Capitalizing on the Bay Area’s love for dumplings (just look at the lines at Din Tai Fung), the people behind Michelin-star Omakase and sister restaurant Okane are dipping their toes in the dumpling arena with the opening this Friday of Dumpling Time.
The tiny restaurant is in the back street of Omakase/Okane in SOMA’s Design District, opened by Kash Feng, who is tapping recipes from his mother. While Feng has made his name in the city with his Japanese offerings, this new spot honors his Chinese heritage and hometown of Xian (pronounced SHE-ahn).
I had a chance to check out Dumpling Time last week during a media preview, where a packed house of guests munched on an array of dumplings and steamed buns. The restaurant has some similarities to Din Tai Fung, the insanely popular Taiwanese dumpling chain that has one location in Santa Clara, such as the window room where people walking in can see two chefs at work folding dumplings.
The menu also reflects the same approach of traditional dumplings such as the popular soup dumplings known as xiao lung bao, Cantonese style har gow, and steamed buns like char siu baos (BBQ pork buns). And just like Din Tai Fung, Dumpling Time’s menu strays into a few creative items, including a “tom yum goong” version of a xiao lung bao that’s filled with pork belly, black tiger shrimp, and coconut milk encased in a beet skin, making these little darlings a festive red coming to the table.
The only thing Dumpling Time isn’t offering are noodles. The opening menu doesn’t list any noodles and during the preview dinner, only one type of noodles were offered, something that looked like dan dan mein but with additional ingredients like peanuts and a vinegar flavor. (I can’t really tell you much about that noodle dish as the servers were so busy they hardly had time to explain the dishes brought to the tables.) So I got an updated menu and Dumpling Time is serving up two types of noodles on the menu so far, and I found out the noodles I tried is called gan ban noodles, topped with zucchini, carrot, shiitake, and tofu (I got the peanuts right).
I was with my sister and niece, and some of their favorites of the items we did get to try included a shrimp and cilantro har gow (steamed dumplings with the clear skins) that came with a vibrant green dipping sauce. My niece liked a unique offering of shrimp toast that came to the table looking very similar to the fried donut sticks served at Chinese restaurants for breakfast with congee or jook. But these bread slices were topped with an addictive shrimp paste flavor.
I found the chicken bao lovely with a nice savory flavor for the filling and a slightly charred bottom.
Other items were straight-forward and might also have been a sign of the “grand opening” kinks of the kitchen. Sides of pickled vegetables were on the bland side, and the classic xiao lung bao came out flat (like they were oversteamed) and the skin had a slight uncooked flour flavor that was a sign of the kitchen rushing to get things done.
Dumpling Time has a lot of promise. The food is done well, although not as cutting-edge as I was expecting. The location is also a bit hidden on the edge of SOMA at the end of Division Street, so unless you live nearby, it’s a bit of a trek. Then again, so is Din Tai Fung and any of those dumpling houses in the Outer Sunset. And as San Francisco eaters have proven time and time again, they will go anywhere for good dumplings.
The deets: Dumpling Time, 11 Division St., San Francisco. PH: 415.525.4797. Opening Friday. Regular hours lunch daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.dumplingtimesf.com
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