Just months ago, China Dumpling was a struggling business in Ventnor, hunting for new ways to bring people through the door.
In early 2012, Owner and Chef Michael Leung unveiled the new and improved restaurant, having renamed it Jade Orchid Asian Bistro and giving it the elegant flair it was missing.
Leung called China Dumpling, "Just your typical Chinese restaurant. Last year we changed it around, cleaned it up, did a lot of renovations to it. We built the bar and redid the restrooms, too."
Patrons can tell Leung did his best to update the interior. Four flat-screen TVs are scattered throughout the restaurant and above the brand-new wooden bar.
But the updates to the building aren't as important as the updates to the menu.
"People eat with their eyes first. First they're going to see it, then they're going to smell it and then they taste it last," says Leung, who says plate presentation and quality ingredients are key parts to his new menu. "The quality of food I use is different. I know now that times are tough and people in other restaurants like to cut corners and use cheap ingredients. I still go buy as much top-quality ingredients as I can."
Besides the restaurant's renovations, the menu is something that will constantly change with the seasons. Leung says many restaurants have the same menu year round, so a lot of menu items will only taste good at certain times of the year. He likes to make sure that doesn't happen at Jade Orchid.
"I use lots of different Asian produce. I use baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, eggplant, Chinese radishes," Leung says. "At some restaurants, one part of the year it will taste like garbage. I'd rather take something in season."
When it comes to Jade Orchid's menu, the variety never ends. Besides main entrees of seafood, beef, chicken, pork and noodles, there are more than 40 different dim sum items to choose from that are cooked different ways, such as baked, fried or steamed.
When it comes to dim sum, Leung knows best.
"I learned how to make all my dim sum from a master chef in China. It was over a period of five years that I worked with him," Leung says. "I've been interested in cooking since I was a kid. Every weekend we would go have dim sum and I still like to keep dim sum very traditional."
Leung's culinary training is something he doesn't boast about, but General Manager Ryan Chin, who is also in charge of marketing and has a background in hospitality, is quick to point out his impressive background.
"Chef (Leung) is CIA-trained … Culinary Institute of America," Chin says. "He trained for five years learning recipes and secrets. He always discounts his culinary training."
Besides a menu and building update, Jade Orchid is also taking its customer service seriously.
"A lot of Asian restaurants say 'Here's your food, now get out,'" Chin says. "We like to focus on our service here. We try to be your friendly neighborhood eatery."
Jade Orchid has a little something for everyone, including a vegetarian menu. About 80 percent of the food is Chinese, but there are also Japanese-, Vietnamese- and Thai-influenced dishes, such as Vietnamese lemongrass chicken ($10) or steak ($14).
Patrons can also try one of Leung's creative dishes, such as crispy orange beef, which is wok-fried sliced beef sirloin in a sweet tangerine sauce served over a bed of sliced mandarin oranges ($14).
Leung has a chef's menu that he uses to try new things and see how guests enjoy his new dishes. One such item is the shrimp and chive dumplings. With big pieces of shrimp wrapped with chive in a warm, moist dumpling, Chin says the dish has been so popular it may be added to the regular menu in a month or so.
The same goes for Leung's taro dumplings, tasty delicacies that melt in your mouth. Inside are a soft mix of pork, fried shrimp and mushrooms. The outside looks like tumbleweed, but it is actually shaved down and fried turnip, although it tastes more like a fortune cookie than a vegetable.
For now, Leung is happy with the direction the restaurant is heading. Attendance has increased dramatically, and the chef is looking forward to the summer months, when guests will be able to dine outdoors.
"Right now I think this idea will take off," Leung says. "We have a large space so we can accommodate parties and there should be a good future for this concept."
One thing Chef Michael Leung prides himself on is his homemade noodles, which give his dishes a traditional and fresh taste. "A lot of the chow fun noodles I make fresh myself," he says. Leung also makes fresh rice noodles. "It can be hard to find fresh rice noodles. It would be like an Italian restaurant that makes fresh pasta." Try the Singapore rice noodles, which come with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, onions, scallion and homemade rice noodles ($10). The noodles are flavored with a touch of curry to give some spice to the dish.
Jade Orchid had a tasting with two seatings when it first opened. The restaurant hosted 100 to 120 people, who fit easily into the large dining space. Some patrons suggested challenging P.F. Chang's to a taste test, as they said it was just as good but for a smaller price. General Manager Ryan Chin isn't sure if a challenge would ever happen, but he is excited for the buzz the restaurant is getting and is looking forward to holding more tastings during the year.