Sunday, May 10, 2009

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
(714)508-8989
13256 Jamboree Rd.
Irvine, CA 92602

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27 Comments:

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I know how you feel about Santoka. The Mitsuwa in Illinois has one, too, and it was seriously the best ramen I ever tasted. Love the shio ramen.

You probably knew already that jja jang myun is originally a Chinese dish, and is the inspiration for spaghetti. I actually like the Korean version best, but my Chinese husband doesn't know this. :-p

 
At 7:49 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

eh, the description of the Ramen Combo & it's made-from-packet sounding ingredients is a culinary buzzkill for me.Not that this Korean place is supposed to major in ramen soup, but still..there's really no excuse.
And ...korean chorizo? Seems like they are trying too hard. I guess I will stick to Ebisu in FV for my ramen needs.

 
At 7:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Juliet,

The shio ramen all the way! Hmm, also the miso and the spicy miso. All are excellent! And actually, you can count another person who didn't know that jja jang myun was originally Chinese, and was the inspiration for spaghetti. I learn somethin' new every day!

chris,

"Culinary buzzkill!" HA! As opposed to "culinary boner" a la Top Chef!

Yeah, I can't say for sure if it was made from a packet (which is why I was careful not to proclaim that it was), but it sure seemed to taste like it.

I'd be willing to give 'em a pass on it. It was decent for what it was, and it was just about the cheapest dish on the menu (which is why we got it), so perhaps they phoned it in, knowing cheapskates like me would be ordering it.

For the record that noodle with the crab looked freshly made.

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger polar said...

Hmm.. being Korean myself, I MIGHT go and order stuff off this place IF it was close by and open really late and I was really really craving korean-style ramen that I could potentially make at home. They do have a few interesting items such as the Korean "Chorizo", which is actually Korean blood sausage called soondae ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundae_(Korean_food) ) and katsu which are not typical of a "dumpling and noodle" place. But I actually prefer to go to places that specialize in katsu or korean blood sausage.

Frankly, a place that has dumpling n noodles in the name, I would hope to be quite outstanding or perhaps a tad above what you can make at home. Average to mediocre food with those kinds of price tags won't warrant return visits .

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Korean Chorizo? Now that's something I've never heard off.... Zha Jian Mian is something that I've never really been fond of, though my wife and MIL from Shandong love it.

 
At 9:18 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

If the "Chorizo" is actually Soondae....they probably should call it Morcilla....but than again, most folks wouldn't know what it was....

 
At 12:16 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

GLad I could teach yo something. :-)
Remember when I posted my recipe for kimbap in my long neglected food blog? Definitely worth making yourself sometimes! In fact, I am eating some right now. :-)

 
At 12:54 PM, Blogger melissa said...

I'll definitely keep your comments in mind when I try this place. It's just too close for me not to give it a chance or two. But given its location and its predecessor, I honestly expected mediocrity.

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

This is very interesting! I would have not expected a Korean restaurant to have a name like that as usually it is all Chinese restaurants that use that type of name.

Isn't it interesting that even though they are steamed dumplings they don't serve it in a steamer like most dumpling restaurants do?

 
At 11:05 PM, Blogger Stanielsan said...

Paying for doctored up instant ramen is bad. I can make a pretty good freshly made ramen at home. BTW, have you tried Gomen for ramen? It is pretty good. I haven't tried Santoka yet but Gomen does have the same taste as what I remembered while I was in Japan.

 
At 12:18 AM, Blogger He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named said...

how was the kim bap? i love that stuff man. sorry to hear that the ramen was no good. AVADA KEDARVA on that ish...i'm always wary of seeing ramen at a korean place though just because i'd assume it's from the packet w/ some stuff added in and i love japanese ramen. i have yet to try santoka still, sadly enough...
maybe the knife cut noodles (kalgooksu) are good? you're right, when i first read the title on your post, i thought of chinese.

 
At 7:08 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

polar,

Well that's a mind bender: It's one thing to generalize your name to "Dumpling & Noodle House", it's quite another to call something "chorizo" when it's actually blood sausage! This must violate the Geneva Conventions somehow!

Now I guess I have to go back and give it a shot...ignoring that ramen menu, of course.

Kirk,

I think I'd know. And I'd be "Dude! There's blood sausage in my sausage!"

Juliet,

Ah yes! I remember that recipe. As with all things rattling around in this empty shell above my shoulders, I've forgotten how easy it is!

So can I have some?

Melissa,

Oh yes! By all means, go! I am definitely returning too. There's just too much potential for goodness here, even if the ramen tasted like it came from a packet. That Zzam Pong's looks large enough to feed two!

EatTravelEat,

Actually the picture doesn't show it, but the dumplings were sitting in a steamer basket. Or rather, on top of one. Theirs is a different kind of steamer basket: it fits upside down, if you know what I mean. Which makes it just that much different from a Chinese dumpling place!

Stanielsan,

Gomen? Hmm, I think I may have heard about the place (does it do black sesame ramen or something?) I haven't had the pleasure. I think it's in Cypress or Stanton or something. I think I need to make a field trip sometime. But only if you promise to try Santoka!

Voldemort,

I gotta say...the kim bap was excellent. But then, I also have to say that I've never had BAD kim bap. And yes, I think ramen isn't the thing to order here. But heck, it was the cheapest thing, so how could I not?!

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Lawn clippings LOL.
I knew it must be some kind of seasoning package since I can never duplicate the taste even googling it.
I wonder what kind of season package it could be.

 
At 7:46 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

I hear the Xmas Season Getaway Package is a real deal! =)

 
At 9:10 AM, Blogger polar said...

Elmo,

I DO NOT recommend gettin Korean blood sausage anywhere else than shops that specialize in it. When you're in Artesia for some good filipino food via Magic Wok, try Seoul Soondae, which is on the opposite diagonal corner of Artesia & Pioneer.

Gomen is a typical ramen shop that I've been to many times. Most of the patrons I've noticed are Japanese. You have japanese manga and magazines in the corner, if you can read it. They offer gyoza, fried rice and other various side dishes along w/ your ramen. It does not top Santouka, however.

 
At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm a big fan of your blog.

Second, about the mysterious Korean restaurant. I haven't been there, so I could be wrong. However, my impression is that it was more or less like a Korean "bun sik" place. This type of restaurant is not committed to show chef's creativity or effort. All stuff such as ramen and dumplings is pretty much prepacked and ready for a simple process--boiling, steaming, or frying. Kim bap should be "hand-crafted," though.

Even though its mediocrity, some Koreans, especially Korean girls, just love "bun sik," which literally means foods made from flour and now generally designates cheap "fast-ready" food in Korea. You experienced a part of the Korean "pop" culinary world:)

Look forward to reading your new expedition:)

 
At 6:09 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Bill & Christoofat,

You guys crack me up!

polar,

Duly noted. I guess it's the same with dinuguan (Filipino pork blood stew). I have been warned not to try it unless the place can be trusted.

And thanks for the tip about Gomen. Santoka's hard to beat isn't it?

Anon,

Thank you! That was very enlightening to me, and also everyone who's reading. So what encountered was sort of Korean fast food! Now I get it! Although I still don't know if I get why people would pay $5 for packaged ramen, I suppose there's always someone who will.

 
At 5:58 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Ah! I notice it now. At first it looked like a plate due to the paper layer below the dumplings, but then I saw the hole in the silver steamer area. Definitely different from a Chinese dumpling place!

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

E.T.E.,

Yup! It's definitely different in every way...well, they're still dumplings...but other than that, different in every way!

 
At 10:37 PM, Blogger Stanielsan said...

Ok, I will try Santoka and will let you know. I don't know of the black sesame ramen at Gomen but they do have good tonkotsu shio, miso, and shoyu broths for their ramen. Gomen is in Stanton not too far from Beach and Katella.

 
At 9:54 PM, Blogger edjusted said...

Yes, Gomen definitely has good ramen.

My friend just texted me, seething about being served instant ramen at a restaurant. I instantly thought of your review and asked him if it was the Dumping & Noodle house. Guess what? I was right! Man, and I thought Ezo was bad...

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger Stanielsan said...

I went to Santoka as you had recommended. I would say that it was good but not that great. Santoka was pricey and for my money's worth it was just ok. I personally think that Shinsengumi has a better tonkotsu style ramen but again that is a personal thing. I am not a huge fan of tonkotsu style anyways except for Gomen. I still have not found any ramen that can beat what I ate in Japan. Another good place to go is in Hacienda Heights called Foo Foo Tei. That place is always crowded with both Chinese and Japanese customers. Portions are huge and the taste is great IMHO.

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Check out Ebisu at Brookhurst & Garfield.

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Well guys, I guess it's my turn to check out Gomen...and Ebisu!

Thanks always for the tips!

 
At 6:32 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

At Ebisu, try the hakata ramen, or if yer in a "He-Man" mood, the kimchee raman. Will grow hair on your tongue!

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger Erin said...

I had the absolute worst meal I have ever eaten before in my life here today.

I love Korean food, and I wanted kimchi chigae because I've got a sinus headache and nothing opens my sinuses like kimchi stew. I decided to try the kimchi dumpling soup, thinking that it would be like kimchi stew with dumplings. The cashier looked concerned, told me that it was very hot, and asked me if I still wanted it. Yes, I responded, chuckling at the thought of all the other "white folks" who apparently get themselves in over their heads with Asian heat. As for me, I like it! I can take it! Bring it on!

Okay, so I was mistaken about the dish -- it's actually a broth bathing dumplings stuffed with kimchi. This isn't exactly food like my mama used to make -- she was a Cajun (so now you understand why I like my spice), so this was a learning experience. But a nice broth with spicy dumplings could have been very nice. Or even a good canned broth with tasty dumplings. What I got was dishwater with oval rice cakes sunk at the bottom, and off-tasting dumplings floating murkily among strands of tasteless egg. In trying to decontruct the dish, I concluded that the rice cakes (which I love) had been boiled in plain water (no salt), a heaping helping of which was then ladled into the bowl and swirled with beaten egg. There was just something wrong about the dumplings; I'm not sure what, because I have nothing to compare them with, but they were BAD. All caps. And, ironically, they were not hot at all! I concocted a dipping sauce of vinegar and soy from the bottles on the table, and choked down enough to tide me over. So disappointing, because I had so hoped for a quick and convenient Korean option.

Oh, by the way, it's table service, and part of the reason that I said nothing (the other part being that I'm a wimp when it comes to confrontation) is that the eager young recently-arrived Koreans working there were so earnest, placing the silverware and napkins on the table with both hands and bowing respectfully with each contact. And I ate two dishes of pickled radishes -- I love those things! Meanwhile, I noticed that all the white folks got two banchan (both radishes), while Asian folks also got a dish of kimchi. Where was my kimchi?! As I scanned the room, I saw that the two other Caucasians had the same setup that I did -- no kimchi. No, I did not ask for it -- and I even know how to, in Korean. Such a wimp.

And the worst part of all -- I still have my headache. And a stomachache, to boot. I'm contemplating doing the Freshia food court tonight, if I can settle things down in the next couple of hours.

 
At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being a Korean myself, when a Korean restaurant offers 'ramen' I expect it to be out of the plastic packet -- and this place is not different. From the taste of it, I suspect their dumplings may also have come from the neighborhood Korean grocer's freezer. Urrrgh. I can always make myself instant ramen and frozen dumplings.

 

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