Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Jing Fong Restaurant
20 Elizabeth Street, 2nd Floor, Chinatown, NY
212 964 5256
Review by Susu, MaceVindaloo, Diana, KiwiMama, KiwiChudd

We wouldn't bother calling ahead. They are open from 9:30am to 10pm daily, and dimsum is served from 10am to 3:30pm, though after 1pm, there are fewer choices and they are not replenished as often. After 3, the kitchen really does slow down. Like all dimsum places, the earlier you go, the more choices of dimsum you have and the fresher it is. Also, try to get a seat near the kitchen!

It's also the Hong Kong type of dimsum place where you don't wait for the food to come to you — you can chase after the women with the carts to get what you want, or you can go to the buffet line for things the carts don't bring around. Just be sure you have your ticket when you do!

The place is cavernous and palatial compared to the normal New York dining experience. It's big size means shorter waits for a table, it's loud, it's a little pricier than some other dimsum places, though it's much cleaner than nearly all other Chinatown places. You can bring children and misbehaving-prone guests because with everyone chasing down carts and hollering, no one will notice the bad behavior. Also, if you come with a small group (anything smaller then 8), you will likely be sat with other groups at the same table. The benefit of this is you can see what others are ordering, and if you're a novice, you can follow their lead.

The women who push their carts around the three huge banquet areas are charged to empty their carts often, and don't feel pressured to try what they point to. English is not the primary language here — it's Cantonese, and they may not even understand your school-learned Mandarin, either. However, don't dismiss them immediately. They usually have more than one thing on their carts.

Popular offerings include shrimp dumplings of many many types, crispy eggrolls, bao (pork buns), chicken feet, steamed rice tamale-type packets, salt baked whole mullet (with roe!), spare ribs of beef with ginger, or pork, tofu bowls, and even dessert mochi with custard or peanut butter within. Each typical plate of dimsum comes with three pieces so you should feel free to try anything. At $2 a plate (on weekdays), it's an affordable way to try a variety of things.

The food is very very good, too! Some dimsum places are disappointingly bland and obviously cater to tourists. This place is much more genuine and the number of Asian faces chasing the carts and jumping up to point to items as the carts come to you is rather fun. We sat and ate a lot very slowly, at a table for 8. The other half of the table changed a few times, and included a Hong Kong native with half-Chinese relatives (one of whom was vegetarian, and who still enjoyed plenty of offerings); a group of native Cantonese; and a Chinese family bringing old grandpa in his wheelchair for his weekly outing. Grandpa ate well and took a nap while everyone else kept ordering. From this, you can surmise that the average time spent at the table for most people is relatively quick — maybe 20 minutes.

As you get your dishes, the cards you are given when you sit down are stamped in the small, medium, large, or special sections. Each category comes at a different price on weekends. The dishes are served on their own, so if you want drinks or rice, you tell the waiter who brings it to you separately. Do not forget your card, whether you are sitting at the table and waiting for the food to come to you, or chasing a cart! The benefit of the latter is you can get the food hotter and quicker as the cart is loaded up. The benefit of waiting is that you can eat and eat and eat!

This place has much more "atmosphere" than the average Chinatown eatery. It's highly decorated and well-staffed. You are greeted at the door by a man with a microphone so he can project his voice efficiently over the crowd. You are directed toward wide, tall escalators festooned with chandeliers and wall art. Upstairs, you'll see a LOT of dragon and phoenix sculptures. The ceilings are beveled and draped in a way you'd expect of a suburban wedding factory.

The hostesses are dressed in black trousers and bright red embroidered chinese blouses, and talk incessently into walkie-talkies, asking around the huge room about table availability. There are server captains in tuxedos who are waiter captains; these men and women usually speak English better than others in the room. There are also servers in maroon-colored jackets who efficiently clear and set tables, and who can bring cola, rice, water, beer, etc. as needed. And finally, there are the apron-and-hat brigade of women who push the carts or who cook food on the buffet line.

Don't be surprised these days if the people running after the carts and conversing with the staff in Cantonese don't look particularly Chinese. With the opening of China to American businesses and tourists in past decades, more non-Chinese have studied and lived there. Also, with inter-marriages in the American melting pots with Chinese moving away from traditional enclaves and non-Chinese moving in, it's not uncommon to see people who don't look quite Chinese, but who'd been raised by native Chinese, rubbing shoulders with ethnic Chinese. And finally, with the advents of foody-ism, more non-Chinese are aware and experienced of food beyond their own local or cultural/ethnic experience. Which means if you are not Chinese at all, you can still enjoy the fun of pointing rapidly to food you want and chasing down carts for things you think are mighty tasty, without fear of being regarded a freak. Try to keep the pace up, since servers do move rapidly and everyone around you can get annoyed if you're too slow.

We had about 20 dishes in the medium/large/special range. Not including sodas, it all came to $52. We actually had to bag the food to take home. Like most Chinatown restaurants, your leftovers are bagged at the table. You can do it yourself, of course. It's not an all-you-can-eat-for-one-price buffet, so it's not a problem to take leftovers home.

During the weekdays, dimsum is offered for $2 a plate for all but the largest sized plates — making it a real bargain. It's worth schlepping downtown, especially if you have guests with small children!

The bathrooms are relatively clean, considering that this is Chinatown (where hygiene levels are not the same you'd expect elsewhere), and the sheer number of people in the room. At peak times, the space probably holds 1000, with a constant stream of people waiting for tables. The average wait is about 5 minutes, as long as you are willing to share a table with other groups. If not, expect to wait up to an hour (and you won't get much respect) — you may prefer to eat elsewhere, but beware that this is a common practice in many Chinatown eateries.

All in all, dimsum is a great concept for novices, or for those who can't decide what they want, or for those who want to experience a Hong Kong style (in terms of offerings and energy levels) dimsum "palace" without boarding a plane to the Orient. And the food is delicious!

Oh, and how did we find this place? Internet searches for dimsum in New York's Chinatown consistently put this place on the top-5 lists over the last decade. You can read the reviews, but remember that some are written by novices and people who don't"get" Chinatown or the Chinese in general. We found none of the negative reviews to be significant — we shrugged and tried it out for ourselves. Because it's dimsum, if you don't like the first few things you tried, just pay up for what you got and leave. It won't put a big dent in your wallet, and there are so many other places in this tiny section of America that you won't go hungry.

Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com. Enjoy!