Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Post Beer Fest Chinatown: Dumpling Cafe Boston

As you well know from the last entry, we left the Park Plaza Castle, this year's home to Beer Summit's Winter Jubilee, a little stumbly... not falling down stumbly, but that "in a good place" stumbly. So, shuffling along safely through the powdery falling snow, we knew that the only way to fight back the sleepy booze wave was to head to Chinatown. And with the falling snow, and a sobering chill in the air, the siren call of soup dumplings was overwhelming. Instead of heading for the more popular, older Gourmet Dumpling House (a staple of Chinatown), we went over to Dumpling Cafe, where I had visited previously for lunch with a colleague and had the good fortune of enjoying excellent soup dumplings and just as satisfying appetizers.
Poached Pig Intestines
So on this occasion, to start out, we went for the poached pig intestines. I'm sure that this sounds less than appetizing to some, but if you are afraid of offal, I assure you, this is an excellent gateway. The steaming mound of slow poached, tender strips of pork intestine smell nothing of the gaminess of other innards that we've noshed on. They are succulent, springy, and again, tender as all hell. The dipping sauce that accompanies the intestines is addicting. It's a rather thick sauce, with tones of sugar, soy sauce, and lots of spicy ginger. Combined with the intestines, you have a rich meaty bit of offal, complimented with sweetness and saltiness that really satisfies the palate. This is a must order appetizer.
Mini Juicy Buns
Next, we also ordered a single order of pork mini juicy dumplings, also known as xialongbao. They arrived in a bamboo steamer, as is customary, and on lifting the cover, steam escapes conveying a savory aroma that could wake the dead.
For those who are uninitiated in the world of soup dumplings, the process of eating is simple at best, and sloppy at worst. Tenderly lift a soup dumpling onto your spoon. Gently prick a bottom edge with your chop sticks. With a soft hand, prick the soup dumpling with your chop sticks in a manner that will drain the hot, savory, unctuous soup into your spoon. Enjoy the soup... savor its depth of pork broth flavor. Now, lift the remainder of your dumpling with your chopsticks, and give a quick dip into the ginger/soy/vinegar sauce. The salty, sour sauce will really bring the entire meaty, tender dumpling together in a symphony of flavor as you slowly enjoy the release of juices with each bite. These are delicious dumplings, and the process of eating itself only makes the entire dish more enjoyable. Soup inside a dumpling? Shut up!
Drain the soup, drink the soup
and dip in that ginger soy
In fact, I cannot lie, the soup dumplings were so perfect, so plump, so juicy, that we had to go in for a second order. This time, we went for the pork and crab mini juicy buns. They arrived soon after the first batch, a cute bamboo steamer opened to reveal one of life's simple pleasures. The crab meat and pork offered layer after layer of umami, of course, only elevated by the tablespoon or two of soup that drained out of each dumpling after a simple chopstick prick. If I were to choose between the pork soup dumplings or the pork and crab soup dumplings... I wouldn't. I'd order both. You should too.
Taiwanese-style Pork Belly
The last item that we ordered arrived midway through our second soup dumpling order. We had the Taiwanese-style pork belly. Boy was it delicious. Smothered and saturated by a salty, sweet, tangy sauce, the pork belly was pull apart tender. It was fatty, and if you like bacon, you would savor these morsels bite after bite after bite. Pork belly is a must have for my bigger half, and these arrived on a bed of nicely wilted greens so we could check the box on the whole eat your vegetables thing. With a bite of rice, kissed by that wonderful dark sauce, and the succulent, unctuous, well-prepared, steaming hot pork belly, well, we felt like kings.
Of course I'll be back to Gourmet Dumpling House, which for whatever reason, among our friends, we lovingly refer to as the "Dumpy Goldfish." Both versions of soup dumplings are delicious. But for what it's worth, I think that the Dumpling Cafe definitely has game, particularly with a few of their delicious appetizer offerings, like the pork intestine described above that must have crack in it, because it's just that addictive. I think it's time to give the semi-newcomer a try.

695 Washington St.
Boston, MA

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