Versus: Down in the Dumplings

The Dish

Dumplings. The term isn't quite an onomatopoeia, but the name certainly suggests eating little doughy drops of goodness. Just the thought of popping these chubby purses stuffed with meat and vegetables that dribble tasty juices into your mouth makes you happy, right? Everyone loves dumplings. Dumplings = joy. Everyone seems to have their favorite dumpling joint in Seattle, so we decided we'd pick two destinations that receive consistently high praise and put them to the test.

Szechuan Noodle Bowl-o'-dumplings
The Rivals

Szechuan Noodle Bowl (left),

420 8th Ave. S., 623-4198

One of the first things you notice walking into this stark, tiny café in the International District isn't the linoleum tables or fluorescent lighting -- it's the little old Asian ladies making dumplings in the middle of the dining room. If you're keeping score, this is the first sign that you've entered a legit dumpling destination. The wait, while longer than you'd probably expect (we waited about 15 minutes for a single dumpling order on a slow night), is worth it, but it took us awhile to figure this out.

Szechuan's doughy dumpling
We ordered the dumplings with hot and spicy sauce, but received the chive and pork dumplings ($6.50 for 10 dumplings) instead. The dumplings at the Bowl are a bit larger than we'd like -- about two bites for those of us with a big mouth. The wrappers also could have been a bit thinner, as the thicker dough created an unbalanced dough-to-filling ratio. On the plus side, the dumplings arrived piping hot in a large bowl drizzled with sauce and scallions; appealing as hell. The pork was juicy and tender and, unfortunately, under-seasoned, but the homemade wrappers and freshness of ingredients made for a satisfying dumpling dinner.

Snappy and unhappy dumplings
Snappy Dragon (left),

8917 Roosevelt Way N.E., 528-5575

What a disappointment. Not only were these dumplings glue-like and undercooked, the atmosphere of Snappy Dragon made us wish we had ordered these dumplings to-go. Saying this place is family friendly is an understatement. Kids were running around, crying, hijacking the bathroom stalls and poking each other with chopsticks during a recent visit. It makes total sense that the dumplings at Snappy Dragon would have the gummy consistency of Play-Doh in an establishment that has more children per square foot than a Chuck E. Cheese. The one redeeming quality about these dumplings filled with pork, scallion and ginger ($10.95 for 15 dumplings) is that the meat was properly seasoned; the ginger wasn't overpowering and the balance of flavor was nice. Too bad the pork wasn't also properly cooked. Several of the dumplings came with filling that was dry; clearly a sign the dumplings were boiled frozen or, at the very least, pre-made. The plating was also a total let down -- pasty, curdled looking dough with saucers of dipping sauce teetering on top, as if someone in the kitchen took the definition of dumplings a bit too literally and dumped everything on a plate. What happened Snappy Dragon? Your dumplings used to be better than this.

The Champ

Both places lack atmosphere and energy, but forgoing music and an inviting presence makes it that much easier to concentrate on the food. Szechuan Noodle Bowl appears stoic, but the passion lies in the homemade dumplings that burst with juiciness and flavor. Snappy Dragon seems to have given up on the dumpling game altogether, not only lacking any semblance of TLC in their execution, but taking the joy out of the plump little savory cherubs that are supposed to bring happiness to their consumer. Anyone who takes the fun out of eating dumplings is not a winner in our book. Therefore, we declare Szechuan Noodle Bowl the champion of this Versus challenge.

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