Thursday, July 11, 2019

Laoban Dumplings Food Review

Hunan Beef & Braised Pork Gua Baos at Laoban Dumplings

The Shops at 2000 has always held a special place in my heart. It began decades ago with Tower Records, and today remains home to one of my favorite places to eat dinner (the open air, lower level section of Bertucci's.) Over the years, other eateries have come and go (Johnny Rocket's, The Perfect Pita, etc.) so I'm always keeping an eye out for something new. Cue Laoban Dumplings, and their enticing mix of (Bao) buns and dumplings. It's a modest space, above and next to the aforementioned Bertucci's, with a simple menu and setup. Does it have what it takes to "stick around," or should we keep hoping/looking for the next best thing?

Atmosphere: Considering its relatively small footprint, it looks quite inviting. There's a few tables and a handful of stools, if you feel like eating in, but most people take their food to go (like me.) Orders are assembled right in front of you; and they don't take cash (all sales go though an iPad,) so make sure to bring your credit card.

Beijing Pork, Ginger Chicken & Livin' on the Vedge Dumplings

Food: First, the good news. The Gua Baos are A-mazing. There are three different kinds, and are priced $7.88 for two, $10.88 for three. I opted for Braised Pork and Hunan Beef, while taking a pass on the Shiitake Mushroom (although I was anxious to try its pickled daikon.) The Hunan Beef took home top honors, with spicy brisket, pickled red peppers and a to-die-for Chinese hot mustard sauce that gave the appearance of an upscale hot dog, only decidedly better.

Not far behind, the Braised Pork with cucumbers, hoisin sauce and spicy peanuts on top. Once again, lots of spice, and a trio of interesting toppings tucked inside a pillowy soft steamed bun. They're actually quite filling, not to mention beautiful to look at. My only complaint? They literally split in half, thanks to excess liquids. Eat 'em fast, and you might avoid an unwelcome mess.

Speaking of unwelcome, I won't be coming back for the dumplings (despite their playful names.) Livin' on the Vedge is a green colored, slimy nightmare, filled (sparingly) with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and an undetectable Chinese chili crisp. All three varieties got cold in a hurry (less than five minutes) but the "Vedge" was particularly bad (ice cold) save for a kick of flavor/heat at the very end.

The meat versions (Beijing Pork & Ginger Chicken) were identical in appearance and (lack of) taste. Even the sauces didn't help, especially the So So Sesame, which was (in a word) disgusting. Black rice vinegar, sesame and soy sauce = gross. At least the Fiery Godmother was digestible with its creative combination of chilis, garlic and soybeans. Then again, you could smother these dumplings in ice cream, and it wouldn't help.

Inside The Shops at 2000 Penn

Service: There was only one employee, who didn't seem very enthusiastic, but was pleasant enough, and had my order ready in about five minutes. No complaints.

Shazam Test: N/A

Value: Five dumplings and two tasty buns set me back $15.14 (including tax.) Great value on the latter, not so much on the below-par dumplings. Overall? Pricey.

Bottom Line: Considering it's called Laoban Dumplings, it's hard to defend such poor execution of its namesake. Normally, I wouldn't even think of coming back, but those steamed buns are really, really good. Lucky for me (and you) you don't have to have both.