What burgers are to Americans, dumplings are to the Chinese, but not many Americans are aware that the Chinese consider dumplings their national food.
4 Dumplings aims to change that, offering a healthy gourmet option to Memphians in the process.
The East Memphis restaurant's slogan, "eat responsibly," makes sense given that executive chef Gordon Wang is a practicing physician specializing in digestive issues.
Three of the four owners have a background in health care, and 4 Dumplings also offers four varieties of the specialized dumpling dish: pork, beef, shrimp, and vegetarian. The group chose not to offer pot stickers and to avoid frying.
Wang and executive chef Xiaoli "Shelley" Cui spent month after month trying to perfect four recipes, borrowing a strong medical philosophy: One can develop the best treatment plan in history, but it's a failure if no one adheres to it.
Traditionally eaten as finger foods, 4 Dumpling's dumplings ($8 to $9.50) are served with three dipping sauces. The dough for the dumplings is made fresh daily, with just enough made for that day's dishes.
The pork and shrimp are traditional, and vegetables account for more than one-third of the filling. The vegetarian dumpling includes tofu and chickpeas for protein as well as mushrooms, celery, cabbage, and carrots. (It's vegan.) And while beef is not common in China, according to Wang, there is a beef dumpling as well.
4 Dumplings also offers noodles or rice with grilled chicken or braised pork, iced teas like Lemon Honey Ginger, and Tapioca Red Bean Pudding.
The menu for each Sunday brunch is unique, as the chefs get creative and offer color-coded items à la carte for $4, $6, or $8. On a recent Sunday, sushi, fish cakes, and steamed buns were offered, and for the Chinese New Year, they had rice cakes symbolizing "fortune" or "getting richer."
4 Dumplings is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
6515 Poplar (762-4184)
Let's play a game of word association: ramen noodles.
If what you're picturing is a college dorm room, a microwave, and some canned vegetables, chances are you've never visited a restaurant like Skewer in the Sanderlin Shopping Centre in East Memphis.
Not that you're to blame — yakitori and fancy noodles aren't staples of many restaurants.
Skewer, which chef Gai Klaimongkol opened the last week of January, also offers a large sushi selection, tempura, and rice bowls. Chef Klaimongkol also hopes to procure a liquor license for sake cocktails.
"When we were building, people would see us and say, 'Oh! We really want this kind of place!'" says Klaimongkol. "They all had an idea of what it would be like [from past dining experiences].
"It's very traditional Japanese comfort food. Try us and we will surprise you."
Designed for the business crowd, lunch is available daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.
Yakitori, which is central to the restaurant's concept, literally translates as "grilled chicken" but has become synonymous with several kinds of meats and vegetables grilled on skewers. The restaurant's chefs cook in front of the customers, dipping the meat into sauce that caramelizes with a delicate grill.
The bite-size pieces are available à la carte from $3 to $6.
Back to the ramen: Gokumiso is one of Klaimongkol's favorite menu items.
The made-from-scratch stock is a blend of tonkotsu broth (muddy, with a pork bone base) and miso (Japanese soybean paste that's fermented and pureed). It accents tender nickel-sized slices of spicy ground pork. The dish contains plenty of noodles beneath a floating salad complete with broiled eggs, cabbage, chopped green onion, and more.
The ramen selections run from $10 to $12.
5101 Sanderlin (682-9919)