Article and Photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Dumpling is a start-up restaurant at 4004 Minnehaha Ave., and the dream come true of co-owners Bunbob Chhun (left in photo right) and James Munson (right). The young entrepreneur-chefs met as freshmen at the University of Minnesota, and knew from their first meeting that they would one day run a restaurant together.
“We got our start right after graduation,” Munson said, “making traditional Vietnamese sandwiches called banh mi. We came up with four different recipes, and sold them to coffee shops around town. From there we started working farmer’s markets, bringing our sauté pans and steamers to the stands and cooking things up on the spot. But Dumpling is our first brick and mortar restaurant.”
Chhun reminisced, ”We spent 18 months looking for a good location. Eventually we started asking people whose buildings or businesses weren’t even on the market yet. That’s how we found Perry and Mei Mei Wong, who ran Ming’s Palace in this location for 22 years. The timing was just right.
They still own the building, but were more than ready to retire from the restaurant. Our first conversation with them was last August, and we were in this space September 1st tearing down walls, recreating the kitchen, and painting everything.”
”We couldn’t have done this without the help of pretty much every single person we know, Munson noted. “The last six months have been a crazy hustle.”
Dumpling opened for business on Nov. 17. Knowing that January is the slowest month in the restaurant biz, they took a planned break from Dec.. 31-Jan. 10 to fine tune what they’ve learned—and to catch their breath.
Now Chhun, Munson and their staff of 20 are diving into 2017 with three new dumpling recipes: steamed vegie, seasonal (butternut squash, spinach, and sage), and Szechuan chicken. These recipes are in addition to the grand opening dumpling that they started with—the traditional Japanese pork dumpling called gyozo.
Photo left: The signature hand-rolled pork dumpling, quick frozen for easier handling, and ready to cook in a few drops of sesame and grapeseed oils. The dipping sauce has stand out flavors that include orange zest, fresh ginger, and just the right amount of garlic.
Every culture has a dumpling, and for good reason. What other food is so round, so tasty, and so satisfying?
Chhun and Munson knew the Twin Cities were ready for dumplings. They describe their new venture as a next-generation Asian restaurant, specializing in Vietnamese, Chinese and Cambodian comfort food. Each dish is crafted by hand and made from fresh, thoughtful ingredients.
“Our beef stroganoff really speaks to how we cook,” Munson said. “It’s a classic dish but we prepare it with seared beef brisket, Chinese egg noodles, Korean mushrooms, and finish it with a glazed sauce and poached egg topper. We like to take a traditional recipe and fuse it with elements of global cuisine.”
Chhun added, “If we have to call ourselves something, I guess we’re ‘Asian-fusion’, but good ideas can come from anywhere.”
Dumpling is open every day of the week but Tuesday. Hours are Mon., Wed., Thur. and Sun. from 4-10pm; Fri. and Sat. from 4-11pm. Happy Hour is weekdays from 4-6pm, with $1 off wine and appetizers, and $5 tap beers. The attractive cocktail menu includes two that pay homage to Ming’s Palace former owners: Mei Mei’s Collins and Perry’s Old Fashioned.
The menu features several gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options. Prices are moderate with entrees ranging from $8-$14. All menu items are available for take-out except for the ramen and the wonton soup. Call 612-724-8795 to place an order.
“We visited a lot of Asian restaurants when we were putting our ideas together for Dumpling,” Munson said, “and wondered why there were always so many items on the menu. We decided we’d rather have fewer items on our menu, and do them really well.”
Chhun added, “We want every dish we serve to have ‘unami,” a word borrowed from the Japanese that means food that has a pleasant, savory taste.