Visited Chef Liu Handwork Manufacturer (you’ll find that I like to include the names of places as they are posted, not how everyone casually refers to them). again yesterday. I know this is contrary to most of the posts you will see on Chef Liu’s, but they never cease to disappoint me. Some will probably say, “What do you expect?” – a single white guy in a very Chinese place. But I’ve never gone here alone – and never without someone Chinese. Yesterday was no exception – I was loaded for bear. I brought along my favorite wingman – my 6 year old son, HX, who is half-Chinese and fluent in Mandarin.
The place was packed and several tables were waiting to be cleared. After 5 minutes HX would have none of this waiting nonsense and promptly asked (in Mandarin) for a table to be made ready. Immediately, a table was cleared and menus produced. We were going for simple – jiaozi (steamed pork dumplings), xiaolongbao (Shanghainese soup dumplings), do jiang (hot, sweetened soy milk).
Do jiang was delivered first and HX pronounced it too sweet. It’s important to understand that this kid has an incredibly advanced palate for a child, but I’m still thrown when a kid calls something too sweet. Personally, I didn’t agree with him, but then again, I hate the stuff.
For those of you that have never experienced xiaolongbao, they are loose dumplings that are filled with meat and a bit of frozen soup. When the dumpling is steamed, the soup melts and fills the space around the meat, creating one of the most viciously dangerous and wonderful things that you can pull out of a steamer. There is an artform to eating xiaolongbao – this secret is never shared with the novice until you have burned the living crap out of your tongue, lips and anything else that you spill/spit/drip/drool on. And no, I’m not going to tell you how to eat them. Live and learn.
Anyway, xiaolongbao were next and damn it all to hell if they weren’t flaccid and empty! Again! This must be the 5th time I’ve ordered xiaolongbao here and they always come out empty! NO MORE! Sure, they were still tasty, but essentially we only got half of what we ordered – the soup part was missing. No excuse for this – this place is known for their dumplings. Plus, I’m pretty sure the Chinkiang vinegar they serve is pretty much Worcestershire…
The jiaozi, in keeping with the theme of “let’s half-ass everything” were pan-fried, not steamed like we ordered (keep in mind the order was in English, verified in Mandarin, and re-verified in English). Understand, this isn’t what makes a restaurant “quaint” or “colloquial” or “charming”. This is what makes a place not worth returning to. There are plenty of quaint/colloquial/charming places in Atlanta where English is not spoken, you don’t need to bring your own translator and you, shockingly, get what you order.
As for the jiaozi, they are big, they are tasty, although many western palates may be put off by the inclusion of nira (yes – that’s Japanese – but that’s how you’ll see it on many Chinese menus. The Chinese word is jiǔcài 韮菜, English is garlic chive.) in the filling and the excessive oiliness.
The verdict – I’m not going back. I’ve been burned by this place too many times (and not in the good xiaolongbao way I wanted).