If you’ve been to Private Kitchen, the Chens’ order-ahead restaurant, you have most likely tasted Lawrence Chen’s dumplings. They are a labor-intensive delicacy of small, thin-skinned buns filled with minced meat or shellfish and a gelatinous soup that liquefies upon steaming. The result is a piping hot, liquid-filled dumpling that must be eaten with finesse to avoid burns.
Their popularity has given rise to a new Chen venture two doors down, St. Louis Soup Dumplings. A casual, drop-in spot open Tuesday through Sunday, the place has a nice aesthetic, with white and yellow chairs and contemporary Chinese lantern fixtures made of bamboo. The mood is set by a large painting on one wall depicting the spot’s signature food.
You won’t find much besides dumplings served here (an occasional cold Chinese delicacy might sit in the case), but these treats are worth the trip. The offerings appear on a chalkboard at the register: Pork, Pork and Crabmeat, Chicken, Beef—each order coming as six or eight dumplings in a xiaolong, or small bamboo steam basket.
The trick is learning how to eat them, which starts with allowing the buns to sit for a minute (literally) so that when you extract them from the basket, they don’t break. It’s best to pick them up by grasping the knot on top, either with chopsticks or your fingers. Then place the bun into the Chinese spoon provided, and gently create a tear to allow release of the steam. After carefully sipping the oozing broth pooled in the spoon, you can eat the dumpling’s other contents. This is hard, because once you taste it, you just want to shove the whole thing into your mouth.
The broth inside the dumplings is highly condensed with flavor. Our Pork and Crabmeat Dumplings ($12) were a combination of salt, pork and crabmeat goodness. The thick, fatty broth coats your mouth with a pleasant richness that enhances the meat and seafood when you get to it. An order of Chicken Dumplings ($8) was completely different in flavor. These had a distinctive vinegar undertone; soup dumplings are traditionally served with black vinegar and ginger.
The Beef Dumplings ($9) are especially tasty, with an intensely rich broth. Also noteworthy were our Vegetable Dumplings ($8), which had a delicious minced filling of bok choy, bitter greens and possibly Chinese radish. The overall effect was salty and a little mouth-puckering. The Shrimp Dumplings ($12), not always available, were good, but as one would expect, not as fat-laden as the ones with meat. The broth in these was somewhat reminiscent of egg drop soup, with a dumpling filling of chopped shrimp.
Each diner also receives a small bowl of light chicken broth to supplement the meal. There is no water service—which diners might find odd—but there are bottled water, iced tea and soda for purchase.
the scene | Bright, fast-casual eatery specializing in soup dumplings, a Chinese delicacy
the chef | Lawrence Chen
the prices | $8-$12
the favorites | Pork & Crabmeat Dumplings, Beef Dumplings, Vegetable Dumplings
food • ŏ • lō • gy
bao | Chinese wheat-flour buns of various thickness that yield soft, sticky dumplings due to their steam cooking method
chinese spoon | Ceramic spoon with a short handle for easy maneuvering and a flattened bowl to keep solids in place
black vinegar | An Asian vinegar made of rice and malt that is lightly sweet, similar to balsamic vinegar
8110 olive blvd. | 314.445.4605
Photos | Bill Barrett