I’m not much of a writer – and Tyler Cowen has already briefly covered this place – but I would urge everyone to visit Dumpling Queen and order the xinjiang ribs from the chef’s specialty portion of the menu here. These pork ribs have presumably been cooked twice or even thrice! They have a crunchy, fair-food, fried exterior and are completely SAUCELESS! What makes them so delectable? The addictive spice blind that adorns the aforementioned ribs. I am not exactly sure what is in it, but I could detect sesame seeds, fried shallots, fried garlic, and peanuts. I ate an entire order by myself!
I knew when I read about these ribs I had to try them, and I’ve found the perfect complement for them, too: Under the “Snack and Appetizer” section of the menu, the Chinese Scallion Pancake ($4.95) is a great foil, although I’m not going to sit here and tell you this is health food. The pancake comes out cut like a pizza – it’s flat, dense, full of scallions, layered, and cooked just right – since this will probably be the first thing brought out, it will be difficult to limit yourself to one wedge. I did it, but I was also forcing myself to concentrate on my complimentary pot of green tea.
And with the ribs, it’s like having a Chinese barbecued pork sandwich. The Xinjiang Style Pork Ribs ($14.95) are instantly vaulted into one of DC’s classic Chinese dishes, right alongside Peter Chang’s Bamboo Fish or Fried Eggplant – the ribs are at that level. They’re covered, but not with a sauce; more of a chopped hash that you can actually pick up and take a bite of (I also got a touch of peanut in this, so mind your allergies). These ribs were just about perfect, very lightly battered (really, dusted) and I assume flash-fried – this was one of the best dishes I’ve had in quite awhile, and my next dish complemented them well also.
Peking Cha Jiang Noodle ($8.95) is a medium-large bowl of thick, homemade noodles, flanked on one side by long-cut cucumber, and on the other by scallion, and then topped in the middle with some sort of black-bean paste that makes this dish recall the classic Korean dish, Jjajangmyun, except that it’s served at room temperature – it may contain a tiny amount of shredded pork, but I couldn’t even tell for sure. It was wonderful, it was inexpensive, and if you like Jjajangmyun, you’ll like this.
Wanting to try some more of the menu, but not even able to finish what I’d ordered, I took the rest home, and ordered a couple other dishes I figured would keep for later. Like the ribs, these were also from the “Chef Specials” section of the menu. The dishes, individually, were so extreme that they didn’t work well alone, but when had in tandem, they cancelled each other out, and made for some good eating.
Thai Mango Chicken ($12.95) was the most “American” dish of all, although it still wasn’t Americanized; it was just sweet – very sweet. Long strips of chicken, red and green pepper, and a sauce that was full of – I assume – mango, but there was a distinct pineapple component as well. By itself, this was almost as sweet (not confectionary, but sweet) as a dessert; however, when it was had alongside the North China Fish with Sour Cabbage Soup ($16.95), everything changed, because the overwhelming component in this soup was vinegar.
If $16.95 sounds like a lot of money for soup, consider that it came in, not one, but two quart containers – yes, I had a half-gallon of this soup, and I hate wasting food. I was eating it for a day-and-a-half. By itself, it was bordering on being overwhelming – you can picture it very easily: a thin, hot broth based on vinegar and water, strips of generic white “scrod” (for all you Bostonians), and large pieces of cut cabbage – yes, this dish was damned near Irish.
The weird thing is this: Instead of neutralizing each other, when you alternated bites of the Thai Mango Chicken and the Sour Cabbage Soup, things changed, but not in the way you’d expect:
* The Thai Mango Chicken still tasted just as sweet, but the sweetness no longer bothered you.
* The Sour Cabbage Soup, however, gave off the perception of being much less vinegary and much more neutral – you could taste fish in the broth instead of just vinegar.
I’m not sure how far out this menu goes, but it’s a multi-dimensional figure, and I went out to several of the borders in Extreme-Land. It’s a been a good, long time since I’ve had food that was this different within the same restaurant. The important thing is that Dumpling Queen has some terrific things on its menu. As “interesting” as my carryout items were, the first three things I ordered were good enough for DC residents to be renting ZIp Cars to head out to Chantilly. Along with Taste @ Hong Kong, there are two very good, even excellent, Chinese restaurants in the same general shopping area (there’s a Lotte nearby as well). This region has been chasing down Annandale and Ellicott City in terms of Korean restaurants for awhile; now, Rockville and Gaithersburg need to be looking over their shoulders for Chinese competition. These restaurants are both in Italic, and along with Khan Kabob House, are ranked in the top 3 in Chantilly (it’s senseless to try to compare these two with Khan – just pick the cuisine you’re in the mood for, and go with it). For years, places like Thai Basil led the pack (I still think Nongkran Daks has made me the best Pad Thai I’ve ever eaten), but the stakes of the game are in the process of being raised.
10 1/2 years ago, I wrote Desperately Seeking Strip Malls. The more things change, the more they stay the same – think about where you’d find these ribs in DC proper. You’d go to some gussied-up restaurant and pay $50 for what would amount to a photocopy of the real thing.
If someone can write the Chinese characters for me, I’ll put them in the title. Note: These three pages are not the whole menu; just the items I ordered – iPhone camera technology has made it *so much easier* being a restaurant critic instead of having to purloin menus or frantically try to scratch down some notes (Sietsema and Kliman are nodding their heads right now).