Dumpling craze hits Des Moines with this fast-casual East Village dumpling house
Move over Unicorn Frappuccino, these rainbow-colored noodles are the next big thing.
A highly-anticipated fusion-style dumpling house has opened in the metro. And it's serving up 10 different kinds of deep-fried, steamed and pan-sauteed dumplings along with bao, or buns, fried rice and other international dishes.
Dumpling Darling, a fast-casual dumpling emporium specializing in a wide variety of dumplings from all over the world, opened on Tuesday in the East Village. It's located at 212 E. 3rd St. in a renovated historic building that once housed an ostrich hatchery.
It's the third location in Iowa for Brian and Lesley Triplett, who have two locations in Iowa — one in Newbo City Market in Cedar Rapids and one in Iowa City.
Lesley, 30, and Brian, 34, recently moved to East Village and have been married for six years. Lesley hails from Highland Park, Illinois, and Brian is from Davenport, but both graduated from the University of Iowa, where they met.
Lesley will humbly tell you that she doesn't consider herself a chef, but she came up with most of the recipes at the Iowa City shop and brought them to the Des Moines location.
"We lived in Korea for one year teaching English," Brian said. That was in 2010. "We came back, missed the food, and Lesley started making it for us, her friends, her family, and in bulk for a family reunion."
And that includes a vegan Korean-style kimchi mandu made with Old Capitol tofu from Iowa city and green onions, served with soy rice vinegar.
In addition to Asian-style dumplings, most international varieties are represented, including Polish pierogies and Russian pelmenis — and even American dumplings make the menu, filled with mac and cheese with "SriRancha" for dipping. All dumplings are paired with a corresponding dipping sauce.
"Almost every culture in the world has their version of a dumpling," Brian said. "I think it's a really interesting time for the dumpling. Dumplings got an emoji this year. Pixar made a movie about a dumpling."
And Lesley's lamb dumplings with sweet soy sauce, tamarind and turmeric with peanut sauce won Savor Des Moines' "Best Dish Award" for 2018. The Tripletts have showcased their dumplings at farmer's markets and festivals around the state, such as 80/35 and CelebrAsian.
Executive chef Bill Moore, 40, a Cedar Rapids native, runs the kitchen. He's a restaurant veteran who brought over 100 creative dumpling ideas to the Tripletts after doing a 16-year stint at Lula Belle's in Hannibal, Missouri. He oversees the dumpling-making staff who work overnight shifts stuffing, folding and rolling locally sourced fillings into homemade dough.
"You can put anything inside of a dumpling," Lesley said. "A lot of our dumplings are fusion items."
The starting menu is only temporary. A "collaboration of experimentation" will occur between Moore and the Tripletts in the months ahead, along with the gauging of customers' tastes to help mold the menu into a list of crowd favorites.
Dumplings average $6 for five or $9 for eight. Or you can order flights of fried or steamed dumplings for $21 (four of each kind). A mega flight of all 10 dumplings is $40.
Not in the mood for dumplings? Bao, or steamed buns, are available in five filling combos including hoisin pork and carrots with hoisin-ginger sauce, bulgogi beef with spicy kimchi and Korean barbecue sauce and vegan cashew tempeh with water chestnuts and green onions and a honey-Sriracha sauce. Order a side dish like edamame, fried Brussels sprouts and a roasted ramen salad with vegetables, almonds and apple cider vinaigrette.
Five kinds of fried rice ($4 for small, $8 for large) and four entree plates round out the menu with classic bibimbap, a Korean barbecue plate with flat-iron steak with lettuce wraps, kimchi, rice, ssamjang, pan-fried garlic cloves and jalapeños (entrées range from $8-$12).
But save room for dessert dumplings like chocolate chip cheesecake, monster cookie, fried ice cream, and Asian pear with bacon and granola and finished with a cinnamon-bourbon glaze. Right now, fried peanut butter dumplings dipped in chocolate ganache are being featured.
Two styles of service are available at Dumpling Darling in its modern space that seats about 92 people inside and 48 people outside. You can order from the counter and then take a seat in the dining room or patio. Servers bring your order to you with use of an issued number given upon ordering. Or you can sit at the bar or one of the high-top tables and receive full service.
All takeout containers and utensils are eco-friendly, being either reusable or compostable.
Dumpling Darling offers soft drinks from Tractor Soda Company, an organic beverage company from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Flavor syrups from Tractor like lemongrass, blood orange, coconut and ginger beer also find their way into the beverage program and in food recipes.
The beverage program is overseen by Kawshie Wijesekara, 25, who has highlighted soju, a Korean spirit, as the central focus of the drink menu, available in half or full bottles.
A modest starting list of cocktails includes a Suntory Geisha, made with Japanese whiskey, blackberry shrub, honey syrup and lime juice served on the rocks.
International, yet affordable, beer and wine selections complement the global food menu and feature a one-of-everything kind of feel. Look for sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, French rosé and Singha lager from Thailand.
The restaurant is open late on the weekends to accommodate service workers and people enjoying the East Village nightlife. Live music and theme nights are in the works. Look for a noodle dish called Drunklings (topped with dumplings and sauce) to make its way to the menu in the weeks ahead.
Location: 212 E. 3rd St.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.