Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Dumpling Depot, Sunnyvale

Sometimes, even I don't plan well.  And I fall back on Yelp.  This happened during a recent business trip to Sunnyvale, CA where we unexpectedly found ourselves needing dinner (we thought an evening reception we attended would have food, it didn't).  This unleashed several hundred hungry people, non with reservations, on the city.

Our options were limited, but, I did some quick Yelping, after failing to get a reservation even for a small group at the handful of places I knew, and I found Dumpling Depot.

Dumpling Depot is a fairly new establishment, with a huge menu ranging from dumplings to dim sum to noodles to soups to wok fried dishes to everything in between.  Huge menu.

But Yelp feedback was fairly clear: get the dumplings.  Any dumplings.  All hand made.  Maybe get a few dim sum items. Skip the Chinese entrees.
A Mediocre Meal.
So we did.

We got 3 types of dumplings, 4 dim sum items, and a side for our group of 4.

Some of it was pretty awful.  Most was mediocre.  Two items were good.
Curb Appeal?
When we pulled up, I was a bit ... worried.

Strip mall.  Paper covered windows.  My colleagues joked that it was a front.

We walked in.  Nearly empty.  No wonder they said "no problem" when I called to get a booking.  Uh-oh.

The restaurant did entirely fill while we were there, and a line did form.  They also clearly did a ton of takeout business.  So, the lack of other diners I guess was not a real reason for concern.

Service was not very good.  I had to get someone's attention to take our orders, pay our bill, etc.  The lag between dishes was extensive, but I really think there was literally one person back in the kitchen just doing dish by dish, for the whole restaurant and the takeout orders.  The person bringing our food out often didn't tell us what it was.

Items came in a strange order.
Shanghai Soup Dumpling. $5.95.  
Starting with the shanghai soup dumplings.  Which somehow arrived literally moments after we ordered, yet looked ... old?

They were certainly not piping hot as often is the case.  You didn't need to wait for them to cool down.  I kinda think we got someone else's discards or something.

The skins were overly thick.  They were at least filled with soup.  Mediocre.
Tofu Salad with Cilantro. $6.95.
12 minutes elapsed before our next dish came.  Cold tofu salad.

Now, to back up, we ordered this thinking it was yuba.  Two members of our party had never had yuba, and we wanted to show them yuba, and also, um, I love yuba.  I saw photos of yuba on Yelp!

This ... was just firm tofu with cilantro on top.  Skip.
Pork Dumpling w/ Chinese Spinach. $8.95.
Finally, our first order of dumplings.  A full 15 minutes after the first batch.  8 kinds of pork dumpling, with cabbage, chive, dill, celery, etc, but we went for Chinese spinach as it was more interesting sounding.

They were ... highly mediocre.  Actually, no, they were bad.

The pork filling was course, mealy, gristly, not seasoned.  Meh.  The wrapper was doughy.  They were waterlogged.  Double meh.  They were just not good.

And the dumplings were supposed to be the best item.  I grew concerned.  I dipped mine into extensive soy/vinegar/hot sauce (which at least was available on the table).
Taro Crispy Roll. $5.95. 
6 minutes later, salvation appeared.

Taro crispy rolls.  The item I was actually most excited for.  Uh, for dessert.

Now, these were a dessert item, marked as such on the menu, and I expected it to come last, not mid-meal.  I briefly considered waiting, but ... freshly fried, hot food shouldn't be kept, and in particular, with such lag between dishes, who knew how long it would be.

These, unlike the dumplings, were actually clearly fresh.  Piping hot.  Too hot. You *had* to let them cool a bit.

The wrapper was too thick, but I liked it.  Perfectly crispy.  Didn't taste too fried.

The filling was mashed, sweetened taro.  Creamy, smooth.  Strong taro flavor.  Nicely sweet (um, for a dessert item!).

I actually enjoyed these, and just wished they had concluded our meal rather than came in the middle.
"Vegetarian" Pot Sticker. $6.95. 
Hot on the heels of the taro crispy rolls came our order of pot stickers.  Literally just a minute later.

These were not something I planned to order, but one member of the group asked for them, so, we added them on.  Great decision on his part.

They too were hot and fresh.  Things were looking up.

One side was really nicely fried, crispy.  Really well done.  The wrappers were still a bit thick, but it worked better here, and I liked the flavor and texture of the dough.

The filling was generous.

Now, these were the "vegetarian" pot stickers.  Which I say because ... when I ate mine, I was confused.  It sure seemed like pork filling.  I pulled it out to look more closely.  Yes, it was clearly pork.

"Uh, guys?  Anyone else confused by the veggie pot stickers?", I asked.  The others looked at me strangely.  It turns out, theirs were all veggie.  As were the remaining two.  Just one was pork.  Uh, what?  Good thing I'm not actually a vegetarian.

These were good, and definitely the best savory item.  Good, but not worth going out of your way for of course, and didn't make up for any of the other savory misses.  Which continued.
Fish Dumplings. $8.95.
After two successes in a row with the taro crispy rolls and the pot stickers, we thought things were looking up.  Then, 10 minutes later, our next batch of dumplings arrived, this time, the fish ones.

My theory that the kitchen was doing a bunch of steamed items, then fried items, then wok items, etc to be efficient was thrown out long ago, because, why didn't our two types of dumplings arrive together?  They were actually 20 minutes apart.

Anyway, these were about the same as the pork.  Too doughy, not well seasoned, waterlogged.
Green Chives Pancake. $6.95. 
Right after the final dumplings, along came another fried item, the green chives pancake.

The menu had three types of pancakes: green chive, green onion, and beef.  We opted for green chive, but assumed they were all the same type, and, well, not this at all.

The exterior was decent, once we got over it being more like a ... Chinese calzone than what we were expecting, a thinner item, with bits of green chive baked into the dough.  The exterior was crisp, the dough ... really, kinda like a calzone.
Green Chive Pancake: Inside.
And it was stuffed like a calzone.  Do you see what I mean about not being what we expected?

I took a bite.  I nearly spit it out.  I sat there confused, while another diner took a bite.  "What am I eating?", he asked.

Yeah.  What *was* in there?  To me, uh, it tasted like ... trash.  Sewage.  It tasted horrible.

I'm still not sure what was in with the chives, besides vermicelli, and I think bits of egg and ... dried shrimp?  Identifying the shrimp was key, as it helped us understand why it tasted so ... strongly.

This was hands down the worst item of the night, and no one finished their slices.  Pretty sure I'm the only one who even tried a second bite, and that was just a valiant effort on my part to figure out what was inside.
Black Sesame Crispy Roll. $5.95. 
After the final few failures, we decided to order one more type of crispy roll for dessert, since the taro one was so good.

Our other filling options were lotus seed or red bean, and we also almost picked the sesame balls, but decided the crispy rolls were a known good thing, and one person voted strongly for black sesame, so, black sesame it was.

Since we ordered it at the end, it truly was our dessert, and came garnished with ... carrots?  The taro rolls had no garnish, so it was odd this one did.  And why carrots with a sweet?  So bizarre.

Anyway, these too were good.  Piping hot, crispy.
Black Sesame Crispy Roll: Inside.
The filling was generous, black sesame with something kinda sweet and pasty.

I preferred the taro just because I adore taro so much, but these were a close second, and quite enjoyable.  The others preferred this one slightly, just due to preferring black sesame over taro.


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