From February 1st through the 8th, The Oregonian’s Dumpling Week temporarily changed the dining landscape throughout Portland in attempts to get foodies to broaden their dining horizons and give local establishments a chance to show what they can do.
My partner loves dumplings and we’ve been bad at participating in this local festival of eats in the past, but not this year. From Monday through Saturday, we attempted to squeeze as many dumplings into our face as we could without inconveniencing our lives too much. Our knowledge of the Portland foodscape is limited, so this gives us an opportunity to check out some new places.
Some of the most memorable dishes were surprising and others weren’t. XLB’s signature Xiao Long Bao overshadowed its delicious dumpling week special—a baked bao with pork inside and a sweet soy sauce-esque dipping sauce.
Memoz Dessert Cafe is like Chipotle for desserts, their dumpling was bread dumplings topped with ice cream and a berry sauce; this treat reminded me of biscuits from Mrs. Knott’s—the restaurant at Knott’s Berry Farm—and the likely marionberry flavor coming through in Memoz compote did little to distance my nostalgic connection to the Boysenberries from my childhood consuming Knott’s products.
Another nostalgic flashback came from Sherpa Kitchen’s dumplings that reminded me of my dad’s Albondigas soup recipe.
The Big Mac pierogis from Delores were incredible. Korgi Gogo’s “All-American” Khinkali with ground beef, bacon, and cheese was also a real treat. Khinkalis are the signature dumpling of Georgia—the country not the state—and, minus the American bacon cheeseburger approach, are a regular feature of the restaurant’s menu.
Stickers Asian Cafe’s Tangerine Blossom was delicious, and texturally enjoyable with a standard dumpling texture on top and a crispy bottom. Their peanuts tasted like fried rice—I don’t know why, but it was interesting. Special shout out Stickers for having a vegan option in addition to a meat eater option; a lot of these foodie food weeks aren’t very friendly to a range of diets that find themselves typically comfortable in Portland so that was really cool of them.
Canard’s bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast gnocchi were at the top of my list for flavor and expectation defiance. All of the flavors and textures were given space to exist and complement one another. Maple syrup and a hint of jalapeño took the dish from great to holy fuck.
The Russian workers’ clubhouse known as Kachka continued its tradition of incredible fare with a butternut squash vareniki. The salt and breadcrumbs gave the dish a great texture and the generous portions of Kachka’s dumpling made this spot a win for both taste and portion size. I was initially overwhelmed by a side adventure I took with their regular menu’s pan-fried sour cherry vareniki, they start out too hot, but for like 15 minutes they are like crispy tiny cherry pie bites and it’s fantastic.
The Lovely Rita has a really pleasant space during the day and our waiter was extremely helpful despite his clear disdain for my attempts at getting a whiskey Redbull. The bar at the top of the Hoxton is a really pleasant sunroom-esque space with tons of plants, which would make for a nice escape on cold NW days. Chin’s Kitchen in Hollywood served dumplings from their normal menu and they were good but I felt vaguely bamboozled that they didn’t make something new—in the past I haven’t seen a lot of people at this place, but this time I saw a weird stencil with a signature indicating Guy Fieri had attended the establishment and enjoyed its food.
There were a lot of great, traditional approaches to dumplings that get lost in the shuffle because they were standard and expected. Even Stickers’s crispy bottom was enough to make it interesting.
Most of the dishes were great. However, Ecliptic Brewing’s massive beef lumpias were a good deal because of their size but they hardly tasted special at all, I could have been just as happy with a hot pocket. This dish made me question whether there was any vetting to ensure commitments to high-quality food were being highlighted for dumpling week.
What wasn’t cool was the consistent lack of information. The Oregonian’s Dumpling Week list and Dumpling Week website listed what the dumplings were at the different restaurants and had the restaurants’ addresses listed but they didn’t have the hours of the restaurants posted. Even when looking up hours of restaurants there were several restaurants that didn’t serve the Dumpling Week dumplings at certain times. Some restaurants, Delores and Kargi Gogo, allowed us to take our dumplings to go, others, Gado Gado, did not.
I know the point of Dumpling Week is partially just to get people to experience new restaurants, but the extra traffic caused wait times of over an hour and a half, or caused several restaurants to run out of dumplings. If restaurants aren’t even able to deal with the increased traffic, then potential patrons get snubbed and don’t get to try the food. Some of the locations took reservations, perhaps that could be listed as a recommendation as well. AFURI’s southeast location was sold out for three days in a row. Maybe they made some and sold them out each day. But we tried to go there three times: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and each time they were sold out—we had success at their SW location after the third failure at SE. But that failure to be able to accept the business a restaurant signs up to drive to itself seems highly counterintuitive to the spirit of Dumpling Week.
The goal of Dumpling Week should be to get people to try all the dumplings from all of these amazing local Rose City chefs. If people try to try all the dumplings, they should be able to. Posting the hours that dumplings are served is a reasonable request. Requiring restaurants to allow for to go orders or overflow dining space (even if it’s on the sidewalk) to enable more people to try the dumplings is a reasonable request. 35 restaurants is a lot of restaurants to go to. Don’t give out Dumpling Week passports if they might literally be impossible for people to fill out.
But most importantly, keep having Dumpling Week, it’s a culinary caper I truly enjoy.
illustration by Josh Gates