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Monday, September 19, 2011

Dumplings & Buns: Not Yet the Beard Papa of Bao

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 10:10 AM

Dumplings & Bun's pork bun (l.) and vanilla custard bun, each $2. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Dumplings & Bun's pork bun (l.) and vanilla custard bun, each $2.

When Dumplings & Buns opened on California and Fillmore in late August, Eater SF reported that owner May Lee Iorfido had lofty goals: to become the Beard Papa of Chinese buns.

The shop looks like it belongs in Pacific Heights, with splashes of red, a black-and-white photo of the San Francisco native's progenitors, and jars of Asian-inspired condiments displayed around the room, all for sale. The menu is short and pretty much described in the name of the restaurant: savory and sweet buns ($2), each the size of a flattened Pixie tangerine, as well as a few dumplings ($3.75-$5 for three) and a noodle salad. The custard fillings of the sweet buns have playful flavors like chocolate, orange-ginger, and lemon Cointreau.

SFoodie has visited the shop twice over the past week, and while we think the time is right for upscaled Cantonese buns, the execution is still out of whack. Gummy tapioca-skin dumplings filled with grainy, underseasoned ground chicken. Chewy savory buns with a thimbleful of meat spread along the bottom. Pallid, dense sweet buns with a tiny nubbin of egg-crackle sliding off the top. (The buns are baked throughout the day, so we've only been able to try the vanilla and chocolate fillings, both the best part of the snack.)

City View's custard buns: gold standard. - SF WEEKLY
  • SF Weekly
  • City View's custard buns: gold standard.

The basic rule of upselling a familiar product is that you can charge more as long as you make it better. Kara's cupcakes, as compared to my mom's, or 4505 Meats' pork rinds and hot dogs? Totally worth the premium prices. Baked cha siu bao a third of the size, a third of the quality, and double the price of anything you'd find in the Richmond or Chinatown? Unh-unh. Given the competition in San Francisco, some re-engineering is due.

If you want buns that come to the table warm and ethereal, their crackling tops brittle and sugary, their fillings a hot gush of egg custard, SFoodie's favorite are still the miniature pineapple custard buns at City View. Now that's a bun we'd love to see franchised. 

Dumplings & Buns: 2411 California (at Fillmore), 292-6209.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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