Chinese food has come a long way since I was in college a couple decades ago. Well, that’s not true. A lot of the general public’s appreciation for Chinese food has come a long way. Those who have always known the best places to get dumplings, dim sum, and crab rangoon were living large while the rest of us were missing out. The good news is today’s Greater Madison has an incredible array of authentic options when it comes to Chinese food, and there’s a lot to be excited about with the quality and flavor coming out of Feast – Artisan Dumpling and Tea House.
Since 2020, Feast has been serving patrons Chinese food that focuses more on the charm and artisanship of practiced home cooking traditions from the region. Co-owner with Mike Wang, Judy Zhu likens the effort to one of America’s favorite holiday traditions. “In our culture, cooking dumplings is like Thanksgiving—like Americans getting together to eat turkey. Dumplings are very complicated to make, and we make ours from scratch.”
Much like casseroles in Wisconsin, everyone in China has their own dumpling recipe. Since the process itself is very labor intensive, most restaurants aren’t doing cooked-to-order dumplings in the area. Add to that ensuring seasonal ingredients from local farmers are featured in each dish, and it’s no secret that Judy respects and shares in the Madison lifestyle of health and interconnectedness.
The highlight on the menu at Feast has to be the soup dumplings: Xiao Long Bao. “I don’t think there’s a lot of restaurants that can make soup dumplings fresh,” says Judy. “This is how we make it special. It’s my favorite thing on the menu.” The dumplings come out hot with pork or black truffle inside as well as…well…soup. Judy recommends eating the soup first, but, like an Oreo, there’s not just one way to do it. Some use chopsticks to eat the insides first, others use a spoon to go soup first, and then there’s the unrefined favorite of mine to go all at once.
Of course, the menu isn’t limited to soup dumplings. A nice selection of dim sum and wonton pair perfectly with tiramisu, fried sesame balls, or Phoenix Buns (steam egg yolk buns) for dessert. Also featured is a carryover from Poke Poke, Judy and Mike’s first area restaurant, poke bowls of white rice, brown rice, purple rice, and spinach there to be filled with your favorite fish, crustacean, veggies, and more.
With the goal of creating a fine dining experience aimed at placing customers in South China, some of the more regional menu items didn’t go over as well as hoped. Judy recalls when the restaurant offered chicken feet. “We tried to add chicken feet to the menu, but people didn’t order it. The process to make that is very complicated, and if you can’t sell it, if people aren’t saying yes to your product, we just remove it from the menu.”
But some menu items worked better than Judy and Mike initially expected. They quickly learned that Americans like sweet, so in 2024, the plan is to add even more menu options to accommodate local palates. “We are going to add more flavors of the soup dumpling. It’s a crab soup dumpling. We’re also going to add a pineapple bun. It’s like a bread, but it’s very sweet. It has a pineapple flavor. Madison people really like pineapple flavors.”
Feast is also a tea house. Black, white, green, oolong, herbal—though some tea varieties are always available, customers will find a focus on seasonal ingredients here as well. As expected, there’s fruit-forward teas for the American appetite along with teas meant to focus on health and relaxation through thoughtful blends of chamomile, lavender, and spearmint. For Madisonians, there’s even a dragonfruit tea with pineapple.
Whether you’re there for tea or dinner, the venue accommodates. Feast has a lot of different seating options, including a bar, a lovely outdoor garden, comfortable tables, and casual booths. “We have business groups. We have baby shower parties. We have inquiries for a wedding party. Sometimes people want to rent out the whole house. In the summertime, you can rent out the outside. If people want to talk, we can assign a quieter area. … You can spend a half hour or two hours sitting here.”
Of course, if you give a Madisonian a dumpling, they’re going to ask for a cup of sake. Luckily, there’s a range to choose from, including, nigori, sparkling, and hot options. If sake isn’t your thing, you’ll still find familiarity in the wine list alongside local craft beers on tap. For something more adventurous, Feast has put together some intriguing cocktails. Whether a sake-centered martini or the Madison spirited pineapple rum drink, Tropic with No Fur, you’re sure to find something that’ll keep you coming back.
Judy is really thankful for Feast’s customers, particularly the regulars. They’re the reason Feast is able to continue to exist. They’re the reason Feast survived the pandemic. They’re also the people who make the entire space feel like a second home. “We are surely part of the Madison community,” says Judy. “Life is about balance. We like to balance life and work.” In return for the support of their customers, Judy and Mike are able to support Willy Street Fair and other local events.
So come for the food. Come for the atmosphere. Come for the tea. Come for the cocktails. Judy and Mike can recommend sake to match the flavor of the dumplings you order or, since everything is made fresh, prepare something she knows you know you’ll love. As Judy says, “Everything is made from our heart.”
Feast Artisan Dumpling and Tea House
904 Williamson Street
Madison, WI 53703