Patty Chen’s Dumpling Room
907 Main St., Cambridge
Monday – Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Unless you are a freshman, you likely recall walking down Mass. Ave. toward Central and seeing for the first time the large white and blue sign that proudly declared “Pu Pu Hot Pot.” While I never set foot inside Pu Pu Hot Pot, when I saw that the banner had been replaced by a sleek new sign, I felt bereft. The walk to Central would never be quite as funny as it used to be. However, I had a hunch it might be tastier, as the new sign announced that a new restaurant would be taking its place, Patty Chen’s Dumpling Room. I love a good dumpling, and dislike going all the way to Chinatown to get good ones. The thought of homemade dumplings close by was incredibly enticing, so I headed over as soon as it opened.
Walking into the restaurant, it was apparent a total overhaul had occurred. The restaurant, though small, is chicly decorated in red and white wallpaper. A large TV in the corner plays top 40 and electropop. The decor is just the start of the overhaul. The menu has been stripped down to just thirteen items, only two of which aren’t dumplings. It consists mostly of variations on pork dumplings, with a vegetarian and vegan option. For dessert there are red bean dumplings and nutella banana dumplings. Quite a change from the space’s former life as a hole-in-the-wall Chinese delivery establishment.
The space and menu may have received a big facelift, but none of that would matter unless the food had received similar treatment. The food is not at that level yet, but has the potential to be. At my first visit, the service and food were mediocre at best. The food took 30 minutes to arrive, and when the chicken and cabbage dumplings did finally arrive, I wasn’t sure if they were steamed or fried. The red bean dumplings were so fried, I had to chip the edges off.
But all these were forgivable problems, as the base of a good dumpling was there; the execution was just off. I had a feeling it was opening week bumps and visited again more recently. The second visit was much better. The vegan dumplings were excellent, full of an earthy mushroom flavor. The vegetarian dumplings were not quite as good, as the way they were fried interfered with the flavor. However, I have the feeling I would have loved them steamed, as the vermicelli, egg, and chive combination is a winning one. The only real issue is the price. Two orders of dumplings costs around $14. When I spend $14 on restaurant food, I usually hope to have plenty of leftovers. Instead, I left feeling barely full.
The restaurant certainly has potential, and if they start delivering as intended, it could be a nice way to get homemade dumplings at home. Visiting the restaurant could be a nice break from campus, especially with a stop into Toscanini’s right next door. However, if you are looking for an authentic, cheap meal, you’ll still have to go to Chinatown.