As millennials turn into bona fide adults, it’s fun to watch restaurants change guards and points of view.
We’ve been getting to know Bunbob Chhun and partner James Munson for a while. We watched as they created Dumpling, their next-generation brand of Pan-Asian cooking, honing things at farmers markets and pop-ups. They dreamt up the idea in their dorm room, after a mean hankering for good Chinese delivery -- the kind you have in dorm rooms.
But they wanted not just good Chinese takeout, but great Chinese takeout. They wanted ingredients that were purposefully sourced and technique that was given great care.
They were inspired by Mission Chinese, perhaps the biggest name in Chinese cooking in America right now, where Korean chef Danny Bowien approached an established old Chinese restaurant and asked if he could start cooking. His style was so dynamic that it caught on like wildfire. Now he’s got his own places in San Francisco and New York City.
Chhun and Munson were so inspired, they followed that blueprint closely, taking over the old Ming’s Palace Chinese buffet, which operated in its Longfellow space for over 20 years.
Dumpling’s decor is minimalist, with subtle bamboo accents, low light, and a beguiling neon sign in the shape of a dumpling, courtesy of the third-generation neon sign makers famous for the Hennepin Avenue Bridge Grain Belt sign.
The industrial restaurant tables and chairs of Ming’s Palace remain. It’s all very subtle and appealing.
As promised, the menu is a tightly focused 15 selections of Pan-Asian favorites. We liked that there was little in the way of “fusion," aside from the comforting take on beef stroganoff infused with cute little Shimeji mushrooms and wearing a runny egg on top.
The namesake dumpling (there is only one on the menu, a straightforward potsticker-style filled with either pork or vegetables) is a billowy wonder, light and easy to devour.
An otherwise uncomplicated sweet and sour shrimp benefited from being deconstructed (loath as I am to use that word), with rice, veggies, shrimp, and sauce all plated in their own private geography on the plate. The result leaves the shrimp hot and crisp, and lets the eater choose his own adventure, bite by bite.
The "Ming's Wings" were inspired by the “handful of recipes” that the former owners turned over to Dumpling along with the keys. They're delightfully sticky, sweet, and spicy, and great for pairing with a glass of wine or beer, or a low-proof cocktail like a "Mei Mei's Collins" with sake, snap peas, lime, and Squirt.
We like the understated vibe of the place and think they can wear their “next generation” title with pride. They’re not forcing re-invention or reimagination down our throats, but instead seem to be gingerly taking the torch of traditional food and doing their best to make it theirs, bringing the dream of kick-ass Chinese takeout to dorm-room dwellers of the future.
4004 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis