Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kingdom of Dumpling in San Francisco

Soup Dumplings to Beat the Cold and Rain
1713 Taraval St. (between 27th and 28th Avenues), San Francisco
Outer Sunset neighborhood
PH: 415.566.6143
Open Tues. to Sat., 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; closed Monday
No reservations, major credit cards accepted

When I visited the relatively new Dumpling Kitchen a few weeks ago in my continuing search for good Shanghai soup dumplings, I mentioned the more widely known Kingdom of Dumpling was just up the street on Taraval.

My friend Kim, who's a vegetarian, commented on the post about vegetarian soup dumplings, and that got me curious about whether such a thing existed. We noticed a vegetarian dumpling on the menu for Kingdom of Dumpling, so we made plans to check it out one rainy and cold weekend (we've been having a lot of that lately in the Bay Area).

The rain meant there probably wouldn't be the typical crowds hanging out outside the restaurant, which actually has a very non-descript entrance. Even the sign looks a little tired, and even more gray in the rain.

Still, we arrived just as the restaurant opened and got one of the tiny two-tops near the entrance. This place is so small it would qualify as a dive if it wasn't so well-known and thoroughly written up by various publications. Kim and I studied the menu, looking for the vegetarian options. (I still knew I would try the Shanghai soup dumplings, aka xiao lung bao, made typically of pork and filled with actual soup.) Kim is a vegetarian, mostly because she doesn't like the flavor of meats.

I recommended the Green Chives Pancakes ($5.95) because I love the aroma of chives. Kim and I discussed why not more Western dishes incorporated chives other than in baked potatoes because I love chives. The pancakes actually came out differently than what I recalled growing up because I remember them more flat and filled more with chives-infused dough. But instead Kingdom of Dumplings version looked like filled pita breads.

Still, these were incredibly fresh and tasty, although a bit difficult to eat without making a mess. These were actually two pancakes cut in half, so the whole order looked like a lot. I appreciated how the kitchen sends out the orders once it's done because these pancakes were piping hot.

So Kim and I discussed getting the vegetarian dumplings, which aren't a vegetarian version of Shanghai soup dumplings because we learned there's only one way to make xiao lung baos and they can't make it vegetarian. I suggested the vegetarian dumplings, but Kim noticed the Shrimp Dumplings with Green Chives ($6.95) and wanted to try that instead.

These dumplings, which don't have the soup in them, came as a dozen all squished onto a tiny platter. They're not the prettiest, but they were very hearty. The shrimp inside was fresh and a nice bite-size compared to some places where you're searching for the shrimp. And of course, we both love chives so didn't mind them in these dumplings.

Finally, the main event, the Shanghai Soup Dumplings ($4.95). This one order comes with just six in the bamboo steamer, which was fine since I was primarily eating this. Kim did try a couple because she wanted to experience the idea of soup in a dumpling, I'll get to her reaction in a bit.

As for me, I enjoyed them. Kim asked how they compared with Dumpling Kitchen, whose xiao lung bao were so delicious they're still on my mind. But after trying Kingdom of Dumpling, it's difficult to compare because they're quite different than Dumpling Kitchen's version. It's like when people ask me if San Francisco is better than New York to live, and having lived in both cities, I always say each city is good for its own reasons.

Kingdom of Dumpling's xiao lung bao aren't as pretty as Dumpling Kitchen's, but the skin is a nice thin texture and the soup is tasty with a lot of depth. Dumpling Kitchen's soup was more herbal and aromatic, while Kingdom of Dumpling's version is more rich. One thing's for sure, these dumplings are amazing for the cold weather.

Kim, on the other hand, thought the soup dumplings filled with pork tasted like bratwurst. Keep in mind, Kim's from the Midwest. She said the pork had a sharp taste that reminded her of bratwurst, but I told her I thought the sharp flavor she tasted may be the slight vinegar flavor in the soup. It's kind of hard to tell when you each everything all in one bite.

There's actually a lot to eat for a vegetarian, if you think about how we ordered the chives pancakes, could have ordered the vegetarian dumplings and ordered a tray of this Garlic String Beans ($6.95). The beans were vibrant green and looked like it was stir-fried in a kind of bean paste. The actual beans weren't crunchy, but they had a lot of flavor.

We had a lot to eat and left very satisfied, especially since for lunch we had a lot of food for a reasonable price. Despite the rain outside, people kept coming looking for a table. While Dumpling Kitchen down the street has a larger menu and bigger space, I can see why people keep coming to the tiny Kingdom of Dumpling. It's freshly made dishes and satisfying soup dumplings will make you leave feeling filled and warmed.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (fresh from the kitchen)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Kingdom of Dumpling on Urbanspoon


Hungry Dog said...

Um, how could I not want to go to a place called Kingdom of Dumpling? he name alone is a winner. I am definitely checking this out...and I'm in full agreement on chives. They have a delicate flavor that is totally underused! P.S. the chive pita pancake things do look a little tough to eat!

Cookie said...

Dumplings sound so comforting right now! I'm HATING this cold and wet weather!

Carolyn Jung said...

I would go just for those pancakes! My gosh, those are definitely not your usual green onion pancakes.

Single Guy Ben said...

But remember Carolyn if you order it's the Chives version, not the green onion, which they also had on the menu.