Angie Lin and Chef Tony Tung established their pop-up bona fides as Good to Eat Dumplings. For the past few years, they were a weekend fixture at Original Pattern Brewing in Jack London Square. After years of searching and not finding an affordable permanent address, Lin and Tung recently landed in Emeryville. In their first full-time kitchen, Lin told me that dumplings are now one among many items on the menu. “We started our pop-up with dumplings, but our passion is really to provide a wide variety of Taiwanese flavors.”
If we take a gander at their logo, “dumplings” appears in tiny letters, deemphasized, underneath the word “Eat.” Lin explained that Good to Eat will always serve dumplings but, “we would not position ourselves as a dumpling restaurant.” Rightly so. There is such a thing as truth in advertising. The rest of the menu at Good to Eat lives up to the name.
Our veggie of the day ($8.50) turned out to be an unfamiliar item, yam stems. I wasn’t prepared for their dark-green splendor. Yam stems don’t tenderize to the same extent that spinach does. But the cooks achieved a flavorful braise, finely wilting the stems and leaves. Someone in the kitchen knew exactly when to remove them from the flame.
Every table at the restaurant, including ours, ordered a plate of fu-ru fried chicken ($15). A tangle of thinly sliced green onions and a scattering of sesame seeds cover the small mountain of chicken morsels. The plate is elegantly composed—chicken arranged in a quarter moon on one half, a lemon wedge and pickled cucumber slices on the other. Those additional hits of acidity enhanced the flavor of the chicken. I noticed that all the other diners also polished off every single bite.
Green onions and sesame seeds returned as a topping for the bowl of spicy noodles ($7.50), but the chef adds a crunchy layer of fried onions (possibly shallots), too. The spice, which is medium and not overpowering, comes from a delicate sauce coating the noodles. This is a comfort food dish that disappeared within seconds of its arrival at the table.
After I asked Lin what the difference is between a Taiwanese dumpling and a Chinese one, she laughed. “That’s my all-time favorite question, because it’s so hard to answer.” She said that Taiwanese food looks like Chinese food but, in general, “we emphasize the flavor of the filling, layering ingredients to create complexity.” Lin added that at Good to Eat they don’t usually use a sauce on their dumplings.
“Today, for example, we have a pan-fried dumpling and a water-boiled one in broth,” Lin said. The pan-fried dumpling included the classic Taiwanese filling of shrimp and pork. “Because Taiwan is an island, we’re really good at incorporating together seafood plus meat,” she added. Cabbage is another ingredient that differentiates Taiwanese and Chinese dumplings. “In China, they often use Napa cabbage. But in Taiwan, we always use cabbage.” Compared to Napa cabbage, the familiar, globe-shaped cabbage “has more texture,” she said.
Water-boiled dumplings, which Lin calls wontons, are usually associated with Cantonese cooking. “They’re super-small and round,” she said. “But ours are bigger and we use pork, green onions and Taiwanese peppers to enhance the flavor.”
We were second in line for a weeknight dinner service. When ordering at the front counter, there’s a direct view into the busy kitchen. The last time I ate in the space it was for breakfast at one of the former occupants, Cafe Aquarius. There’s no trace left of their funky interior décor. What does remain is a large outdoor patio that’s largely sheltered from the elements.
Although Lin and Tung make all sorts of excellent dishes, I couldn’t find a single fault in their pork dumplings with soy vinegar ($8.50). It is possible to order a delicious meal at Good to Eat without eating a bowlful of dumplings—but, as my father used to ask me, why would anyone do such a foolish thing?
Good To Eat Dumplings & Modern Taiwanese Cuisine, soft-opening hours Wed to Fri, 5-8:30pm. 1298 65th St., Emeryville. 510.922.9885. goodtoeatdumplings.com