This is one of an occasional series about eating establishments in neighborhoods near Tufts’ three campuses. Have a suggestion for a place for our roving diners to explore? Email us at email@example.com. You can also follow Dish on Foursquare.
The expectations for a restaurant called Dumpling Cafe would appear to be self-evident. This establishment came to my attention by way of one of those awful TV shows that purport to spotlight local eateries, but plainly specialize in proliferating food porn. Given my proclivity for quality dim sum, I was happy to assume my usual role of explorer/reporter in checking this place out. (“If not me, then who?”)
I can immediately say that the Shanghai soup dumplings here are perhaps the best to be found in the Boston area. I have yet to try them at Jo Jo Taipei, a phenomenal—and phenomenally popular—eatery in Allston, but Dumpling Cafe’s should certainly provide a fine example for anyone who hasn’t tried them.
For the uninitiated, soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are not floating in a bowl of broth. The soup is found inside, with the filling, and proper consumption may require a bit of practice to avoid either premature broth leakage or scalding of the mouth. If a novice, respectful observance of neighboring diners may be in order. Upon mastery you will impress your dining partners. The pork variety is recommended in preference to the crab and pork.
The majority of the extensive menu offers many tantalizing specialties, and return visits to explore some off-the-beaten-track selections turned up very few disappointments. Twice-cooked preserved pork was an appealing plate of vegetables mixed with flavorful pork—nothing to intimidate here and plenty to savor. A lone disappointment was the sautéed pork with special mustard greens and bean curd, exactly as described but rather plainly prepared with little embellishment. Sautéed Chinese watercress with garlic was fresh-tasting, a welcome alternative to the similarly served and now-ubiquitous pea tendrils.
Perhaps predictably to my Medford coworker lunchmates, I’ve saved the most notable item for last. I should perhaps first disclose that I am blessed with a coterie of abetting individuals accustomed to my fearless commitment to exploration. (See above, “If not me…”) But with or without reinforcements, what right-thinking person would be able to resist an appetizer described as “grilled chicken skin”?
I’m not sure exactly what kind of preparation I expected, but what appeared was a fair representation of its naming: a plate of skewered pieces of skin lacquered in a sweet-salty, soy-based sauce. Perhaps my heated imagination had, in an overhasty delirium, expected a piled-high indulgence of crispy skin. What was actually served was not too hard to take. My dining companions observed with fascination but politely declined a taste.
On my next visit? Grilled duck tongues Taiwan style.
Dumpling Cafe is located at 695 Washington St., Boston, just off Kneeland Street. It is open 7 days a week, 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. More information, including menus, can be found here.
Fred Kalil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.