We just posed the question on Twitter a couple of weeks ago— was the soup dumpling place in Chinatown, much talked about on LTHForum, gone? We didn’t recall its precise location but a recent visit to another restaurant along the same side of Wentworth suggested that wherever it was, it wasn’t any more. Mike Sula confirms that, and adds far more about the present state of soup dumplings or xiao long bao in Chinatown in a blog post at the Reader. As he notes, “Soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, are the holy grail of dumplings in Chicago. When they’re prepared correctly—and nobody really does them correctly—they’re parcels of delicate pleated dough containing meatballs suspended in piping hot broth.” By nobody, he means nobody in Chicago— xiao long bao, like ramen, are another of those things that prompt the kind of foodie discussion where no local example ever compares to the one you had in Los Angeles/Vancouver/Hong Kong/that little place with the grandma making them by hand that doesn’t exist any more.
Sula fills in the story: the one good place (which we imagine will only get better in the memory now that it’s gone) was called Tao Ran Ju, owned by James An, the owner of Spring World, who lured a bao-maker from the Din Tai Fung chain, which has locations all over Asia and also in Los Angeles and Seattle. It is indeed gone, but in the meantime, Sula says there are xiao long bao, maybe not the greatest but still, something, at Hing Kee, which Sula describes as:
a place whose menu was, and continues to be, worryingly all over the map: Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, and a sushi menu that included things like “sushi pizza” and “double punk rock & roll.” And yet it hired Chef Liu Chang Ming, a specialized craftsman whose mesmerizing noodle dough cat’s cradle act was put prominently on display for all to see, an investment that surely pulls in aimless wanderers of the Chinatown Mall every day.
And if that sounds at all familiar, it might be because we, like Sula, linked to Steve Dolinsky’s video of the noodle-pulling when it was one of the three videos he was nominated for a James Beard award for this year. Anyway, there’s always lots going on under the surface in Chinatown, not always penetrable to outsiders; we offer our genuine thanks to Sula and Dolinsky both for doing their best to keep an eye on it.