By Chris Martell September 19, 2011
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July 30, 2011
By Adam Powell July 19, 2011
Dumplings and their brethren are everywhere in Madison right now. At downtown’s Graze, pork buns are a big hit. The East Side has Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar, and here comes the oddly Teutonic-titled Dumpling Haus in Hilldale Shopping Center. The A.V. Club was on the scene right quick in order to evaluate the new establishment by Jenny Ping Yin of Yen Ching Chinese, and we found an unusual mix of upscale tweaks to traditional dishes, playful departures from typical Chinese food, and some mighty good dumplings.
The space and service: The room is not enormous, but it is cheerful, brightened by splays of flowers and bold use of red-orange as an accent. Expectations of standard table service will lead only to disappointment—this is more of a deli approach. Seating at the dozen tables and a short bar can be hard to get, so customers ordering up front tend to scan the room nervously while they wait. But tables open up, and then runners bring food out as it comes up, not together. (Sharing dishes as they arrive is the move.) Service in this brand-new restaurant is flustered when slammed but zen-like when it’s calmer, which should be no surprise and of no concern with the right attitude going in.
The A.V. Club’s food: Dumplings are made from scratch each day. Baozi, steamed buns filled with veggies and meat, come in five variants. The “Haus” comes stuffed with tender, smoky morsels of shredded pork and minced pickled cabbage. Veggie bao achieve much less success—too much bun and not enough veggie filling. Open-faced pork Shaomai Beijing dumplings arrive in a clever metal assembly designed to keep the dumplings from getting soggy or sticking together, and are too big to eat in one bite. The Haus Jiao Zi dumplings are smaller and nestle together in a spectral soy-vinegar sauce. Noodle bowls make up a core part of the menu: The “peanut glazed” noodle bowl with slivers of raw cucumber, cilantro, scallions, and cranberries resting lightly atop peanut-coated noodles is nimble, coy, and come-hither, a balanced, subversive and surprising collision of taste and texture.
The verdict: Chalk one up for the West Side. Creative, assertive dishes like the egg and tomato noodle bowl (which could easily work as breakfast) reach outside the parameters of what Madison thinks is Chinese food. Be warned that many menu items will not be available at any given time; arriving early affords opportunity. But if favorites like “sesame kick” noodles, baozi filled with barbecue, or the tomato-cilantro rice bowl are all gone, anything that involves the house shredded pork is probably going to be good.