healthy portion of dumplings on my plate, exercise my right to eat copious amounts of dumplings, and eat said dumplings right away so I could go back for additional dumplings. What can I say? When the Dumpling Café is doing the dumpling making, I take resolutions very seriously.

The Dumpling Café is a small, unassuming Taiwanese-style restaurant in the heart of Boston’s Chinatown, but one should not assume that the tiny kitchen cannot produce big flavors. Famous for their xiao long bao – a Shanghai style broth-filled dumpling – I learned right away their popularity is for good reason.
A strong and sturdy dumpling skin was oversized and appeared loose, but the dough was thick, chewy and substantial. Inside, you can choose from a variety of soup fillings, but the best for my belly was the crab meat. A little nibble at the top of the skin led to an escape of steam and delicious waft of pronounced crab flavor. A tilt of the head, a slurp of the goodness from within, and – voila! – sheer soup dumpling satisfaction. The broth was swimming with seafood flavor, but not overly rich or cloying, and the dumpling skin was tender and held up well to my teeth’s attempt to capture the treasure inside.
The staff at Dumpling Café seemed to be working in “fast-forward-mode” as more and more dumplings and dishes came whizzing out of the kitchen. Steamed veggie dumplings were another favorite of the evening. With a thicker skin than the soup dumplings, these little pockets of heaven were stuffed to the brim with earthy hunks of mushroom, shredded carrot, steamed spinach, egg and glass noodles. I didn’t miss the meat at all while eating these, as they were satisfying from so many angles – salty, sweet, briny, chewy and delicious.
Pork and leek dumplings rounded out what appeared to me as three different varieties of dough- and filling-types. These handmade crescent-moon shaped dumplings had a much thinner skin, lending themselves to being boiled versus steamed or pan fried. A see-through skin gave way to tender, juicy pork spiked with the bright flavor of leek. The entire dumpling was very “tight” (if that makes sense) and didn’t fall apart even if you took a few bites.
In addition to the dumplings, I really enjoyed the Dumpling Café’s more-traditional Taiwanese appetizers and standard Chinese take-out-esque dishes. From grilled chicken on skewers, which was sugary and caramelized with teriyaki flavor, to comforting and slippery lo mein noodles, the Dumpling Café took patrons on a tour of Chinatown in just a few bites. The scallion pancakes weren’t greasy at all, but instead were airy pillows of lightly fried dough studded with green specks of onion flavor. Their veggie fried rice is also worth mentioning, as it wasn’t that mall-food court-Chinese food fake brown color, but instead both appeared and tasted light, fresh and unadulterated.
The Dumpling Café certainly put on a show for the Chinese New Year, but I’d imagine that their daily dumpling creations are similarly celebratory. I’m intrigued now to try more varieties of their xiao long bao, and dare I say I resolve to? Best New Year’s resolution…ever.

Dumpling Café
695 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 338-8858
Dumpling Cafe on Urbanspoon

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