Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lunch at Gourmet Dumpling House, Boston

I had lunch in Chinatown with a former colleague today. It turns out that Richard and I have more in common than we had found out when working together for a few years in our past lives at Fidelity. Richard likes good food and is very willing to share his finds and favorites with others. What more could someone ask for in a foodie friend?

I will quickly dispense with the Chinese food stereotypes. My wife and I eat the typical American style Chinese food from the local places in NH every few months. We both like both rice and noodle dishes and of course the typical fried selections. We have been to a few authentic Asian restaurants including for Dim Sum, but our experience is pretty limited. This is going to change, I can tell.

We headed over to Gourmet Dumpling House, my pick of 4 choices from Richard’s recommendations, which turns out to be his favorite. A lucky pick for sure. After being seated he shared a funny anecdote about how one of his past teams had asked him to assume the dinner outing organizer role, down to picking the dishes. Since I wasn’t familiar with the menu and was very interested in trying new things this also worked out well for me.

Our order consisted of the Mini Juicy Dumplings with Pork, Twice Cooked Pork and Sautéed Julienne Beef with Long Horn Peppers. The pork and beef dishes also come with white rice and the soup of the day, a seaweed soup with a pork broth.

The soup had an interesting flavor that was certainly new to me, much like briny spinach. The seaweed had a bit more structure to it, like sliced pea pods or slivered green beans. I didn’t finish it only because everything else started arriving and smelled so good.

The juicy dumplings also seem to be called soup dumplings in a series of Yelp reviews. I add that for those that might have seen the reviews and would want to know if these are the same. Richard explained a useful procedure for eating the dumplings, because as the name infers, they do have broth inside and it will be messy if you are not careful. Thank you much for the advice. I had one misstep, but the broth hit the napkin and not my pants so I was all set. Essentially you use the special spoon provided in coordination with your chopsticks to secure a dumpling such that you can puncture the top or side, make sure you orient the puncture area upwards; and suck the broth out before biting into the dumpling. That is fun food! The broth was very flavorful and the pork inside was moist, seasoned well but not spicy. I will definitely be back for this dish and some of variations I see on their menu as I write this.

The Twice Cooked Pork came next. As best as I could tell the dish contained green chilies, cabbage or Asian lettuce in addition to the pork. Richard asserted the pork looked like bacon which I had to agree with. If so, the second cooking was most likely the preparation in this dish. The texture of the meat was not as juicy as bacon might infer, more like crispy skin perhaps. The sauce was spicy but easily manageable. Good combo with the rice.

The Sautéed Julienne Beef with Long Horn Peppers arrived and from the moment I saw it I knew I was going to enjoy it. There was almost as much pepper as there was beef! Richard clearly stated that the restaurant typically uses very fresh peppers and they would likely be hot. No problem I thought. This dish was indeed spicy, the kind that builds and then just lingers. Luckily it didn’t keep building but it didn’t go away for about 30 minutes either. It was so good I couldn’t stop eating it. The beef was well cooked, lean and not fatty. The brown sauce was light and the pepper seeds were everywhere. The visual gives away its truth!

In discussing the dishes Richard explained that the selections were more representative of northern Chinese cuisine and that the dumplings are normally associated with Shanghai.

The restaurant is small and will be quite busy during the lunch and dinner rush. We went at 1:30 and were seated about a minute later. It would be worth a wait if you have it. The food was hot, quickly prepared and of excellent quality. The service was prompt and excellent. You can also buy canned beer, what looked like small bottles of wine and sodas. I stuck with the tea.

Our conversation over lunch was interesting as we agreed that our mutual love of food was something we had never really talked about before and now need to catch up on. We also shared an appreciation for the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In Outliers Gladwell lays down a good argument that success is a combination of luck, location, openness, desire, skill and isn’t easily created. I offered up a sense of the serendipity that that book has helped me be more open too, the basis of my goal of becoming a sommelier and exploring food and wine. Good times.



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