I haven't been doing my homework; otherwise it wouldn't have taken me two and a half months to discover a new Shanghainese restaurant out in the fog belt claiming dumpling royalty. It wasn't until Jonathan Kauffman's review that I discovered Dumpling Kitchen, named modestly enough in English, but called 一品包餃王 in Chinese, which translates to something like Number One Grand Poobah of Making Dumplings.
The smallish room formerly housing Han Goeng Seafood on Taraval was slammed at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, and the din filling the room was predominantly Cantonese. According to Kauffman's review, the chef at Dumpling Kitchen is a veteran of Shanghai Dumpling King on Balboa. Sure enough, as I was being seated at the only empty table, a two-top at the back, I spotted a plate of what looked like SDK's signature sugar puff pastries floating through the crowd. I ordered xiao long bao, of course (my chief mission being to check them out) and sheng jian bao. The prices were certainly reasonable ($6.00 for ten XLB and $5.50 for eight SJB). However, the xiao long bao were something of a disappointment, oversized and sloppy in construction. The skins were supple enough, and the minced pork filling of the right texture, but the essential "soup "was characterless and oddly sweet. In addition, the vinegar dipping sauce was somehow off; I'd swear it was cut with soy sauce.
The sheng jian bao were also a disappointment. To use an Irish Bull, I'd say they weren't as good as I expected, but then I didn't expect they would be. Compared to street food-worthy sheng jian bao in Shanghai, they were undercooked on the bottoms, and seriously lacking in fatty broth. This seems to be almost universally the case in the US (and Canada), where apparently SJB are treated as if they were supposed to be healthy eats, instead of the drizzle-down-the-chin fat bombs they are meant to be.
Dumpling Kitchen has a fairly full menu of Shanghainese appetizers and xiao cai to check out at humane prices. There may be some gems on the menu, but xiao long bao and sheng jian bao aren't among them. In his review, Jonathan Kauffman suggested that the xiao long bao at Dumpling Kitchen might be in the sweepstakes for best xiao long bao in San Francisco. For what it's worth, I'd peg them at no better than fourth, behind Shanghai Dumpling King, Shanghai House, and Bund Shanghai's XLB.
Dumpling Kitchen, 1935 Taraval at 30th Ave., San Francisco
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