I hear you can get excellent Asian food in the surrounding suburbs but in D.C. proper I have come to expect the worst, with the low point being the time I opened a dumpling steamer to find a cockroach stuck to a dumpling. Within this context I think Ping Pong Dim Sum is D.C. good. The restaurant has a wide array of steamed dumplings and an acceptable bar, the lychee martini was good but there are only three beers on tap and four in bottles. Overall their dumpling dipping sauces probably spoke to me more than their actual dumplings. But they are good about marking which dumplings are vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free.
The Dumplings: The dumplings are served three to an order and most of the varieties are steamed, with only three pan-fired offerings – the griddled dumplings. The dumplings I tried ranged from quite good to a failure and they seem to have focused more on presentation and wrapper coloring than on flavor.
Garlic Shrimp Dumplings – these dumplings are wrapped in a striking squid ink colored rice flour dough wrapper, I’m not sure the ink added any flavor but the dumplings were pretty bold looking. The flavor of the filling was quite good, the garlic butter was bold and shrimp were sweet.
Bursting Soup Dumplings (Xiao long bao) – these were a failure and anything but bursting. Each of these dumplings was topped with a sliced ring of chili pepper and came sitting on their own Chinese soup spoon. This is the second time I’ve seen soup dumplings presented this way and I think from now on I will take it as a sign that I am going to be disappointed. The wrappers were gummy, they were soup-less, they were only vaguely hot, the pork filling was nearly flavorless and even the chili pepper topping lacked heat.
Pork Shu Mai – these were solidly good. The filling was made of fairly coarsely chopped pork and shrimps, with big enough pieces in the mix that you could feel some pop and crunch texture of the shrimp. The sweetness of the shrimp harmonized well with the savory of the pork.
Bok Choy Dumpling – these were cool looking bright green triangular dumplings. Overall the flavor was mild to bland but they made a good dipping sauce delivery vehicle.
Pork and Mushroom Sticky Rice Dumplings – these were the best of the bunch and I would go back to Ping Pong to try these again. These dumplings are Shanghai style Shu Mai, which are Shui Mai filled with sticky rice, minced pork and mushrooms. Essentially these were delicious little cups of dirty rice.
Fish and Black Pepper Dumplings – these were the only dumplings I tried from the Griddled section of the menu and they were basically pan-fried round ravioli shaped dumplings. The fish filling was mild but good and actually relatively unprocessed, there were actual pieces of flaky fish fillet, but I couldn’t discern any black pepper flavor. I was hoping for a sort of Vietnamese sauteed fish with black pepper sauce in dumpling experience, but it wasn’t.
The Dipping Sauce: As noted above I think I liked the possibilities presented by the dipping sauces more than the dumplings. Orders of steamed dumplings come with a bowl of sweetened Sriracha and a bowl of chili oil with fried shrimp bits, which I thought was going to be a gimmick but I could actually taste shrimp flavor infused into the oil. They also provide bottles of soy sauce and the sans-soup dumplings come with slivered ginger in mild black vinegar. While Ping Pong presents the diner with all these sauce ingredients, the server did not provide a bowl or dish in which to mix a custom sauce. I ended up improvising and using one of the soup spoons from the sans-soup dumplings as my dipping sauce bowl.
Location: The two Ping Pong Dim Sum locations in Washington D.C. are part of a larger U.K. based chain that has around ten locations and locations in India. I hit the location just outside of D.C.’s Chinatown, near the Convention Center.