It’s always reassuring when you like your friends’ significant others. Case in point, my dear friend Josh, who cameos on the site occasionally, has been dating a great guy, Mike, for quite some time.
When I made plans to brunch with Josh, Mike insisted upon an invitation, which was fine by me.
Ping Pong is an interesting restaurant. It’s an international franchise, with locations in Dubai, London, India, and elsewhere—with two spots in Washington. It’s not considered traditional dim sum, yet it is a fun experience for the Amerian diner. It’s affordable—targeting young professionals and groups with happy hour deals, bottomless brunches, and callings of creative tropical cocktails.
The dim sum spot recently relaunched its brunch, offering an East West brunch at an incredible deal: $39 for bottomless beverages, endless dumplings, and an entrée. We were invited in by the PR company, so this brunch was complimentary.
I was first to brunch, a rare occasion, so I sat in the sunlight enjoying a mimosa while I waited.
The mimosas are a deconstructed pearl mimosas—you receive a bottle of cheap champagne and bowls of flavored pearls: orange, lychee, kiwi, and other bright flavors. This is a fun concept— you can pop the pearls in your glass, or in your mouth. You can get tipsy and play with your mimosas. It’s fun—but I’m unsure of what’s actually in those pearls, and skeptical that it’s solely fruit juice.
The champagne was cheap, of course, given the price point of the meal. It seemed worse than normal cheap champagne: it tasted cheap going down and gave me an epic stomach ache shortly thereafter. Thus, it may be better to hide the poor quality of the champagne by mixing it with juice rather than pearls.
After a few rounds of bubble mimosas, we set out to try the dumplings. There’s a selection of nearly 50 dumplings of all sorts, available at brunch, lunch, and dinner. While they’ve added several new flavor varieties, the dumplings can largely be categorized into two types: buns and steamed.
The buns are puffy, flavorless balls of dough, which I’ve never enjoyed in my previous visits to Ping Pong. I’m just not sure what the ingredients are, but the dough lacks flavor and there’s far too much of it. It’s just a ball of puffy, white nothingness. Empty calories that don’t excite the palate.
The dumplings, which are concealed in the diaphanous, eggy, slippery dumpling, come steamed, fried, or baked. The dumpling comes in all sorts of colors and flavors—a pink red beet, a red wine reduction, a green spinach, an orange carrot, potato starch, black squid ink—and more. Truth be told, it’s incredibly difficult to differentiate between the flavors of the dumpling shells—you’d likely not know they were different if not for the colors.
Josh adds, “Sadly, the dumplings were less than memorable. They were too thick dough-wise, filling you up too quickly and the flavors ran together so by the end I had no idea what I ate and I wouldn’t know if I went back.”
We enjoyed three or four rounds of dumplings, which is an activity in and of itself. You receive the round bamboo platters, you “ooh” and “ahh” at the colorful dumplings within. You inquisitively sample the dumplings. Some are great; some not so great.
Despite the mixed quality of the cuisine, the experience is fun: there’s the process of discovery; you try new things. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.
Let’s talk about the highlights, beyond the conversation. We liked the blue crab and sweet corn shu mai, a new menu addition. The poached lobster dumpling, with cilantro and shitake mushrooms, in a red beet pastry, was also really good. Another new addition to the dim sum menu is the sesame beef and sweet chili meatballs, which were enjoyable and flavorful.
Two menu staples, the har sui bun and the vegetable pun, are both encased in the lackluster puff. These two? Not so good.
Finally, we arrived at the entrees, which is when the meal really dropped off. Fortunately, the conversation remained enjoyable and my brunch dates were perfect gentlemen—optimistic and gracious.
Josh ordered the chicken and green tea waffles, a matcha green tea Belgian waffle, with sesame seed encrusted fried chicken, lemongrass, and Ginger maple syrup. Despite this amalgamation of flavors, the dish lacked flavor and was incredibly heavy. The chicken was dense and dry; the waffles tasted odd; the dish overall lacked quality and flavor.
Although we both wanted the Sichuan hanger steak “loco moco,” Mike was a gentleman and allowed me to have the dish—abiding my the Bitches’ primary rule of ordering different dishes. The hanger steak was alright—it was certainly the best entrée of the bunch. The fried eggs and the sticky rice were yummy—had I had more room in my stomach I would have eaten more.
Mike went with the five spice pork belly Benny. Poor, sweet Mike. The dish was served atop a crisp edamame potato cake, with a poached egg, sautéed bok choy, and a Siracha Hollandaise. Overall, I feel like Ping Pong is in trouble from the start, in that it begins with cheap ingredients—then you add a lot of sugar, salt, sauce, and weird flavors and it certainly doesn’t solve the situation.
Eager to find an entrée that would hit the mark, we ordered yet another to share. The Mango Black Tea French toast. There’s no other way to say it: this dish was “disgusting,” which is exactly what Mike couldn’t stop himself from saying after taking a bite.
The French toast was a fried globe on a stick that looked a lot like a sea creature. It didn’t taste like anything but it was cold and had a sponge-like. At this point, I was impressed by everyone’s ability to act like adults in the face of such a bizarre meal.
Josh summed it up well, saying, “”Aside from the company, the service and ambiance were the only things I recommend. They hit all the right points, and were never too intrusive. But, in DC for brunch when ambiance and service are essentially the starting points, there needs to be something else to make want to come back. Ping Pong Dim Sum made me Dim Sad.”
Despite the dining rollercoaster, we remained in the sunlight, enjoying one another’s company and drinking bubble mimosas. We stayed long enough that we did start playing with the bubbles—but it’s alright, we likely won’t be back anytime soon.
The Bitches say: D+. The overarching theme with Ping Pong’s brunch is that while the dishes have exotic flavor descriptions, the food itself lacks flavor and the ingredients are of poor quality—resulting in a mesh of bland, confusing, often icky bites.
Ping Pong Dim Sum
1 Dupont Circle N.W.
900 7th St. N.W.
Ping Pong serves its bottomless brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.