Alright, I finally made it to Dean Sin World. Here's my thoughts on the world of XLB, a.k.a. soup dumplings, a.k.a. juicy dumplings. (For some reason, some people object to the name "soup dumpling" because they're not served in soup. But it makes perfect sense to me - I mean, a "pork dumpling" isn't served in a pile of pork. "Pork dumpling" = full of pork. "Soup dumpling" = full of soup. Exactly what I'd expect.) If it said "dumpling in soup", and it came as soup in a dumpling, *then* I'd be confused.) (Maybe I've been working on my philosophy dissertation for a little too long. Could be. You never know.)
Alright: current thoughts on soup dumplings available in the Gaberhood:
DIN TAI FUNG:
My first soup dumpling love (though not my first soup dumpling) - very al dente, piercing wrapper, and exceedingly clear broth. Intense porkiness, and super-sweet crabbiness in the pork-and-crab. The soup serves to accentuate/carry the clear meat flavors further. Very contrast-y, between the very firm wrapper and the sudden eruption of juices. You might say the firmness of the wrapper is what makes the juices erupt, rather than simply dribble out. Contrast. (OK, I've definitely been working on my dissertation for too long.) Anyway - beautiful. Gorgeous. Like many other things at DTF, the emphasis is on clear, super-pure flavors. Not soulful - but pure and perfect. My standing favorite.
Does this even exist anymore? I can't remember. The only soup dumpling I don't really like in this town - big, flaccid skin, overpowering spice flavors inside. Sort of boring. I haven't had it in a while. Never really liked it.
A very warm, heartening soup dumpling. I really love these dumplings. They're actually my second favorite dumpling there (the first-favorite is those yellow, elongated pan-fried pork dumplings, non-soupy, that are also pictured on the wall), but I love 'em. This is not soup-dumpling-as-act-of-intense-careful-purity, a la DTF. This is soup-dumpling-as-super-tasty-street-food, to be gobbled down, and fast. Soup-dumpling-as-post-drunk food. There's a reason Dragon Mark is open late. Anyway - I've noticed, of the places, this is the one where the soup dumplings disappear the fastest. They just go down easy. High in yum. These are also the most purely hardcore *porky* of the soup dumplings.
The soup dumplings aren't the center of the experience here, but they're good. They are, like everything else here... cool, collected, calm, and very well-done. Gian Nang is not about the fire and the funk - they're more like Bach. (I'm not comparing them to say Sichuan places here. They're not funky in the way, say, old Green Village was funky. Green Village could shake that ass. Gian Nang is more Katherine Hepburn in a black dress, sipping a martini and giving you an arch eyebrow.) The soup dumplings are neat - there's more separated flavor here, more space between the flavors. They are Correct. And they're quite pure and clean - though not as militantly crisp in flavor as Din Tai Fung's.
DEAN SIN WORLD
Managed to go with high excitement yesterday. Little room, a glass-walled dumpling space in the front, where The Lady made dumpling by hand constantly. Dumplings: my heart reacts mixedly. Skins: perfect. The best soup dumpling skins I've had - they're some perfect mix between firm, melting, and just a teeny, teeny, teeny bit fluffy. They're firm->a millisecond of fluffy->melting away into porkiness. Gorgeous, make my heart melt. Filling: overwhelmingly sweet. Both a sugar-sweet, and a hard MSG sweet hit. The spicing and meat flavors are small and puny underneath the massive hammer of sweet. I was constantly, like, "get out of my mouth, sweet, man!" (I normally don't react/react minimally to MSG - my mom has a serious allergy, and I have the barest shred of one. Very few places make me react in any way. But this definitely gave me the MSG-itchies afterwards.) So weird. The dumpling skins are so utterly soulful, and wondrous, and full of dense flavor, and then the filling's like a hammer to the skull.
I also had: onion-filled cake. Beautiful, gorgeous, flakey pastry, wrapped around almost flavorless green onions. I also had: meat-filled cake. Beautiful, gorgeous, flakey pastry, wrapped around dull, barely-meaty-tasting-meat-filling, that's hardcore MSG'd. I also had: bean filled cake: Beautiful, gorgeous, flakey pastry, wrapped around very nicely textured, but almost flavorless bean paste filling.
Afterwards, the counter lady gave me a free bean-filled cake, said the cook thought I was "awesome", and then asked me if I was there because of the Internet. I admitted to it, thanked her, and ate my bean cake.
Anyway: I have affection for every single soup dumpling above (except Meilong Village). I really like them all. But there's no clear winner in my soul - not like the way, say, Noodle House rears above all the northern-style dumpling contenders. Nothing quite has the same degree of both perfection, clarity, and soul of Noodle House's stuff. If I had to specify a favorite, I might still say Din Tai Fung - the intense, quiet, clear, clarity still gets me going, though I know what people are talking about when they call DTF "soulless" or "clinical". But I wouldn't stand up too hard behind that claim.