I love soup dumplings. I mean I love the things. I love them so much that I can eat completely mediocre soup dumplings and enjoy them with no hint of disappointment. As I’ve mentioned previously, I ate just such mediocrity every day for lunch. For two years. Two. Freakin’. Years. Healthy? No. Happy? Yep. But just because I can find enjoyment in mediocrity doesn’t mean I don’t know the difference in quality. I will swear undying fealty to White Castle but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell the difference between a wafer thin, steamed, Grade C burger patty with dehydrated onions and a Spotted Pig burger.
Soup dumplings, or Xiao Long Bao, are dumplings most popularly filled with either pork, a combination of pork and crab, and a rich gelatinous broth that melts during steaming. They are usually served along with a soup spoon, allowing the eater to take a small bite to let the incredibly hot juice spill out of the dumpling and cool a bit before consumption (or get sucked out of the dumpling). Vast jars of virtual ink have been spilled comparing and judging the best soup dumplings. While Joe’s Shanghai is probably the most famous, it’s soup dumplings rarely fare well in these side-by-side comparisons.
Though I’ve mentioned that I finally found dim sum in Westchester that is comparable to New York City and Queens, I never dreamed I’d be able to find comparable soup dumplings. The Xiao Long Bao served from steam carts at even the best dim sum emporiums suffer from numerous problems. A great soup dumpling must balance many factors. The skins can’t be too doughy and should have just a bit of elastic chewiness. The soup should be staggeringly hot, rich, slick and viscous, with a well balanced porky flavor. The filling should have good texture, springy yet yielding, as well as having good flavor. A single bite of gristle can be ruinous. Because of this delicate tightrope that must be walked the conditions in a steam cart make it impossible to deliver top notch soup dumplings. The dough gets mushy and doughy, soft enough to rip when lifting, spilling the precious soup. That is if there even is still soup as the wait time can cause the soup to be reabsorbed, or worse yet congeal, rendering them just dumplings. The best, really the only, way to eat soup dumplings is when they are handmade, steamed to order and delivered to you straight from the kitchen. That is why I was absurdly, rapturously excited when I read in Westchester Magazine that Noodle +, in White Plains, had just such dumplings. I needed to get there. Fast.
Noodle +, as you would assume from the name, has a host of both soup and stir-fried noodle dishes. I eschewed all of them to save room for a dumpling tasting menu. After all, there are better and worse places to get noodle dishes in Westchester but this was the only place purporting to have fresh made soup dumplings. I was giddy with excitement with just a hint of trepidation, a small fear of disappointment. If this didn’t pan out I was back to square zero. But when they arrived I saw immediate cause for optimism. The dumplings looked swollen and plump rather than sunken, the skins seemed to look right. Now, I know I mentioned proper technique earlier, but I’m a masochist. I pop the whole dumpling in my mouth and bite down, allowing the scalding hot liquid to cascade over my tongue and coat the inside of my mouth with silky, porky goodness. However, because I love you guys, a sacrificed one dumpling to show the soup content.
Do you see that? After piercing the skin an impossible amount of soup spilled forth. Even better, it was specked with just the right amount of fat globules, promising just the right taste and mouth feel.
I lifted a fresh dumpling, closed by eyes and popped it into my mouth, hoping the blisters I’d soon have on my soft palate would be well deserved, and bit down. The skins did indeed have just the right amount of chew, the well flavored soup gushed out, filling my mouth. The filling was tender and tasty. In short, the pork soup dumpling was everything it should have been! Not content I dove into the pork and crab as well.
These too were incredible. Hot, juicy and subtly sweet with the flavor of crab. Memories of Chinatown brunches past flooded my mind as the soup flooded my mouth and for a little while, all was right with the world.
I ordered vegetable dumplings as well which were quite good. Quite good but didn’t stand a chance with me because I loved those soup dumplings with all my heart.
If you are a deranged dumpling lover like myself, or just a regular person who enjoys good Chinese food I guess, get to Noodle + ASAP. It’s a small restaurant, practically more of a storefront, better suited to brunch or lunch than dinner, but well worth a midday visit!