East Village, NYC — As a self-considered "old school" food blogger, my default is to lament the Instagram-ification of food(ie) culture. It has produced and rather extreme style-over-substance ideology in food promotion that markets visual aesthetics over any viability on how a food actually is made or tastes.
Since the cronut, social media has been boasting a parade of photogenically-inspired of rainbow bagels, cotton candy-adorned milkshakes, and the like. My cynicism leads me to believe that these dishes are created for mostly — if not solely — for the purpose of being observed more than being eaten.
But in fairness, I can't let my preconceptions alone form my judgment of a food or a restaurant, so intrigued by the supersized soup dumplings that have been popping up on the KAC Food Instagram — and enjoying some very positive press —as of late, I decided that more thorough research would be necessary to find out what these culinary water balloons were really about, prompting me to make the quick trip, down to 8th Street and 1st Avenue, to the full, small space for lunch.
The "marquee" item on the menu at Drunken Dumpling is — the draw — is, of course, the XL Xiao Long Bao, which is bowl-sized soup dumpling holding crab, shrimp, scallops, and ground pork, in a combination of hot chicken, pork, and vegetable broths. The soup is sealed within the doughy bun; the bun is meant to be first pierced with a straw, so that one can sip the broth. Then one can go into the dumpling with a fork or spoon to get at all the solid, meaty goodness, and firm yet spongy dumpling.
Far more than just show, the broth in the dumpling was sublime, actually, aromatic, with balance and depth, rounding out the sweetness of the crab, shrimp, and scallop, while boasting that extra earthy layer of porky goodness.
At that size the XL dumpling is a meal unto itself, but I always need to get as much as in informed opinion as possible of a restaurant's menu, so I tried as well the fried chicken with cashews pot stickers (jiaozi) and the steamed pork buns with scallions (baozi)
These as well were extremely well executed, both order's ground meat fillings tender, juicy, and flavorful, each bolstered nicely by a toothsome, pliable, doughs for texture — the potstickers boasting a fun, crisp edge, and the buns go the other direction with an airy, pillowing wrap.
The place was just opened a weeks ago by the mother-son team of Yuan Lee (son) and Quihi Guan, whose recipes it is that make the menu, and the restaurant now, understandably, already has a loyal following. So much so that a young lady from Iowa City, Leslie, came in to get tips for the dumplings she's making in home hometown for her business, Dumpling Darling. She and her fans were likewise very impressed.
As impressed as every other diner seemed to be. Especially once learning that Quihi herself is the one who preps all of the dishes herself and as well cooks many of them to order for lucky, happy diners.
Her lifelong love for her dishes is self-evident in the tastefully refined flavors of her food that hopefully continues to pack the place with grateful, eager appetites for the long haul, and not just mobile device cameras until the next foodie trend item.
Drunken Dumpling | 137 1st Avenue (between 8th & 9th Street), New York, New York 10003 | 212.982.8882 | drunkendumplingny.com