Monthly Archives: August 2012

Tempting dumpling array awaits at Jeng Chi

From the outside, you can’t see through the glass of the doors and windows, only your own reflection and the red writing of Chinese symbols and the words “Jeng Chi.”

The juicy steamed dumplings are the must-order at Jeng Chi. (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

I was recently persuaded to drive up to Chinatown in Richardson to this small Chinese restaurant that, based on my friend’s experience, was guaranteed to have superb dumplings. Seeing as I was already yearning for fall, I was ready for the comfort that a steaming dumpling full of meat could provide.

The large menu probably has plenty to offer, but the dumplings are what you come here for. The sheer number of choices in this category alone will have you dedicating ample time to it.

The taste of the egg rolls at Jeng Chi surpass their average looks.

Before your order of however many dumplings you think you’re hungry for comes out, you may think it’s too generic to order the $1 egg roll. This fried appetizer is thick with seasoned meat that makes you pause to appreciate the chef who took this taste beyond those you’ve enjoyed at any place in Dallas.

The green onion pancake is a crisp, assemble of flaky layers of savory onion.

The green onion pancake (listed in the dumplings section) is a flaky, pastry-like appetizer that balances out perfectly after a few drops of soy sauce are added to the top. The crisp dough is just the surface of the softer, tangy layers between.

One serving is enough to share between two people. While on most occasions, you might be fighting over the last slice, the execution of this varies. Sometimes, it can come out a light, golden brown, other times, it may be a bit too dark (as photographed, and even the soy sauce doesn’t save it from tasting just a bit off.

The steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings at Jeng Chi.

As for the real reason you drove all the way to Richardson — the dumplings come out as they’re ready, causing a waitress to shift your half-emptied plates to the back of the table as you’re mid-bite into a pancake wedge.

The steamed shrimp and pork dumplings are fine, filling the dumpling completely with a well-seasoned, slightly ambiguous mound of meat.

The boiled beef dumplings were better than expected (and more difficult to maneuver with chopsticks because their slippery exteriors still dripped with water). The smaller amount of meat inside is an appropriate complement to the surrounding dough, for the flavor and spices unexpectedly overwhelm you in an incredibly good way.

The pot stickers are good, too, crispy, savory and greasy, similar to many other places — even chains of the same cuisine — in Dallas.

The small juicy steamed dumplings at Jeng Chi.

What makes a return drive up North Greenville Avenue truly worthy are the small juicy steamed dumplings. These large dumplings, served the same way as the shrimp and pork–over leaves inside a dumpling basket–are worth any embarrassment that comes with being unable to eat them with grace.

The liquid surrounding the spiced mound of pork is slightly complex in flavor and better than it has any right to be in this small restaurant.

With autumn (hopefully) approaching soon, I plan on adding these pockets of warm, mellow spice to my list of comfort foods.

Jeng Chi Restaurant
Location: 400 N. Greenville Ave., Ste. 19 in Richardson, 972-669-9094, jengchirestaurant.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price: $
Ambiance: Mostly full of families having a quiet meal, with abrupt servers who do just what they need to get the dumpling basket to your table, and that’s all.
Alcohol: BYOB

Special thanks to Allison Wisk for recommending Jeng Chi Restaurant.

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Seafood that’s fast, fried and savory at Big Shucks

There are shack-like establishments up and down Cape Cod, many serving all of the clam chowder, lobster rolls and fried fish one could want. Unfortunately, the desire for these foods continues even when you’re not on the Cape, and you’re as far away as Dallas.

The spicy shrimp cocktail at Big Shucks (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

So, lowering the bar a bit, there’s suddenly a necessity to find an environment that serves up this underestimated cuisine. Throw in a tall mug of shrimp cocktail, and you’ll get even more than you yearned for.

Big Shucks Oyster Bar on Mockingbird Lane has everything expected of a shack serving fresh seafood: a tabletop you don’t even bother wondering if it’s clean, a person with a smile hand-writing your order from behind a counter, and nowhere to sit on a Saturday night.

The menu, printed on boards above the register, boasts a house specialty—shrimp cocktail.

The mug balancing this heaping mound of shrimp is plenty for two. The shrimp is packed into a sauce of cilantro, tomatoes, Serrano peppers and onion. You get an option of mild, medium or spicy—the latter could use even more of a kick. But the taste has enough of a kick to be complemented by a chunk of avocado.

The combo fried basket of catfish and shrimp at Big Shucks (Photo by MICHAEL DANSER)

A portion of the menu is dedicated to baskets of fried food, all of which come with some steak-cut fries that need a good shaking from the Corona bottle containing salt at each table.

Whatever else is fried next to the potatoes should be fine, though. The fried catfish is flaky and salty with a thin, fine coating. You can get your shrimp in the same coating, or go for the sweeter option of coconut.

The best thing about the coconut shrimp is simply the freshness. Each shrimp doesn’t have a bit of meat without a flake of unsweetened coconut covering it. The hint of sweetness is fine on its own, not overpowering the shrimp taste, and keeps it somewhat savory. There’s a sweet chutney in a small plastic cup to the side, though, that will complete the taste to a delightful excess.

The basket of coconut shrimp at Big Shucks (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

If you’re with someone who’s willing to share a meal, and you’re looking for healthier options here, you luck out with the Summer Platter, complete with crab claws, shrimp (which you will clean yourself), sausage, new potatoes and chunks of corn on the cob.

While the clarified butter on the same tray could probably lift up any fresh seafood’s taste, this Cajun seasoning of spice and sweetness on these shrimp and crab won’t slow you down. (The cracking of the shells on crab claws and sweeping off the heads of the shrimp will, however.)

There are other places to get fine crab served with clarified butter for dipping. But being able to stop here for a quick lunch of cracking into some sweet crab with a kick is convenient and savory.

The spicy powder combats the natural sweetness of the corn, which makes it one of the few things that will remain on the metal tray the meal comes on.

The summer platter at Big Shucks (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

While the casual, seafood dining atmosphere might surprise you as you’re sitting so close to Lakewood, you’re in for a real astonishment when you leave. At the cash register, you won’t hand over a receipt for your meal. Instead, you’ll be asked, “What did you have today?”

Running on the honor system, this place obviously trusts its customers.  The risk of  lying just isn’t worth it: They’re sure to figure it out, and you won’t be able to go back for those seasoned crab legs.

Big Shucks Oyster Bar
Location: 6232 E. Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, 75214, 214-887-6353 (See website for the other three locations.)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price: $-$$
Ambiance: Windows around seating area provide plenty of natural light; with the crowd, it can get loud; there’s also a spacious patio overlooking Mockingbird Lane.
Alcohol: Beer and wine served

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Buli Café an ideal lunch spot on Cedar Springs

My favorite mocha came from behind the counter of the Mercantile Coffee House. With its sudden closing, the hunt was on for one that could at least meet it halfway in Dallas. The ideal result came much more quickly than I expected, and I even found a meal to go along with it.

Buli Café offers the Oak Lawn area enough for its visitors to indulge in: Aside from an impeccable mocha or black coffee, there are also sandwiches, cakes and assorted baked goods.

The Oak Lawn pastrami sandwich is made up of turkey pastrami, cheddar and Muenster cheeses, tomato, romain and lots of mayonnaise. Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS

Unless there’s a quick crowd, you’ll most likely be welcomed by whoever is behind the counter. You might be a bit rushed to make a decision as you look at the boards above him, but as he gives you time with the menu, you can narrow your choices, which should be centered on the sandwiches.

These sandwiches can’t be missed. What guarantees that your lunch will be good is the Panini bread that is almost crisp on the outside and savory and soft on the inside.

The sandwiches come presented alongside a bag of chips and a sliced pickle, all packed into a metal lunch box.

A bag of chips, a paper-wrapped pickle slice and the hand-held meal is all arranged into an old-fashioned tin. (At least, they seem old-fashioned: There may be a current pop band on the pink box, but I would bet there’s a chance of tetanus if you were to cut your finger on it.)

When my eyes scanned the menu, they immediately went to the two pastrami options: the New York or the Oak Lawn. I narrowed it down by skipping the sauerkraut on the New York and went for the Oak Lawn variation.

I let myself order the sandwich, despite the meat being pink turkey pastrami. But the melted Muenster and cheddar cheeses around it helped fight my stereotype of the meat significantly.

This sandwich would have disappeared from its paper-lined box had it been without the tomato, less-than-crisp romaine and copious amount of mayonnaise.

My friend had the cream-o-chicken, which had grilled chicken breast, cream cheese, bacon, baby spinach, basil, tomato and apricot-habanero chutney. A bit much is going on in this sandwich, but it plays it safe by having cream cheese and bacon in the mix.

We both opted for the iced tea, which proved to be the perfect choice for anyone feeling that she’s dying of thirst–you can get about three glasses’ worth in the serving.

For dessert, there are cased cakes that are delivered from Massimo’s Italian Bakery. Don’t let the poor lighting in the case fool you—this cake is moist enough that it almost fails to support the frosting. What may be a glob of a mess on your plate is nevertheless a delicious one.

The iced tea is a healthy serving at Buli.

Whether you go in for breakfast or skip the cake and lunch, the staff here makes a good mocha, chocolaty enough to be indulgent, but it doesn’t drown the all-so-important caffeine. Of course, the iced tea is a safe choice if you’re the type who refuses to drink a hot drink on a sweltering day.

The service that brews and serves here is some of the best I’ve seen at a walk-up order. They’re so friendly, it’s worth the drive over there for me to order a water and have their attitudes brighten my day.

Buli Cafe
Location: 3908 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas, 75219, 214-528-5410
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Price: $
Ambiance: Clean, small dining
Alcohol: none served

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Burgers on the mark at Off-Site Kitchen

It started to seem that finding a parking spot at this West Dallas joint was going to take longer than my actual meal. Finally, my car full of people decided that the seeming popularity of this restaurant had to be worth parking on the dirt alley behind the uniquely named Off-Site Kitchen.

Off-Site Kitchen’s Locals Only, a burger I can’t wait to taste again. Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS

A couple of people blocking one swinging door had our troop divert to the remaining one, but a tall blonde quickly urged us out of the way: There’s a precise way to make a line toward this counter, and the heavy lunch crowd was clearly one she was accustomed to directing.

The line was a long wait, and a hot one. A large, steel fan tried its best with spinning blades to cool the small, crowded customers below it.

Our traffic dictator was short on courtesy but kind enough to hand each of us a laminated menu that expanded on the names of the burgers offered, which were listed on a high-hung chalk board.

By the time our lunches were selected, it was time to take a gigantic styrofoam cup, which had a high fluid capacity for one of the restaurant’s homemade beverages or a large selection of canned sodas.

While you can build your own burger, the listing has plenty to expand your burger tastes beyond what your mom made for you. Regardless, the onions that are grilled onto the bottoms of your burger patty will already take you to a new level.

The bun is simple, but buttery and steaming hot, making the handling of this meal difficult but more delectable.

The Locals Only burger, which is topped with bacon, jalapeño and smoked bacon relish, tomato and a generous side of melting American cheese, is hot with a well-seasoned, quality meat. There’s also a smoky “secret sauce” bringing it all together.

I had to slow myself down in eating it–it wasn’t because the steaming bun was burning my fingers, but with each bite I was discovering that I may have one of the best burgers in Dallas right in my own hands.

The Off-Site Kitchen has a generous side of fries you can pair with your burger. Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS

The fries are thin and crisp, almost like a tastier, thicker potato stick. They’re a fine accompaniment, but with the flavors going throughout the sandwich beside it, they’re not necessarily needed.

If you happen to be here on a summer day, don’t worry about your food going cold: with the exception of a narrow counter inside, most of your seating options are outside with a few umbrellas for some shade.

Keep in mind that once you’ve made it to Irving Boulevard and you’re circling the block because the miniature parking lot is full, your used gas and possibly short walk will all be worth it.

Off-Site Kitchen
Location: 2226 Irving Blvd. in Dallas, 75207, 214-741-2226
Hours: 10:30 to 2:30 daily (they say they will be open for breakfast and dinner soon, too)
Price: $
Ambiance: Crowded and hot, full of hungry diners knowing the it is worth it
Alcohol: beer served

Special thanks to Allison Wisk, who recommended Off-Site Kitchen to me.

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