For more than 10 years, Beijing Restaurant has blessed San Francisco’s Excelsior neighborhood with its dough-based Northern Chinese cuisine — with hand-made noodles, meat-stuffed pancakes, and a selection of potstickers and boiled dumplings with traditional Chinese fillings like pork and napa cabbage or beef and celery. In a few weeks, however, owner Sandy Zheng will open an entirely different kind of dumpling restaurant in Bernal Heights — one where the dumpling fillings will run the gamut from Korean barbecue to Indian curry, and where classic Beijing-style handmade noodles might get tossed in a distinctly non-traditional avocado-based sauce also known as guacamole (!).
Dubbed United Dumplings, the new restaurant will be located at 525 Cortland Avenue, the former site of another Chinese restaurant called Hunan Chef. Zheng is hopeful that it will be ready to open by late March or early April.
As Zheng describes it, the overall concept is something along the lines of dumplings without borders. The idea, she says, is that not every customer is going to be a fan of traditional Chinese dumplings — but that if she embraces the world’s flavor palettes, she’s hopeful that everyone who visits the restaurant will be able to find a dumpling that they love. Toward that end, United Dumplings will jump on a few of the dumpling trends you’ll see at other trend-conscious Chinese spots in the Bay Area: jumbo-sized soup dumplings so big and soupy that you need a straw to eat them, and dumplings whose handmade wrappers come in every imaginable color. Other dumplings will fall squarely in the fusion category — again, with fillings inspired by Korean barbecue, Texas-style steak and barbecue, chicken curry, and more.
But ome of Zheng’s other inventions are dishes customers are unlikely to find anywhere else in the Bay Area. For instance, she plans to offer her own style of Chinese French fries, made with thinly hand-cut potatoes, as a side dish for dumplings. And while she’ll continue to serve handmade noodles, as she does at Beijing Restaurant, some of the sauces will be her own brand-new inventions. For one particularly intriguing dish, she’ll pair the noodles with creamy guacamole and another special secret sauce. The combination is incredibly delicious with the chewy handmade noodles, she says.
In the meantime, Zheng acknowledges that it’s a tough time to be operating a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. She says the recent coronavirus scare has put a real dent into business at Beijing Restaurant, where there has been a 30 to 40 percent drop in sales. Regular customers come less frequently; others are wearing face masks when they come in to pick up their takeout orders. (“Can you believe that?” she says.) So, while she plans the new restaurant, Zheng is also busy coming up with ideas to drum up business at her original Excelsior spot.
One new offering that’s been especially successful, she says, is a Beijing-style roast lamb dish that’s seasoned with cumin and served in a shovel (pictured above). Despite all the rumors, she’s hopeful customers will come try it out.