Cuisine – Chinese
1070 E. Dublin Granville Rd. 43229
In a nutshell, there are 3 things worth knowing about Helen’s:
1) They serve some great Chinese dishes including soup dumplings, the first we’ve encountered in Columbus.
2) As good as Helen’s is, it promises to get better in some interesting and exciting ways.
3) Well… we’ll leave #3 to the end of this write up.
Regarding point #1 – Dumplings are a distinct specialty of the house. There are quite a few on the menu – shao mai (AKA shu mai), boiled pork, shrimp, and vegetable varieties, and steamed beef. All of these were enjoyed, with special nods going to the boiled beef dumplings and the Shanghai style shao mai.
But the dumpling we came for was the xiaolong bun (aka xiaolong bao, and spelled either way they’re the aforementioned soup dumplings). They’re the rage in Chinatowns all over the US, and some in our group of 6 had been craving them since visiting China and trying them there. An uneasy mix of anticipation – I want a good soup dumpling! – and dread – these are going to be a disappointment, aren’t they? – lingered at the table.
And then they arrived. To my eye they didn’t look like anything special, but then again, from my perspective Chinese dumplings rarely do. They’re delicate, and partially filled with a broth, so great care is required in moving them from the steamer basket to your plate without puncturing the wrap and creating a leak. The pros in the group took a small bite out of the wrapper, slurped from the rich broth contained within, and… declared Helen’s soup dumplings a winner.
It’s easy to see why. The broth is unfathomably rich and delicious, and the experience finishes with eating the wrapper and the pork-sausage-like nugget within that’s been marinating in the broth. Absolutely memorable, and a steal at 10 dumplings for $7.50.
Having more than satisfied our dumpling desires, we moved on to a few of Helen’s other dishes. Her crispy pork pan-fried noodles were deemed an excellent example of the genre, and the Chinese broccoli dish made for a satisfying counterpoint to all of the richness that came before.
On to #2 – Good as it already is, Helen made a point of letting us know that her restaurant is a nonetheless a work in progress. House-made noodles are an anticipated addition, Chinese hot pots are a promised future offering, and even dim sum may be in the cards. Some of these additions sound as though they’re related to the impending arrival of Helen’s husband from China.
Alright, now for #3. It a point that seems silly to make much of, but once inside it’s something that’s hard to ignore. Helen’s occupies a large and meticulously clean stand-alone space… that clearly was previously a strip club. Mirrored walls, a stage, and some curious lighting are clear indicators of the building’s previous purpose. Once seated, this may strike you as curious, entertaining, or perhaps even vaguely unsettling, but it won’t go unnoticed and it’ll very likely lead to some lively dinner table conversation.
At least until the food comes out, at which point I feel confident in saying that Helen’s kitchen chops will quickly become the focus. We’re thoroughly enthused by her current offerings, eager to see what’s to come, and highly recommend checking Helen’s Asian kitchen out.