A small new Chinese restaurant has opened in Tonawanda, in the plaza at 1000 Ellicott Creek Road.
The Chinese Dumpling House operation could scarcely be smaller. Mei Lu is from Shanghai, and she has some help making the dumplings and buns, but when I stopped for dinner last week, she was the only cook. Her husband Tom Herr was taking orders, but if you're not the only customer, don't expect fast food.
What you can expect are credible dumplings, buns, rolls and soup, with fried rice and noodle dishes as the only mainline entrees.
The setup is simple. Order at the counter, and you can wait there or have a seat at one of the tables in the lightly decorated side room.
Chicken ginger soup with carrots was almost gone, but we got the last bowl ($5). This was the kind of long-simmered soup that makes you wish you'd come in from a blizzard so you could enjoy its restorative properties. Slightly sweet, with lots of carrots, chicken and matchsticked ginger root.
Fresh and fried spring rolls are 2 for $2.50. The fresh version wasn't awful but it lacked fresh herbs, making it less engaging that its Vietnamese counterparts. The fried chicken, cabbage and onion roll was terrifically crispy, the sort of treat you scarf down while wondering what a burnt esophagus feels like. The crispness would almost certainly wilt in a to-go container, so take these away at your own risk.
Dumplings come in pork and chive or chicken and chive, fried or boiled, $4 for 6, or $8 for 12. I tried both, and found the flavors similar, with the pork richer and saltier. There's a dark gingery sauce, and an amber, sweet sauce that's thick as honey and has little strips of fragrant orange peel. This was an above-average dumpling experience because of the fresh, fully packed dumplings.
The buns are unusual for the area, savory meat fillings wrapped in dough that are fried to order. They're $2 each, and come in pork, tofu, green onion and sesame seed or beef and onion. They're the equivalent of a Chinese fast-food hamburger, except juicier. I liked the pork one especially, and would have thought of ordering another, if I had time.
Fried rice ($10) was supposed to include shrimp and scallops, but we got shrimp and sliced fish meatballs balls, but it was tasty enough, so I didn't mind.
The fried noodles were even better, flavorful even though there wasn't much smoky "breath of the wok."
In the final tally I liked the fried chicken cabbage roll and, pork and beef buns, and chicken ginger soup more than I liked the dumplings. The dumpling fillings and dips were tasty, but I've been spoiled by housemade dumpling wrappers at Home Taste and Peking Quick One. The Chinese Dumpling House use stout mass-produced wrappers, like most of the Chinese places in town, but the flavors of the fresh fillings make their dumplings a notch above average.
Those buns, fries rolls and chicken ginger soup would bring me back, even if the dumplings didn't.
Here's the menu:
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