The email from my editor was cryptic:
"New restaurant. Something about dumplings and tea?"
I nearly stopped breathing.
My relationship to dumplings is serious. They're the yoga to my pants; the sloth to my cecropia. One of the few foods I will wait in line to eat. My last memorable encounter with the dumpling was at a shopping mall in Seattle, where I agreed to wait in line for two hours for a taste of Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung's famous hand-crafted packages of heaven.
So, obviously, I Googled "dumpling tea santa fe" at a speed of approximately 9,347 WPM and, lo and behold—got a result. The website was sparse, but it said all I needed to know: "handmade dumplings" on the Plaza. I was off like a prom dress.
Scurrying from a spring squall, I climbed the stairs into the Plaza
Galeria and there on the San Francisco Street level, tucked in a back corner, sat Dumpling Tea & Dim Sum (66 E San Francisco St., 646-945-5000). The space is small, with a handful of tables, only one of which was occupied. I tried to quell my excitement. This could be really amazing. Or it could be really disappointing.
The menu looked authentic with straightforward offerings, all handmade. With bigger eyes than stomachs, my assistants-in-eating and I agreed to
order pretty much everything on the menu. And that's when the dumpling maestro made her first appearance. With experienced hands, she took her spot, a stage of wooden block before her, and began forming dumplings. Around this time, people slowly began filling up the tiny space. A Santa Fe police officer and a table of co-workers; a group of camera-strapped tourists. A takeout line began to form. Suddenly, I became frightened that it was going to be hard to get a table at Dumpling Tea & Dim Sum.
"This is the real deal," I thought.
Owner Fen Wang is most definitely the real deal. A relatively new arrival to Santa Fe, Wang sold her dumpling shop in New York City to enjoy the good life of the Southwest. She's a native of Dalian, China, and Wang's art of the dumpling is obviously one well-studied. In watching the maestra at work with the fresh
wrappers, I noticed the fillings were also finely crafted. These balls of veggies or pork spooned into their wrappers weren't the usual fine mince of unidentifiable ingredients; the veggies were chopped just right enough to retain their structure, the pork in chunks just big enough to lend chew and texture.
Our drinks arrived—a mango smoothie, passionfruit smoothie and mango bubble tea (each $5.50). I don't usually drink such fruity things, but with dumplings, the sweetness is a best friend to the ginger spice and savory salt of dumplings. The mango bubble tea tasted of fresh fruit with big marbles of dark tapioca lining the bottom of the cup. The smoothies weren't so much traditional smoothies as they were juice and finely shaved ice. The texture was a hard-to-describe delight somewhere between Hawaiian shaved ice and fresh snow.
I sat, fork at attention, ready to ease dumpling delivery from steaming basket to needy mouth. The fried pork potstickers ($7.99) came first. The delicate wrapper had been crisply fried and the interior was what I had anticipated: Not a ball of "meat stuff," but tender chunks of chopped pork studded with scallion and ginger.
The same went for the steamed veggie dumplings ($7.99). The neat little packages contained crunchy veggies in pieces large enough to identify: cabbage, onion, mushrooms, carrots, all marinating in a pungent internal steam of garlic and ginger.
On and on it went. The steamed pork buns ($9.99), when cut into, poured forth a broth similar to a soup dumpling, rich with fat and umami. The veggie noodle soup ($7.99) featured wide, homemade rice noodles in a broth that was fragrant yet whisper-light in flavor. The vegetables—broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, celery—stood out with color and crunch. The gold coin cucumber salad ($5.50) was irresistible; slightly sweet, mostly salty and totally refreshing. I kept eating, ignoring the fact that my stomach had flipped its "closed" sign a good 15 minutes earlier.
It's obviously not just me enjoying all the wonderful problems associated with damn fine dumplings. Just two months after opening, Wang and behind-the-
curtains partner Mark Pacheco are already expanding Dumpling Tea & Dim Sum, taking over vacant space next door. Hard at work unloading new restaurant equipment, Pacheco breathlessly enthused, "We're so excited. It will
increase our capacity by a lot and we'll have room for larger parties, including six- and eight-tops."
Well, praise be to the Gods of the Foods for that, because I'm going to need way more room to spread out at Dumpling Tea & Dim Sum. I would be disappointed if I had to wait for a table but I would, indeed, wait … thinking sweet thoughts of devouring Fen Wang's delectable dumplings.