Sorrow at the Dojo
Dumpling Disappointment Is Extra Disappointing
Hello! I am annoyed. Prone as I am to love things made out of pork and fried in a pan, I was very excited about Dumpling Dojo, a newish and temporary purveyor of handmade dumplings squatting in the space formerly known as Siam on Broadway. At some point in the near-ish future, the property is slated to become a bank, at which time Dumpling Dojo will be 86'd. At first, I was tempted to file this news under "Sad." (Dumplings! My favorite food! In my neighborhood! Handcrafted by a scrappy and enterprising young lady-chef!) However, now that I have twice eaten at Dumpling Dojo, I am sad for a different reason. I can report that I would rather eat a pile of soggy money than dine again at Dumpling Dojo. Let me now explain in five parts.
1. The Dumplings, $23
The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the door of Dumpling Dojo's spare, clean, temporary home was a sign informing me that this is a cash-only establishment. Of course! I should have anticipated. No sweat. A trip to the cash machine yielded me $60—obviously more than enough to cover dumplings for three. Obviously. Determined to try every kind of dumpling available—there are five—we ordered two samplers ($11.50, one of each plus the day's special dumpling). In case you need me to do that math for you, these dumplings cost $2 each. Surely these expensive dumplings are massaged into being by Narnian indigo children in Liberace's gold-plated mausoleum, blessed by Billy Graham, and delivered to my table by hypoallergenic monkey butlers. Right? Surely they are at least special.
Well, they are large-ish (two bites apiece) and fetchingly browned, with some sort of perfectly adequate but completely unmemorable dark dipping sauce. The species of dumplings are as follows: Pork! ("Ginger, Granny Smith apples, napa cabbage, hoisin.") Beef! ("Lemongrass, sweet onions, Chinese chives.") Wild mushroom! ("Caramelized leeks, white wine, whole-wheat wrapper.") Gulf shrimp! ("Bamboo, lemon zest, black pepper.") Daily special! (Chicken curry.) The beef is the most satisfying and memorable of the bunch (though my dining companion preferred the gingery shrimp). The pork had the comforting familiarity of a million meals in the ID. Dumpling Dojo's vegan mushroom option had promise, but the mushroom flavor was wholly overwhelmed by its gummy whole-wheat wrapper. Chicken curry tasted like chicken curry—that is, fine.
To be fair, these dumplings are far tastier than the dubiously porky, obviously fried-from-frozen gyoza you get at a lot of restaurants. They have structural integrity, a satisfying chew, and they're clearly and thoughtfully made from fresh, worthy ingredients. But they are not special. They are not $2 dumplings, and if $2 per dumpling is the price point necessary to make these dumplings out of these ingredients, then, well, I guess I won't be eating them. Sad.
2. The Seaweed Salad, $6
A pile of seaweed the size of a malnourished baseball. Slightly underseasoned, slightly slimy, mostly inoffensive. Whatever.
3. The Greens, $7
These were the mediocre point of the meal (or, if we're grading on a curve, the high point!). Lovely and simple, tender and bright, the little baby bok choys were perfectly cooked in ginger and garlic and nothing else.
4. The Soup, $11.50
The soup is where I really lost my shit. The soup is very simple: "wheat noodles, crispy shallots, bean sprouts, scallions." It contains four beef dumplings in—I believe—slippery wonton wrappers instead of the chewier dumpling wrappers. They tasted like the regular beef dumpling—that is, medium good. The wheat noodles were basically spaghetti. The broth tasted, literally, like nothing. I had to pour the rest of my dumpling dipping sauce into my bowl just to feel something. My feeling was woe.
5. The Mocktails, $19
Listen. Just because you stuck "ocktail" in the name of your juice beverage does not mean you can charge the same as (or more than!) an actual cocktail. I might pay $6 for an actual cocktail because that has delicious, life-giving alcohol in it. Dumpling Dojo's "mocktails" are just juice. My coconut-cranberry fizz ($6) consisted of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, a dash of the coconut syrup you'd find at any coffee stand, some sparkling water, and a squeeze of lime. THAT IS JUICE. The other two were slightly more ambitious: Not So Dark & Stormy ($6.50, house-made ginger syrup, lime juice, molasses) and "Gin"ger & Tonic ($6.50, house-made juniper-berry-ginger syrup, tonic). But still, essentially just juice. A small amount of juice (the mocktails are not large) for $6.50. Sigh.
Matchbox Twenty played on the stereo. The bill came. It was $72 ($85 with tip!). $72. $72. $72 for 10 dumplings, a bowl of beige spaghetti water, some cranberry juice, four bites of seaweed, and some bok choy that would have cost $3 in the ID. I had to go back to the cash machine. I was still hungry. I felt sad.
I returned to Dumpling Dojo a few days later for a follow-up visit. Matchbox Twenty played on the stereo AGAIN. Again I wanted to like it. Again, the dumplings were merely fine (though the $6 miso soup was inedibly salty). Again I felt overcharged and underfed. Again, sadness. To cheer up, the next day I stopped by Szechuan Noodle Bowl and picked up an order of vegetable dumplings in hot and spicy sauce and a green-onion pancake. My order came to $11 and I couldn't finish it all. Long live the dumpling. Dumpling Dojo, not so much.