Aaah, dim sum. That wonderful New York City tradition of schlepping down to Chinatown with $20, waiting in line for 15 minutes, being seated in a huge banquet hall, then stuffing yourself silly with fried, steamed, and boiled dumplings passed on silver steaming carts.
Or, as we members of the tribe call it, Christmas Day.
We celebrated Christmas early this year with a little trip to Chinatown. We tried out Mandarin Court, as a member of our party remembered it fondly frm years past. This small dining room is dingy but clean,with many individual tables (unheard of in much of Chinatown’s dim sum parlors), a large menu, and a small enough crowd to ensure that you rare served quickly and often. After starting with the obligatory tea, we really got down to business.
The best in town, no question. Piping hot with exceedingly crisp wrappers outside a vegetarian filling, crunchy and caramelized at the same time. Ask for some duck sauce on the side to remind you that yes, you are in the Chinatown of your parents’ youth.
A favorite with kids or dim sum newbies. Soft, sticky rice flour outside sweet bbq pork. The char siu bao here are a bit one-dimensional for my taste – soft and sweet, without any sour or toothsome notes to break up the monotony. However, for our dim sum version, these were a major highlight.
Yes they are bony and yes there is cartilage and yes you may have a globule or 2 of chewy fat. But, wow…if you can get past that, these are great. Simple and sublime nuggets of pork, steamed until it is tender and juicy. Served in a slightly salty broth with bits of hot pepper and scallions, this is on the lighter side of dim sum fare, savory without being heavy.
Yep, I just described pork as light. Welcome to dim sum, kids.
Crispy and puffy without, yielding to a chewy, purposefully doughy wrapper. The pork inside is moist and flavored with aromatics like ginger, and the result is something unexpected and extremely tasty.
This first time order for me is now a bona fide addiction. This sticky, chewy cake with bits of sweet roasted pork and salty crisply fried vegetable is just awesome. Salty, pleasantly chewy, and decidedly filling, this is the mashed potatoes of the dim sum world. It is comforting, it goes great with meat, and it will put you into a food coma immediately following the meal.
Some of the best in Chinatown. Clean and pristine tasting shrimp, vaguely salty, enveloped in thin rice noodles, slippery and squishy. Served in a bath of soy sauce and vinegar, these are savory, tart, and the definition of umami. Also try the rolls filled with beef.
One of our very few homages to non-dumpling dim sum items. Good, but not memorable sticky rice. Sweet, meaty with roast pork, studded with vegetables. A bit dry and lacking true taste beyond saltiness. Next time, I would just get another order of turnip cakes.
And there will be a next time. While Mandarin Court may not have the biggest dim sum offerings, the place is clean, the servers speak impeccable English, and the food is just what you want on a blustery winter’s day.
Can’t wait for Christmas Day to roll around to go back for more.