Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, NY
Review by Lunchbox, Diana, Garth the Stomach, Scott
These are dumplings small dishes of stuff and you get a few of them to make a meal. In the western world, we'd classify these as appetizers, rather than as the meal itself. According to what we understand, these are quick snacks or lunches to be eaten away from home. These are tidbits which are basically dumplings, or a mixture of things wrapped in a skin/wrapper of some sort, then fried, baked, steamed or boiled. They come one to four at a time, and cost as little as $1 or $2, to $5 to $8 a dish depending on ingredients and size, so you can "digitize" your meal in a sense by having more than one. And tea comes with the meal.
Basically, these are the far east variation of Spanish tapas, only they are eaten earlier in the day, rather than as a pre-dinner snack with drinks. Dimsum are never, as far as we know, eaten with booze. Although we know that Thai "yumcha" are sour and salty snacks to be eaten with drinks, sometimes as a whole meal, but that's usually an evening thing, too. Confusing, eh?
We had gathered together to talk about the upcoming Episode 3 ... we had just bought the Ep3 music and had watched the music DVD together, and had become hungry. Dimsum is something we all like, but we don't like having to fight through the crowds to get to Chinatown in downtown Manhattan for it. When we heard from others that this place has good food and seems very authentic, and it has a separate dimsum menu, we decided to try it out. Actually, the aforementioned difficult phone conversation when calling ahead actually bolstered our hopes that this would be good! But ... we didn't know when dimsum-time would end, so we didn't take any chances and arrived there just after 10am.
Good signs: place was packed with families; no one speaks English, either staff or guests; bathroom was substandard in cleanliness (these are de rigeur for decent Chinese restaurants, it seems). Bad signs: televisions in every corner, broadcasting Nick Jr. or sports; at least the sound was off, though everyone in the place seemed to be staring up at one screen or another while chewing. Other good sign: the ladies pushing the carts around the room so you can look at what they have and point to what you'd like to try. We said "yes" to nearly everything. Wait, that's not true, we didn't get the chicken feet, tripe, or anything purportedly sweet. Chinese desserts are not exactly delicacies ... the Chinese do many things extremely well, but desserts isn't one of them. (Thus the joke: Chinese desserts are classified among world treats with Swiss seafood dishes and German food in general ... but we digress ...)
It's not that we don't love tripe, but we don't care for this style of it. And the chicken feet should be imbibed in the privacy of your own quarters, so that others won't see you sucking on bones and slurping sauce.
Everything was really good, even the congee (rice porridge boiled with peanuts) with fried skins of some sort. We had shu mai, steamed meatballs, fried dumplings, porkbone bits, taro, stuffed eggplant, and many things we can't really identify or describe, other than they were bits of meat and vegetables in a wrapper. It was all delicious and we got seconds on the whole shrimps in rice paper. Every time the cart-ladies would come around, we'd look and point and get more. I think they marked our table as "they will say yes!" because they came around a lot. They always had something else we hadn't seen before, and of course, we'd try it!
And we did break our rule about Chinese desserts one of the cart-ladies came around with a tray of what looked like rice crispy treats, but were fried noodles mixed with honey, walnuts, and coconut and pressed into a sort of bar. It was very good, though you could taste the frying oil quite plainly. It wasn't overly sweet and was light enough to qualify as a nice meal-ender, especially with the tea in the pot. It steeps over time and becomes darker and stronger. But the time you've ended your meal, it's chewable, but perfect with a light sweet. (Chinese restaurants don't serve coffee, duh.) This was such an anomoly that we had to conclude it was inspired by the very American "Rice Krispy Treats" or maybe something UK-ish like Lamingtons, and are not Chinese in origin at all ...
Overall, we ended up eating 12 little plates of things, including the surprisingly good Chinese dessert. The total cost was under $40, including tip and taxes. It was a great deal, the food was really good, too. What's more, this is stuff that not even Chinese grandmas will make at home because it's too work intensive; besides, you can get it at the teahouse for cheap! Consider dimsum for a delicious, adventurous brunch any day! [Hey, anything a small kid will skewer on a chopstick and eat (dumpling on a stick, anyone?) has to be good, eh? Especially when Dora the Explora is competing for his attention!]
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