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Dumplings & Buns brings Asian comfort

Dumpings & Buns is in the simple but sumptuous space at 2411 California Street.

By Louise Thompson

Dumplings & Buns — a new shop that opened August 29 just off Fillmore at 2411 California Street — is on a mission to satisfy locals’ comfort food cravings with simple Asian fare. Focusing on savory and sweet dumplings and buns, it also offers dim sum, soups and salads, mostly to go.

The eatery and specialty grocery is the dream come true of longtime Fillmore resident May Lee Iorfido, who owns the prominent corner building at Fillmore and California that houses her new restaurant.

“I used to love watching my grandmother and mother in the kitchen,” she says. “They’d make simple food, like steamed rice and salted fish, or an egg with oyster sauce, but always with such love and care. And both of my grandfathers were chefs. In our house, food always meant happiness.”

Iorfido had always longed to open her own restaurant, even as she was pursuing a successful career in real estate. When her oldest child started college last year, she decided the time was finally right. After traveling to Hong Kong to study with a dim sum master, then testing her ideas on family and friends, Iorfido was ready to turn her dream into reality.

She enlisted Full Plate, a culinary consulting group, to work alongside her in developing the concept and branding. The group includes Architects II, a design firm that has already made its mark on Fillmore with Dosa, the showplace South Indian restaurant and bar at Fillmore and Post.

Iorfido told architect Jim Maxwell the look she had in mind: “Martha Stewart meets boutique couture in Bangkok.” She says, “I wanted it to feel like you stepped into a couture shoe store, but came out with comforting, homey food.” Maxwell transformed the former home of pet boutique George into a simple but sumptuous modern space, with white walls, warm wood detailing and a knockout burnt orange patterned wallpaper. There will be limited seating on stools along the front window and a few hightop tables in the small space. But the shop will cater mostly to the take-out crowd.

Photographs of Dumplings & Buns by Daniel Bahmani

French-trained pastry chef and menu consultant Katie Leaird worked with Iorfido and her mother to update family recipes without losing their home-cooked specialness.

The menu at Dumplings & Buns is MSG-free and includes locally sourced meat and produce. Savory selections include shrimp, pork, chicken and vegetarian pea shoot dumplings, as well as barbecue pork and chicken baos, wonton soups and noodle salads, including vegan and gluten-free options. Prices range from $2 for a savory bun to $6.75 for a soba noodle salad.

The raves are already coming for Iorfido’s custard buns, which hint at a French influence and have vanilla, chocolate, coconut creme or orange and ginger fillings — and a “boozer bun” combining liqueurs such as kahlua and amaretto (her personal favorite) with chocolate and lemon.

“Katie and I were just having some fun in the kitchen,” says Iorfido, “trying out different flavor combinations. The liqueur-based ones really hit the mark with family and friends, and I christened them boozer buns on the spot.”

Dumplings & Buns also offers a small pantry of select Asian condiments and teas — vegan kim chee, Japanese iced teas and even dog treats in the shape of fortune cookies — made locally with artisan products.

As part of its community giveback program, Dumplings & Buns each month will donate proceeds from one of its grocery items to a local charity — an idea inspired by Iorfido’s father. During September, 10 percent of every bottle of Red Boat Vietnamese Fish Sauce sold will be donated to On Lok, which offers programs and services to San Francisco seniors.

Iordio is passionate about uniting her past and future through familiar comfort food. “I want to bring the same feeling of warmth and love that I experienced growing up and eating my family’s food to the place I call home,” she says. “I’d love for Fillmore residents to wake up on a Sunday morning craving one of my buns.”

Dumplings & Buns is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Daily tea time specials run from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.