Versus: Snappy Dragon's Down in the Dumplings, While Szechuan Noodle Bowl's Looking Up

The Dish: Dumplings. "Dumpling" isn't quite onomatopoeic, but the name certainly suggests doughy drops of goodness. Just the thought of popping these chubby purses stuffed with meat and vegetables into your mouth makes you happy, right? Everyone loves dumplings; dumplings = joy. And everyone seems to have their favorite dumpling joint in Seattle, so we decided to pick two that receive consistently high praise and put them to the test.The Rivals: Szechuan Noodle Bowl, 420 Eighth Ave. S., 623-4198. The first things you notice walking into this stark, tiny cafe in the International District aren't the linoleum tables or fluorescent lighting, but the little old Asian ladies making dumplings in the middle of the dining room. If you're keeping score, this is the first sign that you've entered a legit dumpling destination. The wait, while longer than you'd expect (about 15 minutes for a single dumpling order on a slow night), is worth it, but it took us awhile to figure this out.We ordered the dumplings with hot and spicy sauce, but received the chive and pork dumplings ($6.50 for 10) instead. The dumplings at the Bowl are a bit larger than we'd like—about two bites for those of us with a big mouth. The wrappers also could have been a bit thinner, as the thicker dough created an unbalanced dough-to-filling ratio. On the plus side, the dumplings arrived piping hot in a large bowl drizzled with sauce and scallions—appealing as hell. The pork was juicy, tender, and unfortunately under-seasoned, but the homemade wrappers and the freshness of the ingredients made for a satisfying dumpling dinner.Snappy Dragon, 8917 Roosevelt Way N.E., 528-5575. What a disappointment. Not only were these dumplings glue-like and undercooked, Snappy Dragon's atmosphere made us wish we'd ordered them to go. Saying this place is family-friendly is an understatement: During a recent visit, kids were running around, crying, hijacking the bathroom stalls, and poking each other with chopsticks. It makes total sense that the dumplings would have the gummy consistency of Play-Doh in an establishment with more children per square foot than a Chuck E. Cheese. The one redeeming quality about these dumplings filled with pork, scallions, and ginger ($10.95 for 15 dumplings) is that the meat was properly seasoned; the ginger wasn't overpowering and the flavor balance was nice. Too bad the pork wasn't properly cooked. Several of the dumplings came with dry filling—clearly a sign they were premade. The plating was also a total let-down: pasty, curdled-looking dough with saucers of dipping sauce teetering on top, as if someone in the kitchen had taken the definition of dumplings a bit too literally and dumped everything on a plate. What happened, Snappy Dragon? Your dumplings used to be better than this.The Champ: Both places lack atmosphere and energy, which makes it that much easier to concentrate on the food. Szechuan Noodle Bowl appears stoic, but the passion lies in the homemade dumplings, which burst with juiciness and flavor. Snappy Dragon seems to have given up the game altogether, not only lacking any semblance of TLC in their execution, but taking the joy out of the savory cherubs. Anyone who takes the fun out of eating dumplings is not a winner in our book. Therefore, we declare Szechuan Noodle Bowl the champion of this Versus

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