The Fairest Dumpling of Them All
By Nancy Powell
It’s hard to beat Alhambra or the San Gabriel Valley when it comes to authentic Chinese food, but One Plus One Dumpling House out in Chino Hills has managed to usurp most of them in the battle of dumpling supremacy and Northern Chinese cuisine. One Plus One’s owner John Wall makes no less than 14 varieties of dumplings, many whose origins hail from recipes carried across the Pacific decades ago from the old country. What this former “trader” and businessman will also tell you is that he makes the best dumplings in Southern California. It is a heavy-handed boast which, lo and behold, also happens to carry the weight of truth.
As if to validate his claim, Wall starts me off with a platter of 10 plump and juicy pan-fried pork dumplings, a specialty at this five-week old restaurant. The wrapper has a nice al dente bite to it, yielding to tender, flavorful bits of minced pork and leeks. A scalding, brothy center both surprises and pleases the palate at first bite, surprising in that the sudden burst creates a slovenly mess and pleasant in the suddenness of that burst. I contrast this insane meatiness with Wall’s vegetable steamed dumplings, leaf-shaped delights that contains finely minced bok choy, mushrooms and a barely discernible tofu center. These dumplings are light and herbaceous, absent of excess oil and tasty for their high density of filling. I’m instantly hooked.
Next up on Wall’s list is an ode to Americana, the beef wrap with house pancake. The dish kind of resembles a burrito or giant egg-roll, except this roll takes a pan-fried green onion pancake and fills it with a thin, hoisin-marinated beef center and gobs of chopped cilantro. It’s heavy on the herbs, but has a nice progression of textures as an appetizer most Americans will appreciate as they progress along the meal.
Beijing cuisine tends to be spicier than Southern Chinese cuisine like that served in the San Gabriel Valley, with a heavier reliance on dark soy paste and sesame paste for the underlying flavoring component. The Spicy Beef in Firepot illustrates this contrast vividly. Think of this as a more ethnic beef stew on fire, with sliced cucumbers, onions, Chinese celery and a liberal sprinkling of hot red peppers in place of the starchier carrots and potatoes. The beef, marinated in bean paste, has a slightly salty kick to it, but add the mixture to white rice and the dish becomes a Chinese equivalent to meat and potatoes.
Other dishes I have the opportunity to sample include the Spicy Shrimp (an orange-battered shrimp riddled with red chili peppers), the Sweet and Sour Sauce with Fish Filet (a beautifully rendered dish of fluted fish filet strips bathed in a burnt orange and tangy sauce), the House Special Tofu (think frittata-like omelet of fried egg and silky, creamy tofu in a savory gravy) and the Noodle with Braised Beef. The last dish reminds me of Taiwanese beef noodle soup, only Wall’s version features freshly made, hand-cut noodles which are both thicker, chewier and longer than the average egg or rice noodle. It soaks up the hearty broth well, creating a fuller, livelier eating experience.
Despite his location in the sleepier bedroom of the Inland Empire, Wall’s restaurant still manages to draw a loyal crowd of Chinese diners, despite the close proximity to the more “Chinese” enclaves in the area. Chalk that up to Wall’s mastery of his art and the admiration that his dumplings fully deserve. Even more amazing is that Wall’s significant other, Linda, a former plastic surgeon in China, happened to dream up the restaurant idea, based on the foodie heritage that ran in both sides of the family. It is a food to be wholly enjoyed by Asians and non-Asians alike.
One Plus One Dumpling House, 14720 Pipeline Ave., Ste. B, Chino Hills, (909) 606-8088. Sun-Sat, 11am-10pm. AE, V.