"Xiao Long Bao" Journey to Dragon Mark (long review & pics)
Last Tuesday (5-JUN), I filled in for Abby when her work unexpectedly took her out of town on the night of the third installment of the "XLB Journey." Prospect Plaza, a small shopping center in San Gabriel, has so much "dumpling power" since Dragon Mark, Mei Long Village and J&J are just a few short steps away from each other.
Earlier in the afternoon I had experienced difficulties over the phone when trying to determine if a party of 10 could be accommodated that evening. Since I wasn’t sure, I thought it would be best to arrive early & secure a table. Several eager and adventurous diners awaited me at Dragon Mark when I arrived 15 minutes ahead of the appointed dinner time (some people had even started early by eating dessert first at the nearby Beard Papa Shop). Luckily this must have been a slow night (or maybe my call did actually work) since there was an empty table for 10 ready for us in the corner.
As we waited for the rest of our party to arrive, we looked over the menu and made a list of all the dishes that we wanted to try – 10 different items. We were pleasantly surprised by the large selection of dumplings (on the table they even had a special menu featuring them). So, after all that, I was dismayed the next day to learn that we had not eaten any XLBs (soup dumplings) – the reason for our "journey." What we had enjoyed were actually "water dumplings" (I believe the name is derived from way they are cooked -- by boiling) instead of the steamed XLBs!! At least we enjoyed our meal at Dragon Mark, though we will have to journey there again to try out the XLB offerings.
The first dish to arrive at the table was Celery with Bean Curd Sheets. This was a cold dish with small, thinly sliced tofu segments. The appearance of the tofu/bean curd sheets reminded me of pencil sharpener shavings since they were wavy/rippled and inconsistent in shape. The texture of the tofu was slightly chewy, but overall refreshing. The tender, boiled peanuts were a nice foil to the crunchy, crisp celery and carrots in the dish.
Next to arrive was the Sautéed String Beans. The beans themselves were well cooked/seasoned. The meat (?) topping was distracting for me since it had an almost anchovy-like taste. A bit too salty/fishy for me.
While the first couple of dishes arrived at a leisurely pace allowing us to fully enjoy them, the dumpling dishes came out fast and furious, one right after the other. Since the wait staff’s proficiency in English was low, we had relied on pointing to the menu to place our order & this method also worked in our favor as the dishes were brought out from the kitchen. We almost didn’t have time to determine what each dumpling was before we started devouring them (some dumplings were intermixed accidentally in our haste & they were hard to tell apart from the outside).
We enjoyed 4 types of dumplings:
* Special Flavor (also called Basil on another menu)
* Pork & Vegetable
Of the 4, we thought that the Basil dumplings were too strong (almost grassy) in taste. The others were quite good (the leek/scallion one was my favorite), though of course there was little soup/broth in them & the wrappers were thicker/doughier (almost "crumbly" at times) than those of XLBs.
Other dishes that we ordered were:
- Red Oil Wonton: a colorful dish of mini wontons garnished with sliced green onions and crushed red pepper. This had a nice "kick" to it. This dish was brought with a small bowl of broth, though we opted not to use it since it could not be split equally amongst the group.
- Pan Fried Potstickers – this seemed to be the highlight of the evening…after demolishing the first platter shortly after it arrived at the table, we ordered a second helping!
- Hand Tear Pan Cake – this reminded me of a cross between a flaky croissant and a funnel cake. The layers were hard to tear apart (perhaps we should have waited for it to cool off slightly before digging in), but were well worth the effort. We were surprised to learn that the dish should be eaten with granulated sugar on top. It certainly lacked something without it.
- Leek Hot Pockets – was the last of our originally ordered items to arrive. It appeared to be a mixture of leeks and eggs placed into a thick dough pocket. This dish was a bit bland until dipping it in our individually made vinegar, oil, soy sauce mixtures. Another condiment at the table was what we believed to be chopped pickled mustard greens. This also enhanced the flavor of the hot pockets.
After all those dishes, we still had room for more & decided to order 2 vegetable dishes. Our waitress gave us an odd look, but promptly brought is the cold cucumber dish straight from the refrigerator that was part of the dining area. This dish is probably more common as a starter/appetizer or accompaniment rather than being served at the end of the meal. It was very refreshing, though the sliced garlic made it pungent as well. Our sautéed spinach dish never arrived, so we opted to cancel it after a 5 minute wait.
Throughout the meal, we were enjoying recorded Chinese music and were surprised at the end of the meal when the server changed the CD to a children’s Disney soundtrack in English.
This mini "feast" only set us each back $8.25!! The bill came up to $63 (not including tip) to be split amongst 9 people. What a bargain.
As a group we all traipsed over to Beard Papas for dessert – chocolate fondant…what a way to end a meal :)
All in all, I would go back to Dragon Mark, though I would probably want a native speaker with me so that we could enjoy the soup dumplings and any other delicacies not properly translated into English. It must have been my ignorance or inexperience with XLBs that caused us to miss out on the 1-2 steamed dumplings listed on the menu in English.
For photos of the evening, go to:
301 W. Valley Blvd., Ste. 110
San Gabriel, CA 91776