Dumpling & Noodle House - Irvine
When Ezo Noodle Cafe closed, I didn't blink. In the close-to-half-decade that I lived in the area, I never stepped in. I didn't have to. If I wanted ramen, Santoka was only a short jaunt away.
Recently in its place, something called Dumpling & Noodle House went in -- a restaurant name so ambiguous, it left a lot to the imagination. Me? I had visions, hopeful ones, of a Din Tai Fung-like establishment. Purses of soup-filled dumplings in steamer baskets. Or perhaps, hand-stretched noodles. Something different to shake up this tired-old food court.
As I walked closer and closer to it, I knew it was going to be different, but I also realized that I wasn't going to get any xiao long bao when I spied what people were eating. Some were sucking up thick, udon-like strands of noodle out of basin-sized bowls awash in a seething red broth and topped with hacked hunks of crab carcass. Others slurped jja jang myun, more noodles drenched in what looks like crude oil, but what is actually black bean sauce.
If you hadn't figured it out by now (or taken in the clues I left on the pictures above) Dumpling & Noodle House is Korean. Who else but a Korean restaurant would equip every table with a plastic, flip-top water jug and offer complimentary saucers of kimchi with every meal?
The place, as it turns out, is a branch of Man Doo Rang, which has outposts in Buena Park and L.A. In doing research after the fact, I found out that they are known for offering free soda, which explains why one of the nice ladies there motioned to us, pointed at the soda fountains, and said, "Free! Free!"
We got our drinks and got on with our lunch. Water is my beverage of choice anyway.
The noodles in the Ramen Combo ($6.49) -- served in small gold pot with grip handles -- had the familiar Shirley Temple curl and crinkle I associate with Korean instant ramen. And therein lies the problem: it tasted just like it.
The broth was savory, hot, and good; but with it also came a realization: it, too, seemed like it had come from a seasoning packet.
Halfway through the meal, I made the observation to my tablemate, who was plowing through his Dumpling Ramen ($4.99), and he replied, "That's what I was thinking too!".
We were eating the same dish, after all. The only difference was that mine was dumpling-less and came with a side of kim bop -- a cooly refreshing sushi roll packed with crunchy veggies.
I offered some of my kim bop to my other dining companion, who ordered the Steamed Dumplings ($5.49), and was having trouble finishing it. "This is really strong," she remarked. At that point, my tablemate again said, "That's what I was thinking too!" He had the same dumplings in his ramen.
Taking a bite of one, I made it unanimous: these dumplings suffered from a chive-overload, which also made the texture seem like we were chewing on lawn clippings -- the filling was more roughage than meat.
But because we tried only a tiny fraction of what this restaurant offers, I'm not going to write it off just yet. The menu boasts Korean chorizo, katsu, even Korean fried chicken. And there's still that spicy-looking bowl of knife-cut noodle soup with the crab that I saw almost every table ordering...not to mention a whole section dedicated to "Sweet & Sour Dishes", which, I am not sorry to say, I'm going to skip.
Dumpling & Noodle House
13256 Jamboree Rd.
Irvine, CA 92602
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