Wontons, pierogi, mandu: Dumplings come in all forms in Washington. Two dumpling-focused eateries are hosting pop-ups in D.C. Here's everything you need to know about the newcomers.
Chef Dorjee Tsering has a story that's fit for a movie: Born in Tibet, he spent 16 years living in a Buddhist monastery, preparing food for monks. He crossed the Himalayas and became a refugee in India, where he met his wife. They moved to Washington, where he found work in restaurant kitchens and has hosted pop ups showcasing the food he grew up with.
Thursday through Sunday evenings, Tsering turns the cramped second floor dining room of Bullfrog Bagels into his own restaurant, with Tibetan linens and tapestries. The menu includes 10 dishes, half of which are vegetarian, and small snacks, including tangy and puckering “roadside pickles.” But the stars of the show, as evidenced by the giant neon dumpling glowing in the window, are the momos.
Tsering's pan-fried momos ($14 for six) are things of beauty: tall and round, with a twisted opening at the top that allows moisture to escape as the dumplings are steamed. Stuffed with Australian lamb, Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, green onions and other spices, the momos are served with a zippy 21-spice sepen (hot dipping sauce). Earthy notes mingle with the lamb, and the peppercorns offer a pleasing but not overwhelming numbness. (The dumplings in the Tibetan chicken dumpling soup lacked the same outgoing flavors, though the garlicky broth was a wonderful treat on a cold night.)
Dining at Dorjee Momo is an intimate experience: There are five standard four-top tables, one table for two and five bar stools. If you're a couple, you will most likely be seated with strangers at a dinner table. It can be awkward, with bowls and glasses passed overhead, and those on the outside having to get up if the diners on the inside need to get up. Try for the bar stools, if you can.
Thursday through Sunday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. 317 Seventh St. SE.
Laoban Dumplings has become a familiar name on the Washington bar scene over the last year, with pop ups at the Passenger, Compass Rose, Colony Club, and Cotton and Reed. The November opening of a 500-square foot outpost in Foggy Bottom didn't calm Laoban's wanderlust. Earlier this month, the purveyors of steamed Chinese-style dumplings moved into Shop Made in D.C., a Dupont Circle retailer specializing in locally made clothing, housewares and other goods, and will remain there until sometime in March.
Patrick Coyne, who fell in love with dumplings while teaching English in China, says that the Shop Made in D.C. location is “very much like a lab” that's allowed him to experiment. While Foggy Bottom generally offers one rotating meat dumpling and one rotating vegetarian dumpling, the pop up offers four dumplings a day, plus a dumpling soup and a dumpling bowl with cabbage, spinach and arugula.
So far, Laoban's dumplings have lived up to Coyne's description of “more modern flavor combinations … with very traditional technique.” In a taste test, favorites included a savory Berkshire pork with cilantro, and the vegetarian Livin' on the Vedge, a rich mix of bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and scallions in a wrapper tinted green by spinach. (Dumplings cost $8 for six or $10 for eight.)
A new Spring Festival menu features selections with “more traditional” flavors, including pork and chive; cumin-spiced Xinjiang lamb; and a vegetarian option with tofu and “eight lucky vegetables,” such as napa cabbage, bok choy and Chinese chives.
On weekday afternoons, the long communal tables at the shop are filled with 20- and 30-somethings working on laptops while sipping coffee and eating dumplings. Stop by during happy hour, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, when any six dumplings and a made-in-D.C. beer cost $12. (Tip: If it's not busy, ask for your dumplings pan-fried.)
Weekends bring a dim sum brunch, with eight dumplings and a made-in-D.C. cocktail, such as a bloody Mary with Republic Restoratives Civic Vodka and Gordy's Pickle Jar mix, for $17. There's also an optional Tai Chi session on the patio on Sunday morning.
Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 1330 19th St. NW.