Update: no longer open.
I would have never seen Dumpling House, a Chinese restaurant in the Little Italy neighborhood of Wilmington that opened up earlier this summer, if it weren't for the passenger in my car who turned around and spied the red awning with the words Dumpling House on the front of a small building as I drove down a one way street perpendicular to the street Dumpling house sits on. Good drivers keep their eyes on the road, after all.
It's been a long while since Dumpling House came under my radar, and, since then, has gotten good reviews in Delaware's News Journal (I'd link, but print media just doesn't get it; you have to pay for the article) and their free rag, Spark (which does let you read an article online that's older than 7 days), so hopped on the bandwagon and got myself on over there.
I met up with my new bud, Mike Mathews, a political blogger at Down With Absolutes and radio host on Delaware Talk Radio, who also enjoys good food and a little critique. (I eat a MANNA pie and win his contest, he gives me David Byrne tickets, I give him homemade cookies, we do lunch -- that 's the backstory. Moral of the story: eat pie; it's good for you.)With three booths, a two-top, and a five-seat bar downstairs, and a handful of tables on the second floor, the inside of Dumpling House is small, but certainly not a tight squeeze (they could fit more tables, if they wanted), and we had no problem getting a table downstairs at lunch during the week. Go ahead and make a reservation for Friday and Saturday night dining, if you want to be certain of a seat, though. And bring a bottle of wine, as the Dumpling House is BYOB with a corkage fee.
The appetizers at Dumpling House are quite affordable ( $1.95 - $6.95), and soups ($7.95) are reasonable, but the entrees are a little on the steep side ($12.95 - $20.95), and there is no lunch menu with discounted prices.
The menu at Dumpling House is thoughtfully printed with green ink to signify vegetarian dishes, and blue ink to signify non-vegetarian dishes. I knew I was pushing my luck when I asked our server if the dumpling soup (printed in blue ink) had a vegetarian broth, but she went back to the kitchen to check, and, no, it's not; it's made with chicken broth.
Gotta go with dumplings at a place called Dumpling House, right? Orders of steamed or pan-seared; house, chicken, beef, or vegetarian; 4, 8, 12, or 13+ dumplings are available. We decided to split an order of eight pan-seared dumplings -- four vegetarian and four house dumplings -- that come with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce and chili sauce ($10.95).
This is where I admit that I'm no Chinese food expert. I rarely eat Chinese-American because I find the flavors bland compared to my more loved Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Mike eats more Chinese than I do, and declared the dumpling wrappers thinner and not as doughy as one usually finds, and this is a good thing. I find the hint of warm, star anise in the mushroom, tofu, onion, celery and cabbage stuffed veggie dumplings pleasing, and Mike concurs that his house dumplings stuffed with pork, shrimp, and veggies also has a pleasant hint of star anise. Crispy edges make the both of us happy. I went ahead and splurged on the spicy eggplant entree ($16.95), and was fully expecting the garlic and black bean sauce eggplant entree (quite good) one gets at every Chinese restaurant. So, I was surprised to see a vibrant dish of large hunks of fried eggplant, enoki mushrooms, green and yellow bell pepper, and strips of daikon (not sure, but it was pale and crunchy like daikon) in a light, but very flavorful garlic sauce made spicy with large slices of jalapenos, basil, and the tiniest little stems of some herb that tasted like cilantro (again, not sure). Well, you could have bowled me over! This eggplant dish was unexpected, and quite possibly the tastiest Chinese dish I've ever eaten. But I still wish it came at a cheaper price for lunch.Mike ordered the stir fried noodles with shrimp, mushrooms, and veggies ($14.95). He liked his dish, but thought it a bit oily. I was so impressed with my entree that I tried to get him to admit that his noodle dish was at least a notch better than what he gets at most Chinese joints, but he said the dish was very similar to the lo mein dishes he can get any where. He's one tough customer, but I'll take his word.
Dumpling House definitely deserves multiple revisits to see what other great Chinese dishes they're pushing out, but I'm not sure I can order anything other than the spicy eggplant; I've already found a favorite.
1828 W. 11th St., Wilmington, DE 19805
Tues.-Sun., 11:30 am-2:30 pm, 5:30 pm-9:30 pm