Chef Liu 

A dumpling revival in the old Asam House location

Mention Shanghai soup buns (or Xiao long bao) to hardcore chowhounds and watch as their faces contort into a mixed expression of passion and longing. There's something about these juicy soup-filled pork dumplings that makes everyone just a little weak in the knees – when they're done right, that is. Chef Liu (5221 Buford Highway, 770-936-0532) was once the only place to get a decent version in Atlanta. But then Chef Liu's soup buns fell on hard times. They were tough, mournfully soupless, and many diners reported seeing them come out of a freezer bag. The restaurant recently moved from the tiny shack that made it famous to the old Asam House location in the same shopping center, and the relocation seems to have resolved the dumpling problem. The delicate skins of the dumplings now bulge with juices, tender pork and subtle hints of green onion. A splash of tangy soy dipping sauce counteracts the inherent richness of the dish. They are better than they've ever been.

The menu has grown to a full four pages of specialties built on a foundation of core dishes that made the former location a hot spot. The little shack had personality but regulars agreed that the sticky tabletops and ramshackle furniture made you want to flee immediately after that last dumpling or noodle went down your gullet. The new space is relatively larger and has a partitioned-off dining room for special events. There's not much in the way of decor, but the ambiance is much more inviting.

Other dumpling fillings, such as plump, fresh shrimp or earthy lamb, are packed into homemade dumpling skins until they burst. Pan-fried pork dumplings are crisp on the bottom and a bite into the doughy bun releases a flood of concentrated pork-y juiciness. The leek pie – a flaky pastry shell filled with clear noodles, egg and loads of leeks – is just crisp enough to hold the entire thing together bite after bite. The crust of the Mandarin pork pancake is at once light and dense. And the pork filling is fragrant with a mysterious blend of spices and strong notes of cinnamon.

The formerly irresistible sesame-paste-topping noodle has been a disappointment during two visits. One version had an overwhelming amount of uncooked rice wine. Another visit yielded a disarmingly salty version lacking enough sesame paste to provide the stickiness that qualifies it as a guilty pleasure. Thankfully, the hot and spicy sauce cool noodle is a savior for fiends craving something chewy. The thick egg noodles stretch from your mouth to the chopsticks and spring back once the noodles are cut with your teeth. They've got a little tang, but the ultimate pleasure lies in the slow burn of the crushed and roasted Szechuan peppercorns that encrust each of the chilled noodles.

Three-cup chicken – a slow-cooked mix of chicken, garlic and ginger – fails to gather enough caramelized bits to bring it together. But a platter of pan-fried tofu and filets of white fish in an egg wash masterfully intermingle the ingredients' silky soft textures. The eggplant with garlic is a brilliant mix of sweetness, earth and umami. The eggplant has been cooked until its texture is reminiscent of a confit, and has the pleasant habit of melting in your mouth.

This is not a case of a restaurant simply moving. The new Chef Liu is a completely fresh endeavor.

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