At Dumplings N More, sink your teeth into some meaty soup dumplings, but beware: They're juicy! Go behind the scenes of this week's reviewed restaurant in our slideshow, "Dumplings N More: A Closer Look."
At Dumplings N More, sink your teeth into some meaty soup dumplings, but beware: They're juicy! Go behind the scenes of this week's reviewed restaurant in our slideshow, "Dumplings N More: A Closer Look."
Troy Fields

Dumplings N More Has Mastered the Art of Soup Dumplings

There's a magical moment when you lift the lid off a basket of dumplings. The steam rises and rushes out in one big gust, and the spirals of vapor briefly obstruct your view of the perfect little purses inside. As the steam dissipates, the dumplings come into view, but even before you can clearly see them, you can smell them. The scent of pork and lemongrass invades your nostrils, and your mouth begins to water, though you have yet to fully lay eyes on the soft, doughy parcels within the basket.

It's just as well you can't immediately see the dumplings, though, for at Dumplings N More, there's no guarantee you'll get exactly what you ordered. There will be dumplings, sure, but what variety will wind up on your table is something of a mystery. A waitress will bring them to you, hurriedly yell something in a foreign language to the cooks back in the kitchen, then leave the basket of dumplings sitting there, while you and your companions glance around uneasily.

At least, that's what happened to my friends and me when an unmarked basket of dumplings was left unceremoniously on the table with only a curt explanation of what we had just received. A curt explanation in Cantonese, no less. For a brief while, we stared at the worn bamboo vessel, unsure of what to do next.


Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Cheese crab puff: $4.95
Mapo tofu: $7.99
Crisp dumpling snowflake pancake: $8.99
Seafood fried udon: $10.95
Salt toasted shrimp: $13.95
Pan-fried beef dumplings: $8.45
Mushroom dumplings: $6.99
Pork soup dumplings: $7.99

Go behind the scenes of this week's reviewed restaurant in our slideshow, "Dumplings N More: A Closer Look."

Once the lid was removed and the vapor had evanesced into the atmosphere of the restaurant, we were immediately more at ease. These looked like what we wanted to eat. These looked very good. The question was no longer "What did we order?" but now "How do we eat these?"

Soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, are so named because they are filled with a combination of ground pork and pork aspic. During steaming, the aspic melts into broth, filling the dumplings with what is essentially soup. If you pinch them too hard with chopsticks, the skin will rupture, and the savory juice will spill out. Too soft, and the dumpling will stick to the basket. Too soon, and you might burn yourself, but not soon enough, and the perfectly pinched and twisted skin will become cold and clammy.

Just as there's an art to eating soup dumplings, there's an art to making them. And Dumplings N More, for all its charming communication breakdowns, seems to have mastered it.

Go behind the scenes of this week's reviewed restaurant in our slideshow, "Dumplings N More: A Closer Look."

When Dumplings N More opened in late November of 2013, residents of Sugar Land were pleased that they'd no longer have to drive to Bellaire Boulevard to satisfy dumpling cravings. Now, five months later, the people visiting the small Chinese restaurant appear to still be the citizens of Sugar Land, some of whom mentioned that they visit Dumplings N More regularly because it's so convenient. Those of us who live within the confines of the 610 Loop are not likely to make it all the way to Sugar Land when a dumpling craving strikes. After all, Chinatown is on the way to Sugar Land — at least for me. And while the soup dumplings at the family-run joint are nearly perfect, so are the ones at any number of hole-in-the-wall spots in Chinatown.

Still, where Dumplings N More differs from other dumpling purveyors is in the scope of the menu. The "N More" part is particularly developed, offering everything from Americanized Chinese dishes like orange chicken to spicy Sichuan favorites like mapo tofu to Korean-style kimchi hot pots. The lengthy menu feels almost too inclusive, and I found myself wishing my options were more limited to dumplings and a few select Chinese dishes, which would save me the trouble of wading through pages and pages of beef and broccoli platters and udon noodles.

What I tried beyond dumplings was good, though, especially the salt-toasted shrimp, lightly covered in a crisp coating of salt and panko bread crumbs, then "toasted" in a skillet until the crust achieved a light golden-brown hue. The tiny shrimp (these are not our Gulf prawns) were topped with dried chiles, chopped green onions and a bit of chile paste, which added heat to the already flavorful crustaceans.

Udon noodles with seafood impressed my dining companions and me with a strong ginger and soy sauce flavor that didn't overwhelm the more delicate squid and shrimp. Where many stir-fried dishes lose me is in the overabundance of residual oil coating the noodles, but the udon stir-fry here isn't overly greasy. There's just the right amount of savory cooking oil to skirt the line between guilty pleasure Americanized Chinese food and more authentic cuisine.

"Cheese crab puffs" also made me nostalgic for Americanized Chinese, for the crab rangoons scooped out of mall food-court chafing dishes and consumed hurriedly between department stores. Fortunately, they, too, lacked the grease and MSG that always made me regret my impulsive lunch choice at the mall. These versions are crunchy and dry on the outside, and filled with real crab meat, as opposed to the overly fishy imitation stuff that so often finds its way into cheap crab rangoons.

The dumplings are what I came for, though, not the "N More." The first pan-fried dumplings I sampled were a bit of a disappointment, but each new order of meat-and-veggie-filled pockets that arrived at my table was better than the last.

Unlike the stir-fry, delightful for its lack of grease, the pan-fried dumplings came swimming in a pool of oil and mirin. The watery mixture instantly destroyed the once-crisp brown shell on the delicate dumpling skin. That nearly burned umami flavor is integral to the overall appeal of a pan-fried dumpling (as opposed to steamed or boiled dumplings), but the liquid mess in which they were resting ruined the outside texture.

The filling was good, though, as it was in every dumpling I sampled. The ground beef inside the pan-fried dumplings was rife with ginger and leeks, and the meat was tender, never chewy. There's nothing worse than biting into a soft dumpling only to be met with tough gristle. At Dumplings N More, that's not a concern.

Vegetarian dumplings resemble little half-moons, crimped around the edges with colorful strips of carrots and onions barely shining through the thin skin, like something on the other side of a frosted window. The flavor and aroma of these are more mild than with the meat-filled ones due to a less hearty serving of ginger inside each little pocket. The vegetables are soft without being mushy, though, and the salty dumpling sauce adds another layer of flavor otherwise missing.

True to the recommendation of our server, the xiao long bao are the restaurant's most flawless dish. After we performed the near-religious ritual of removing the lid and breathing in the warm aroma of pork and ginger and lemongrass and sweet, tender dough, we could hardly contain ourselves and scalded our tongues and fingertips in an effort to get the pork-stuffed soup dumplings as quickly as possible from the basket to our mouths. With each bite, the meaty broth contained within would burst out, adding a new flavor dimension to the dumplings as it mixed with the ginger-scented ground pork.

Though we'd previously discussed the proper ways to eat a dumpling, all decorum went out the window the moment the steam revealed the perfect round dumplings, wrapped and twisted like tiny, meaty presents. There's an art to eating dumplings, yes, but when they're this good, all artistry gets left behind. And you end up full and happy with soup running down your chin.

The language barrier is indeed a challenge at Dumplings N More. Incorrect dishes get fired in the kitchen and brought to the wrong tables at the wrong time. People not accustomed to the sometimes inconsistent service at small mom-and-pop restaurants in Chinatown get annoyed. Dishes get sent back. What works on Bellaire Boulevard doesn't always work in Sugar Land.

I encourage you to go with the flow, though. If veggie dumplings are brought to your table instead of the mushroom ones you ordered, give them a try. Perhaps you'll discover, as I did, that the folks in the kitchen generally know what they're doing.

Whether you order soup dumplings or steamed dumplings, shrimp or pork, pan-fried pockets or half-moons cooked into a dumpling pancake, Dumplings N More will satisfy a craving. And even though the restaurant is cleaner and more modern and chic than many in Chinatown, even though it's sandwiched between a Shipley Do-Nuts and an upscale home-theater store, even though it's out in Sugar Land, the food is authentic. And even though there are language problems, the food speaks for itself.

Go behind the scenes of this week's reviewed restaurant in our slideshow, "Dumplings N More: A Closer Look."

The interior is more practical than charming.
The interior is more practical than charming.
Troy Fields


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