Jose Garces is a busy man. An Iron Chef, he recently published a second cookbook and opened restaurants in Palm Springs, California and Scottsdale, Arizona. When he isn’t tinkering with tractors at his country estate (and working farm) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, he likes to bring his family to Philly’s Chinatown to feast at Dim Sum Garden.
“I’ve been a huge fan for many, many years,” Garces told me in a recent phone interview. “We do the scallion pancakes, chicken on a stick, shrimp fried rice, marinated pork, and my favorite dish, of course, the Shanghai soup dumplings.”
Filled with ground pork and plump with pork broth, those prized dumplings are listed at the very top of the menu at Yuboka, Garces’s slick new noodle bar at the Revel Resort. They are not credited to their source, however, even though they are delivered to Yuboka from Dim Sum Garden three times a week. In this day of chefs trumpeting the farms where they source every beet and blue cheese, omitting the provenance of a handmade product like a soup dumpling seems a bit ungracious, at best.
And these are choice specimens. Full of hot broth, they wobble like waterbeds as you lift them on your flat white spoon. If you’re new to soup dumplings, Yuboka’s competent staff will show you how to puncture the parcel with a chopstick (or your teeth) and suck out the rich, aromatic broth. It’s awkward and potentially messy, but delicious fun. Dim Sum Garden also supplies Yuboka’s equally winning chicken dumplings, pork-and-chive dumplings and shrimp dumplings.
The space was formerly the takeout and private-party Plancha Bar, adjacent to Amada, Garces’s flagship tapas restaurant. “Then Revel came to us [looking for] an Asian offering,” said Garces, who had a Cantonese-Peruvian restaurant, Chifa, in Philadelphia from 2009 to last July. “There was a time when I was reconcepting [Chifa] into a more Chinese-focused restaurant. We spent about eight weeks working on regional Chinese specialties, so a lot of good legwork [for Yuboka] was already done.” The name is made up—a slangy, Asianized twist on the Spanish word for mouth, boca.
Apart from dumplings, everything on Yuboka’s compact, 20-item menu is made in-house. Several of these dishes rival the soup dumplings in allure. Tender, confited chicken wings, for example, were fried crisp in their rice-flour jackets and swabbed with a gingery garlic glaze. Boneless pork ribs derived their sweet and spicy flavor from Korean chili powder, Chinese five-spice powder and brown sugar. Steamed buns (denser than airy bao buns) held slices of seared lamb shoulder heady with cumin—a Szechuan-style slider. Cold “Mouthwatering Chicken”—poached, skinless breast in tongue-tingling Szechuan chili oil—lived up to its name.
Soups and noodles—seven of the 20 items—hit or missed. Best was beef noodle soup, a big bowl filled with braised short ribs, thin Shanghai-style noodles, thread-like enoki mushrooms, cabbage, bok choy and translucent strips of beef tendon. Wonton noodle soup, a close second, featured plump, delicate pork-and-prawn dumplings in a broth seasoned with kombu, white soy, ginger, onion and dried anchovy.
Cold noodles were gummy and greasy, as were Dan Dan noodles made with minced pork and not enough chili oil. Under-salted and lacking flavor, duck noodle soup got no help from tough, dry slices of Peking duck. Seafood noodle soup—at $18, the most expensive item on the menu—though blessed with fine shrimp, crab and black cod, suffered from a funky aftertaste, possibly the result of a heavy hand with the dried shrimp seasoning.
I would steer clear of the limp cucumber-and-green chile salad drenched in sesame oil and rice-wine vinegar, and also the soggy mixed-vegetable dumplings, the only miss from Dim Sum Garden. There are no desserts.
Collaborating with the Chinatown restaurant was a smart move for Garces. “It’s great to have that touch of authenticity,” he said. He needs to generate a bit more of that on his own.Click here to leave a comment