By Jennifer Zyman for the AJC
It always happens on a Sunday. I wake up wanting dim sum, but quickly come face-to face with the reality that, however varied and wonderful our Chinese restaurant scene is, dim sum spots are unfortunately inconsistent. Visit an esteemed place one weekend and it is indeed spectacular. Return a month later and it is just okay. Fear not, my fellow dumpling fiends. Excellence and consistency abounds if you know where to go — be it a shack or a top sushi palace. Follow me to dumpling Shangri-La.
Back in 2005, a tiny shack, smack dab in the middle of the Pine Tree Plaza parking lot on Buford Highway, emerged as a must-eat place mainly for its xiao long bao or Shanghai soup buns. What makes xiao long bao worth seeking out is the surprise inside. The skin is gathered like a hobo’s satchel and secured at the top with tidy little pleats. Inside, a ball of ground pork flecked with finely chopped green onion floats in an umami bomb of soup. Eating these buns takes a little skill easily mastered with repetition. Carefully pick up a bun without tearing the delicate skin and place it in a soup spoon. Bite a little corner off so the steam can escape. Spoon some of the dipping sauce over the bun, slowly sip out the broth and then devour the remaining deflated shell into your mouth with a single bite. Chef Liu is still open today in a larger location a stone’s throw from the original, and the perfectly seasoned, thin-skinned buns (a hallmark of quality) are still worth the visit.
Chef Liu: Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. 283 Buford Highway (Pine Tree Plaza), Doraville. 770-936-0532. $.
Chef Taka Moriuchi’s boutique Buckhead Japanese spot has made a name for itself thanks to the quality and freshness of its sushi. Taka also makes many of the homestyle dishes he grew up eating in Japan on both his lunch and dinner menus. One such dish, the “Japanese style gyoza,” a traditional meat filled Japanese dumpling, showcases just how much care and skill he puts into his food. It’s actually his sister’s recipe. The delicate skins are supple on the tongue and there is a reassuring uniqueness in the shape of each of dumpling — both good indicators that the dumplings are, in fact, fresh and not plopped from the freezer bag into the pan. The juicy filling — ginger-infused pork, beef, napa cabbage, celery, green onions and chive — strikes a balance with the soy sauce and sesame oil. Each order comes with a small dish of ponzu sauce infused with spicy sesame oil, but the dumplings are just as good naked. Taka also has a shrimp version (the “Ebi Gyoza”) on the menu that, while simpler, is also a must-order.
Taka Sushi and Passion: Monday-Friday. 11:30 p.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. 375 Pharr Road. 404-869-2802. $$-$$$
At the beginning of 2011, Café 101 closed due to dwindling business after it received an eek-inducing health score rating. The oddly circular restaurant near 285 sat empty for a long while until a chef from California brought it back to life with a mainly Taiwanese/Sichuan menu. Because the new owners/chef have kept the old name, most people don’t know how good the new chef’s food is. The wontons in hot oil are a menu standout. Tiny bite-sized dumplings look loosely and haphazardly formed as their corners flutter in a tightly packed bowl of blazing red chili-infused oil. A slick of oil covers the skin of each pork wonton making them comical to pick up with chopsticks. When you do finally grasp one and pop it into your mouth, the silky skins give way to a salty filling redolent with sesame oil and the kind of heat that will have you sucking air.
Whether you are craving fried, boiled, or oil-soaked dumplings (or bun or wontons if you want to get technical), Atlanta provides more than enough variety. While you can’t get it all in one place, there’s no reason to go wanting. You simply need to look beyond the carts.
Café 101: Monday, Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. 5412 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-936-0610. $.
Freelancer Jennifer Zyman writes the popular blog Blissful Glutton.