Sally Ling’s Heir Set to Open Dumpling Daughter
When it opens on November 8, Nadia Liu Spellman’s Dumpling Daughter will not only represent a lifetime of family meals and generations of recipes, but the resurrection of her parents’ restaurant legacy. Opened in 1984 by Sally Ling and her then-husband, Edward Nan Liu, Sally Ling’s namesake restaurant was one of the first fine dining Chinese establishments in the country. Now her daughter wants to restore a small piece of that family history, while reintroducing a sentimental and underrepresented type of cuisine.
“I come from a family that’s extremely passionate about food,” Spellman says. “A lot of our favorite memories were based around the dinner table. Every time I crave something it’s usually my mom or grandmother’s cooking. I was extremely lucky to grow up in a family where Chinese banquet food was normal. That’s really how this concept came about because after all the great things I’ve gotten to eat in my life, I still want to go home and eat dumplings or bun or my grandmother’s meat sauce. Those are the things that really make me feel good.”
Located next to Jasper’s Restaurant on the Boston waterfront, Sally Ling’s served upscale Chinese banquet food beneath elaborate watercolors and wood carvings. The white tablecloth restaurant counted Martin Yan, Jasper White, and Julia Child as regulars. But after their divorce, Ling took her restaurant concept to New Jersey and finally walked away from the industry altogether in 2010.
The one piece of advice her parents left their daughter with after decades in the business: “Do anything but open a restaurant. It’s the hardest life and you’ll never have a moment to relax,” Spellman says.
But after graduating from Babson College with a finance degree, and working in New York for a number of years, Spellman grew disillusioned. She moved back to Boston and began to explore commercial real estate opportunities in Harvard Square, Back Bay, and Kendall Square. After two years of fruitless searching, Spellman, on a lark, decided to look into a Weston property her father had pursued 20 years earlier. Fortuitously, a space was available.
“It was never on the market, I just sensed it was available and called the owner of the building,” Spellman says. “He asked me about myself and I told him I was from Weston. We talked for half an hour, I met him, and we signed the paperwork within three weeks. It was just this weird, lucky timing.”
Spellman has built her Dumpling Daughter menu around iconic Sally Ling’s dishes like a cold cucumber salad with sesame peppercorn oil, a braised beef soup with pickled mustard greens, and several varieties of Taiwanese buns. A selection of ramen, including a three-day tonkotsu broth, are inspired by years of traveling throughout China and Japan with her father. There are also the comforting foods that Spellman’s family ate while relaxing at home: a homestyle moo shu wrap with vermicelli and tofu, her grandmother’s pork and bean curd sauce served over spaghetti noodles, and pan-seared dumplings.
In addition to their everyday menu, Dumpling Daughter will serve authentic Chinese specials on the weekends, such as congee and Lion’s Head, a Shanghai pork meatball dish served with stewed vegetables and a crystal clear broth.
“We will be serving my childhood favorites which are heavily based on my mother’s recipes,” Spellman says. “We will also be doing out-of-the-box specials on the weekends to make things fun and interesting. I am looking forward to serving super clean, authentic specialties that I grew up eating at home.”
Joining Spellman are familiar faces like Johnny Tong, Sally Ling’s opening general manager, who now returns 30 years later to help run Dumpling Daughter. Sally Ling chefs Ming Tan and Sao Shan have come out of retirement to work in the kitchen. And Sally Ling herself is training Dumpling Daughter’s new executive chef on the finer points of the family’s culinary repertoire.
“Next to French cuisine, Chinese is the most sophisticated cuisine in the world,” Spellman says. “Not many people identify it as that because it’s been so Americanized. I think that’s another reason why I wanted to do this restaurant, because when I go to China there are so many delicious things and you just can’t get them here. People talk about dumplings with Szechuan sauce, but the real ones are not easy to find in this country. That’s what I want to showcase.”
Dumpling Daughter Menu
37 Center St., Weston; dumplingdaughter.com.