I’m wondering if the leprechaun truly thought through the long rainbow ahead and if the pot of gold would be worth the journey. Because for me, I’m not sure if my long journey down to Hyde Park for some dumplings at Packed was as satisfactory as I had hoped it would be.
Packed Dumplings Reimagined, located at 1321 E. 57th St., had a lot of hype leading up to the main opening on Jan. 15. It was all over my Twitter feed for weeks before the opening. Places like Zagat, Red Eye Chicago and Chicagoist were writing about this place before even trying a dumpling themselves. Once opened, I was looking for an excuse to head down to Hyde Park to try one of these scrumptious and unique creations. I wanted so badly to like them, but after journeying down there on Monday, I left feeling dissatisfied and a bit misled.
A few things factored into my disappointment with this restaurant. First, taking that journey down to Hyde Park is already a pain-in-the-butt. Knowing there was a long journey ahead to try these dumplings added to my expectations for them, wanting every bite to be worth every minute of travel (and study time) sacrificed.
By the time I arrived to the restaurant, I was “hangry,” a sensation where hunger overtakes your entire body and creates a fume of anger within your soul that makes you even more hungry and angry at the world. I was ready for great dumplings to fill my unhappy stomach, so I embarrassingly ran up to the counter when I arrived. I was confronted at the counter by Aaron Dimaria, owner of Packed, who recommended me to three popular dumplings on the menu: Peking duck, braised short rib and banana chocolate. I ordered two of each and was hit with my second disappointment of the evening, the price.
$15.47 for six dumplings? In that moment I couldn’t help but think of my typical go-to Chinese takeout place and how I could feed a party of at least four with that kind of money. However, a fraction of my respect was won back when Dimaria described his mission behind the food and even the utensils used for Packed. He takes “farm-to-table” seriously with his food, serving 90 percent GMO-free and changing around his menu monthly based on foods that are in season.
The most common complaint, mostly in reviews written on Yelp, are vegetarians who aren’t getting enough options to fit their dietary needs. This complaint does not seem to faze Dimaria, who knows that serving non-seasonal vegetables would mean serving chemically-modified foods, which is not his style. Even the pictures hung in the dining area are ones from the farms that the produce comes from. He feels good that there aren’t pesticides or chemicals in his food, and listening to his passion for those dumplings, in that moment I did too.
That feeling lasted until after I tried a Peking duck dumpling, which was strike three. It certainly wasn’t that sparks-flying, fireworks-blasting kind of first bite. The duck is mixed with a pasture-raised pork, wrapped in a curry wrapper (which I was not a fan of), and served in a ginger-scallion sauce with green olives. The braised short rib did raise my spirits a bit, which was complimented well with a horseradish cream. But the banana chocolate dessert dumpling ruined the experience, sadly reminding me of my cousin’s mashed up homemade baby food.
I left feeling discouraged and obviously still hungry. But I also left with a mission to return to Packed Dumplings Reimagined. If the menu is changing every month, that means new dumplings to try. I have a feeling the food may see an upgrade this spring or summer, and I’m okay with giving them a second chance. Nevertheless, the next time I head down to Hyde Park my expectations for that pot at the end of the rainbow won’t be as high, and I won’t count on luck to give me the perfect cuisine experience I desire.