Creampuff comparison leads to dumpling treasure
By Erica Wayne 08/14/2014
One Friday late last month, I found myself on Baldwin Avenue just south of Huntington Drive with two Groupons for creampuffs. Beard Papa, a multinational chain, has had storefronts in our area for years, but I’d never been tempted. Prices are high and, despite the enchanting varieties touted on their website, the local branches never seem to have the puffs I crave, e.g., peaches and cream, almond praline and sweet potato. But my Groupon, lowering the cost to about $1 apiece, made the purchase a no-brainer.
A few days after I bought the Beard Papa Groupon, another offer came in for an equal number of puffs from a newer independent purveyor, Puffilicious, a single-store operation almost directly across the street from Beard Papa. Their website was just as tantalizing with 17 varieties in mini as well as full-size puffs. Furthermore, with only the one outlet, I figured they’d likely have all their wares available.
As I expected, the Beard Papa store had only a limited selection on tap. I picked four shell types and watched the young lady pump them full of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry cream. Then, having surrendered my coupon, I headed across the street, only to find that Puffilicious was closed, with a note on its door stating they were only open weekends until the end of August.
This unforeseen difficulty and the fact that my discount was soon to expire meant wheedling my husband into an extra trip the next morning. We arrived at about 11:30 a.m. and, sure enough, the nicely decorated store was open with a splendid array of beautifully decorated puffs in the glass display cases.
But these were only for show. Once we’d made our choices (including green tea almond, coffee, taro, chocolate almond, cream cheese Oreo and cream cheese cheddar), the clerk went to the kitchen to complete our purchase. Having not eaten breakfast, I thought about ordering one of their tempting smoothies ($4.50), but decided something more substantive might be better.
So, while we were waiting, I headed a few steps northward to check out a little restaurant I’d noticed as we’d approached Puffilicious. Despite the basic coffee-shop furnishings and unprepossessing interior, Dumpling House was chock-full of customers and, as I peered through the window, a couple walking in advised me to try it. “It’s REALLY good,” she said. “We come here all the time.”
Most of the diners were Asian, and the menu posted on the window included not only 13 varieties of dumplings ($5.99-$7.49) and six kinds of pancakes ($3.50 - $6.99) but griddle-cooked bullfrog ($15.99), duck head ($9.99) and pig feet ($9.99), hot pots with preserved cabbage and lamb ($8.99) or pork ($8.49), house special beef liver and heart ($5.99), fried chicken bones with cumin ($6.99) and Chong Qing crispy chicken ($7.99). We stowed our puffs in the car and headed back.
Dumpling House, which turns out to be one of two (the other in Gardena) is a real find. I could easily have pigged out on about half the menu, but since it was our first meal of the day, I curbed my greedy eyes and ordered only what our stomachs could probably handle: a stack of green onion pancakes ($3.50), “juicy” pork dumplings (ten for $6.99) and cold noodles with spicy sauce ($4.99) and hot tea.
Our dumplings were the Shanghai-style xiaolongbau (XLB) soup dumplings for which Din Tai Fung, just down the street from Dumpling House, is renowned. Din Tai Fung is, like Beard Papa, an international company with a huge number of locations. My biggest problem with their menu (and with XLB in general) is portion-size, most often 10 pieces. Unless there are three or four in your party, it’s hard to order more than a couple different kinds. Also, the wait for a table can be painful due to their adoring fans.
Luckily, these weren’t concerns during our initial visit to Dumpling House. Notwithstanding the almost full house, we were seated immediately. And all we wanted was breakfast, so a single order of basic XLB sufficed. They were hot, juicy as advertised — there’s a learned method for biting into them and sucking out the soup before it drips — and very tasty. Not enough grated ginger to satisfy me, but chili oil and soy on the table. Our pancakes were pleasantly greasy, chewy and studded with scallion. The not-so-spicy but good noodles (which we doused with chili oil) we merely tasted before having them packaged.
One visit to Dumpling House certainly isn’t enough. I’ve got my sights on a number of later-in-the-day dishes, especially the ones marked on the menu with teensy red peppers, several of which we remember from a trip to Szechwan province a few years back, for instance the house special cumin lamb ($10.99). Other items prefaced with the words “house special” are the pork noodle soup ($6.49), crab powder ball in casserole (a Yangzhou specialty - $6.99) and toothpick lamb ($12.99).
Dumpling House also features home-style chow pie ($6.99), pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings (10 for $6.99), juicy pork and crab meat dumplings (10 for $7.49) and smoked pork roll pancakes ($6.99). And I’m longing to sample the nai huang bao (steamed custard buns – five for $2.99), sesame rice balls in wine sauce ($5.99) and shredded coconut and sesame pancakes (three for $3.50) that make up the entirety of the dessert list.
By the way, the Puffilicious cream puffs were delightful and, while different in consistency, just as enjoyable as Beard Papa’s. So we’ll probably waddle over after our next Dumpling House lunch and pick up a dozen mini-puffs ($9.99). After all, without them, we’d never have discovered our new favorite restaurant for XLB and other authentic Chinese dishes.
Thank you Puffilicious, Beard Papa and especially Dumpling House.