I had been looking forward to the opening of Dumpling Hut since I first saw the sign for this place back in early May. It was a bit of a mystery at first, with Eater filling most of the blanks in the end.
So there I was, Dumpling Hut had just opened and I walked in.
A few things became quickly apparent. First, these folks were very nice, unlike another recently opened shop who just seemed to want to do as little as possible for you, the folks here were just plain nice. Second, there's not much English here, something I kind of appreciate. Third, I don't think these folks have any restaurant experience at all. There were four tables of customers when I arrived and two parties came after me. I saw forgotten place settings, bowls, people seated with no menus for like 10 minutes, food sitting around....well when food did come out. My order actually took 40 minutes to arrive. Everyone, including the folks who came after me got served first.....I'm pretty sure the folks who came after me got my Guo Bu Li Baozi, you know, the stuffed buns that "even dogs would not eat". Something that was on that sign I saw back in May. I love all the styles of Tianjin Baozi....except this one particular model.
On the menu as Steamed Pork Buns ($4.99), these, like much of the menu is pretty well priced. I'm pretty sure there was something going on with the steam process on this day as the parts of the bun were hard, as was the filling; two of which had pieces of bone in them. The flavor was pretty bland as well.
I also ordered the Pork and Celery Dumplings ($6.99).
I could tell that this place has potential; the wrappers were nicely made, though on the thick side had that tender, yet mildly toothsome texture, that I love in jiaozi. However, were some problems; the filling was on the bland side, I know, jiaozi is fairly mild in flavor, but these are bland. The filling is too hard. I'm not expecting them to stir the filling with chopsticks for two hours like the Missus's Fifth Aunt did in Qingdao, but I expected better. Also, notice the scum on top of the jiaozi; one of the dumplings had a leak and the scum had coated some of the jiaozi. Poor quality control, as was the pool of water on the plate, these weren't drained well enough. Still, these were better than MyungIn which made them significantly better than Dumpling Inn.
As for the service glitches? Well, I gave them a pass. It was only their second day of business.
Still, some of my friends were excited; especially those who had gone to high school and college in China...there was Jianbing Guozi on the menu. And yet, those that I saw coming out didn't look inspiring. Which is why I discouraged Xiāngjiāo from ordering it when she, Candice, and myself had lunch here two days later. On my first visit; I had run into a good friend's dad. On this visit, I ran into Faye! You can read her post about Dumpling Hut here. Nice seeing you Faye, though I didn't recognize you at first!
Again with the glitches, not enough chopsticks, no napkins, where's our bowls, one menu for the whole table.
We started with the Northern version of Sheng Jian Bao (Pan Fried Bun - $5.99)
This does look like the Northern version of SJB, much like what my MIL makes. It does have a bit of "soup" in it, if a bit too tough, but the steaming wasn't up to par as the unfried part of the bao was not springy and soft as it should be.
The Liang Cai we ordered; PigEar (Seasoned Pork Ear - $6.99), was fine if nothing remarkable.
Even though I know the owners are from Northern China and not the Shanghai area, we still needed to order the Xiao Long Bao ($6.99).
Dough too thick and without enough pull. The filling had some soup, but was much too sweet. No shredded ginger.
Like before, the best part of the meal was the jiaozi, this time the Pork, Egg, and Shrimp ($7.99) version.
This was better than the last time in terms of being drained and such. I still think the flavoring is a bit too mild. I know, I'm kinda psycho about this, but I think regular readers understand why.
Meanwhile, things were falling apart. The place had filled up and it was chaos. Folks ended grabbing their own menus, plates, chopsticks.....a table kept looking for soy sauce and was so desperate that I gave them ours. And we were waiting for our Guotie (potstickers)....there were tables who came in after us getting guotie, so were those ours? The place was totally in the weeds; Xiāngjiāo wanted to go ahead and help them....there was a serious disconnect between the kitchen and the dining area, food was coming out and just sitting....no one seemed to have assignments. They guy who took our order suddenly disappeared. I later saw him helping in the kitchen, which didn't do us any good. Candice had to leave, so we sent her a photo of the guotie when it finally arrived.
Wrappers too thick, gummy, not crisp enough, filling too bland. Honestly, I'm not expecting Qingdao Guotie, but these weren't very good.
And this would usually be enough. But I mentioned Jianbing Guozi to YZ. Now, coming from the same generation as the Missus, though in a different city (Shanghai versus Beijing), like my wife, she has a special place in her heart from Jianbing. She just had to try it. So there I was, back at Dumpling Hut. Sadly, they were out of the Jianbing that YZ recalls, the version with youtiao, instead we settled for the more modern version we saw in Beijing (I call it Xiāngjiāo's version since this is what she was used to when she spent 6 months in Beijing). The one with the cracker in it.
It was as the Missus would call it; "dead", limp, lacking in flavor, and obviously made ahead of time as it amazingly arrived in less than 5 minutes. Even the smear of bean paste seemed tasteless. So sorry YZ; all those memories down the tube.
They were also out of other items we wanted to try GuoBa Soup, Chicken Gizzards, Spicy Pork Stomach, Pig Ear, Braised Beef Shank, so we settled on Braised Pork Knuckle ($4.99), which lacked any significant connective tissue.
This was way too bland in flavor.
Regrettably, so was the Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup $6.99).
While I appreciated the noodles, which I was told is made inhouse and had a nice al dente texture; the beef was cold and very salty, so it had obviously been made separately from the broth since the soup, to quote the Missus, "tasted like someone had waved a beef bone above it". Sad.
Like before, the jiaozi, this time Pork and Napa was the best item.
Though like my first visit, though not as water logged, it wasn't drained well. This time I took a photo. Boiled dumplings, or specifically shuǐjiǎo...literally "water dumplings" really depend on basic steps being carried out and simple flavoring and texture carry the day.......of ocurse I do like the Qingdao Black vinegar with pounded garlic.
I really like the folks here. I hope they make the adjustments necessary in terms of service and procedures to get things running efficiently. I'm not totally sold on the food, though I'll probably return in a few months to try the lamb jiaozi....hopefully they won't be out of them.
8046 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92111