While it’s always iffy to declare quote-unquote ethnic foods that have been around for centuries to be some new thing, it’s undeniable that xiao long bao have been having quite the moment for a while now. Also known as Shanghai dumplings, soup dumplings, or XLB, the tricky-to-make dim sum morsels are what cause hours-long lines at Din Tai Fung in Santa Clara and at Shanghai Dumpling King in the Outer Richmond. It would appear that San Francisco’s appetite for them is insatiable — no matter how many roofs of how many mouths have burned on the consomme filling.
Ready to scorch some more is Dumpling Time, the new Chinese-Japanese spot in the southernmost stretch of SoMa, around the block from sister restaurants Omakase and Okane. Here, there’s plenty of gyoza with skins thinner than any presidential crybabies, hand-tossed noodles, and lots of steamed or pan-seared buns. The mothers of owner Kash Feng and of Omakase executive chef Jackson Yu contributed recipes and know-how, and if you’re so inclined, you can fall into a mesmerizing trance while watching everything get made in the glass-enclosed dumpling room.
While there are lots of little delights on this menu — like Beijing noodles ($9) with a meaty sauce that’s almost a bolognese — it’s the xiao long bao that likely spurred the management to put up a cautionary warning that things tend to run out. Beyond the tom yum goong — pork-belly-and-shrimp XLB that come wrapped in pink-tinted beet skins, half a dozen to an order — there is the “King-Dum,” an $8 mega-bun that requires a stubby straw similar to what you use to suck the tapioca pearls out of your boba tea. Instead of the usual little metal tin, it sits on a perforated paper wrapper, dusted with edible flowers and hogging a bamboo container all to itself — a mutant blob of deliciousness.
For structural-integrity purposes, the skin is thicker than its cousins’. But assuming you’re successfully able to pierce it with the straw’s sharp end, your reward is a chunkier version of the melted aspic typically found in standard-sized dumplings. The hard part here isn’t keeping it together without leaking; rather, it’s knowing when you’ve consumed just enough of the contents to eat the rest. Drain it like an overeager vampire, and you’ll wind up with a deflated sac of noodle skin — still delightful in texture, but lacking much of a flavor profile. But if you do it just right, you’ve got that bewitching, gooey-pillowy result that makes XLB so irresistible.
Clean that palate out with a small bowl of cucumber-and-chili salad ($3), and tear into an order of seafood gyoza (five for $7.50) or shrimp har gow with a cilantro-based, pesto-like dipping sauce (four for $6). Or go with deceptively complex BBQ pork bao (three for $5) made with char-siu pork belly and a dab of peanut butter. Dumpling Time has lots of beer, plus some wine and sake, along with neon signage and music videos playing on one wall. But there’s a strong chance your thirst may be slaked, and you might not even look up. For thine is the King-Dum.
Dumpling Time, 11 Division St., 415-525-4797 or dumplingtimesf.com