Let’s begin with the egg-drop tomato soup ($5), which is made to order. It’s a simple bowl of broth with tomatoes and an egg swirled in, which forms custardy flakes. With so few ingredients it doesn’t seem possible that it can taste this good and this comforting. Wonton soup ($5) is a similar triumph: pork-filled wontons with thin, tender wrappers floating in a delicious, light broth with a few scallions garnishing the bowl.
Then you order a bowl of dan dan mien ($7) and the tempo changes. Ground pork with Sichuan mustard, pickles, and mustard greens is served over Chinese hand-pulled noodles with homemade sesame chile-oil. The spicy ground pork dish is luscious. Or Coco’s roll up ($8), a crisp scallion pancake rolled and filled with beef. Or three-day pork ramen ($12) — described on the menu as “NOT the instant kind!!!!!!” — with a golden tea egg, slices of fatty pork, and ramen noodles in an intense pork broth. Or Grandma’s Beijing meat sauce over spaghetti ($10), which involves lean pork and bean curd with sweet bean paste, and makes you want to reach across the table with your chopsticks to pluck every last morsel from the bowl. It’s not a riff on Bolognese sauce because there was a Chinese grandma who taught it to her granddaughter, and this is her version.
Dumpling Daughter is full of surprises. The 32-seat restaurant, in a small Weston Center shopping area next to a Brothers Marketplace (the setting is too classy to be called a strip mall), was opened in November by Nadia Liu Spellman, who grew up in the restaurant business. Spellman is the daughter of former Boston restaurateurs and Weston residents Sally Ling and Edward Nan Liu, who ran a terrific (expensive) establishment next to Jasper’s on the Waterfront. Sally Ling’s restaurant later moved to the Hyatt Regency on Memorial Drive, and they opened another family-oriented spot in Newton Center.
As a girl, Spellman trained in figure skating in New Jersey, hoping to get to the Olympics. Then she returned to Weston, and after high school, went to Babson College. She worked in finance in New York after graduation. Meanwhile, her mother moved to Fort Lee, N.J., and opened another Sally Ling’s. Spellman met her husband, Kyle, in seventh grade in Weston. He and his family are in the real estate business.
Dumpling Daughter, with its winning logo illustration of a dumpling dancing in high heels, combines some of the classic dishes that made Sally Ling’s famous. You order at a counter, but receive the food from a runner as it comes out — hot, fresh, and appealing across the board.
One side of the room is decorated with a huge mirror and a tall gray banquette with burgundy cushions. Tables are butcher block, set with red chairs. Paul Leaman of Leominster-based Carpentry as an Art did the work here. One charming element is plastic plates you might have seen at any number of Chinese establishments. The storefront window is decorated with a dense row of beautiful orchids in shades of violet, pink, and white.
Steamed or pan-seared dumplings (6 for $6) have remarkably thin skins. Steamed or seared pork is savory; petit chicken dumplings with slow-cooked Sichuan sauce are succulent little bites. The dough on big puffy Chinese buns (2 for $4), filled with mildly sweet beef, is feathery.
A big bowl with Captain Marden’s salmon over fresh greens ($20) has a soy-ginger dressing, but seems bland. Moo shu wrap with braised tofu ($10) and two pancakes isn’t much without its hoisin sauce. But an eggplant special ($7) is sweet and hot and hard to stop eating.
Spellman says that she’s doing as much takeout business as sit-down. The place is crowded and you cannot reserve, but if you come and BYOB, she’ll give you beautiful wine glasses and won’t charge a corkage fee. “I don’t like to take reservations because I don’t want to depart from the concept of fast-casual: first-come first-served,” says Spellman.
Sally Ling is retired but returns from New Jersey every two weeks to check in and create new dishes, says her daughter. Ling has taught the chef her specialties. The dumpling chef from the old Sally Ling’s came out of retirement to join them and make wontons and petit dumplings.
Alas, this Weston establishment closes at 8 p.m. because the sidewalks in town roll up around then. At first, says Spellman, “we stayed open till 8:30 and there were eight of us waiting on someone who ordered wonton soup.”