Soup dumplings: hard to master, but amazing when done perfectly.

Xiao long bao could be a staple food of the Houston experience—emphasis on could. I'm reminded of the soup dumplings I had in Chinatownat Sarah Place and One Dragon, especially. The pliable bun, the way the dumpling slides and bounces about the spoon, and that first rush of soup once you bite into the steaming hot pouch. Those establishments nail the experience down to that last explosion of flavor.

But too often xiao long bao buns are made too thick, or the protein inside doesn't pop, or the soup broth is little more than a hot liquid. All this to say I haven't had enough superior soup dumplings to crown it one of Houston's essential five to 10 foodstuffs. But it's close.

Trendy Dumpling is a newbie (it's the former Spicy Girl, and a new concept from the folks behind that and Wala Buhuan), just off the Southwest Freeway in Upper Kirby. It promises a few kinds of xiao long bao—pork, chicken, sea urchin and shrimp—plus a whole bunch of other steamed and fried dumplings. There's a bunch of spicy Sichuan fare here, for those worried the Spicy Girl influence would've faded away (for example, peppercorn chicken), plus a couple chef's specials. I had xiao long bao with pork and one of those specials: spicy dry pot with beef and shrimp.

Dry spicy pot with beef and shrimp.

First, the latter. I like the spicy dry pot, where the peppers both kicked and offered sweetness, and the texture (root vegetable, a good dose of proteins, broccoli, peppers, bitter green stalks, and plenty of chili slices) brought something new every bite. I plowed through plenty of it, along with a substantial helping of sticky rice.

As for the soup dumplings, they're not at the level of One Dragon. The buns were, in fact, a little too thick, and I wanted a more flavorful punch from the broth. But they held together and had plenty of pork inside. They're a work in progress.

But these folks know spice, so I'll go back for that dry pot and try some of the other spicy dishes inside the calming, cozy dining room. Like I have already, I'll give those soup dumplings time. 

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