I've been "wrassling" with my my thoughts about the Dragon's Den since going there for "happy hour" last week.
Ever since I heard that the owner of the now closed Shanghai City was opening a restaurant downtown with Dumpling Inn as one of the partners, I've been quite.... well, curious might be the right word. I wondered what the menu would look like since the word "fusion" was bandied about. Once the place opened, I checked out the menu, and yes, there was stuff that would make PF Chang's proud like Lemon Chicken and Lettuce Wraps, the inevitable seared Ahi... and even...a sushi bar! But still, the menu's soul looked very Chinese, with English translations of course...jiaozi were of course dumplings, Niu Rou Chuan was Beef Brisket and Hoisin Green Onion Wrap, and Xiao Long Bao...... were Xiao Long Bao! Looking at the menu online, I decided that perhaps happy hour might be my best bet. So, I recruited two of my favorite FOYs (friends of yoso), PeterL and his lovely wife Angela, both have been on road trips to the SGV, and and Peter just can't seem to get enough Niu Rou Chuan. There were just two conditions. Based on the location, there was no way I was going when the Padres were playing at home.... and I sure as heck wasn't having no sushi!
The location of the restaurant is fantastic....literally right across from Petco Park.
The Padres were out of town on this day, so the bar area was open when I arrived, and the bartender, a very friendly and pleasant young lady told me to just sit where ever I wanted.
I had some time to check out the menus while waiting for Peter and Angela...... so here you can see what I saw.
The Happy Hour menu is pretty sushi heavy. Pardon the jailhouse look, but based on our meal I found it somehow appropriate.
I think I need to apologize to Pete and Angela because I'd pretty much picked out what we were eating before they arrived.
I have a hard time resisting Salt and Pepper Chicken ($6 happy hour priced):
I can understand using white meat chicken..... I suppose there's a thought that the general public prefers white meat to dark. But I don't think that, if someone is going to order something battered and deep fried that they'd want a gummy coating that seemed to have been fried at a temperature too low. The seasoning, while restrained would have been passable had the chicken been fried properly.
The Xiao Long Bao ($6 - not happy hour priced) proved to be somewhat (unintentionally I believe) humorous.
These actually looked like the XLB from Shanghai City.... while the wrapper was always too thick, and the fold at the top was too hard, I always preferred them to the version at Dumpling Inn.... such is the sad state of XLB in San Diego. Don't even mention Chin's which I believe gets their XLB frozen from LA! What was really funny is that we were provided with forks and knives..... really..... I'm going to eat a Bao with soup in it with a fork and knife??? That, combined with the obvious lack of soup in the XLB (at least they weren't broken), made me wonder what folks who hadn't had XLB before would think upon eating this? No wonder they thought Dumpling Inn was so good! I asked for spoons, and after an odd look, got regular spoons. Actually, the flavor of the filling wasn't bad, slightly sweet, but there was almost no soup.... I guess maybe we didn't need spoons after all?
Next was the Shrimp and Chive dumplings ($6 - not happy hour priced). Over the years, my "enthusiasm" for jiaozi has been subject for some funny emails and comments.... I've been called the "dumpling Nazi" and parodied in some comments.....which I think are quite funny. But this time, I think the photos speak for themselves.
It's quite telling that we each had only one jiaozi a piece. I had thoughts of just posting photos.... but I think quotes from others will do just fine. Peter, "man, this is pretty bad, it's really gummy..." We took the rest with us when we left and met TammyC and YY, letting them each have a taste. TammyC said it best; "what is this, fish? The stuff in the package with the panda on it is better than this!" 'nuff said.....
The one item that looked really good was the Beef Brisket Green Onion Wrap (Niu Rou Chuan $5 - happy hour price). I can understand the less oily dan bing. it was indeed thinner and more crisp.
It was not bad overall. If I had to go with one item, this would be it. Too much hoisin, not enough bite, beef a bit too dry.....but not bad overall.
I realize that places like Dragon's Den are perhaps not designed for me. But I really don't think I ask for much and I also believe that when one is doing fusion, it doesn't mean safe and dumbed down; there are places that already do that. To me it means taking something to that next level... being creative and moving things forward. To paraphrase a very popular tune, "perhaps I'm more Atari, and this is X box", but I think it's more Commodore 64.
And yet, in the end, I do have a nice recollection of my time in the Dragon's Den. You remember that young lady with the short blond hair who was bartending? She made time to talk to everyone since it wasn't too busy, and she seem to know the regulars. But what impressed me was when she saw two dogs passing by who looked like they were overheating, she called to the woman walking them and brought the two dogs a bowl of water..... in my mind that almost made up for the jiaozi.... almost.
The Dragon's Den
315 10th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101