I Do Love Dim Sum

Posted on June 3, 2010 – 7:50 AM | by OldManFoster
  • Share

By Becky Grunewald   photos by Scott Duncan

People tend to get very passionate about dim sum.  A prominent local food reviewer has even gone so far as to call himself, in print, a “dim sum slut”-many, many times.  I would never go that far-in fact, I might even argue that that phrase makes no damn sense – but I do love dim sum. Scratch that.  “Love” isn’t strong enough.  To paraphrase Woody Allen-I lurve dim sum.  I luff it.   Every time I’m seated and the carts start flowing toward me I marvel that something so wonderful exists, and for less than 20 bucks.

In Sacramento, the undisputed dim sum front-runner has always been New Canton.  I have better things to do on Sunday mornings than wait in a long line in a hot parking lot (like reading Beetle Bailey – that goldbricking Beetle, what will he do next?), so my default is usually King Palace.  The food is not quite as good, but the space is huge so there is rarely a wait.  Thankfully, we now have a place that combines the superior dumplings of New Canton with the airplane hangar-sized space of King Palace – Asian Pearl 2009.

I would argue that naming anything after a specific year makes the place seem instantly dated –  are you reading this Thai 2K? – but Asian Pearl is gleaming and new.  There are sparklingly clean fish tanks swimming with spidery King crabs, catfish, and phallic geoducks.  The hostesses are theatrically clothed in red cheongsams.  The busboys are very attentive and keep the water glasses filled.  The cart-servers, some of whom I recognize from sister-restaurant New Canton, are quite friendly, more so than at many dim sum places.

A dim sum restaurant lives or dies by the quality of its dumplings, however, not the chattiness of the servers, and the dumplings at Asian Pearl are top-notch.  Not once did I suffer the sad fate of grasping the whole dumpling only to be left with a wrapper dangling in my chopsticks while the lump of filling stubbornly adheres to the basket.  The shrimp in the har gow are large, plump, and firm, encased in a tender, almost gelatinous, wrapper.  The soup dumplings taste strongly of fresh ginger.  The chive dumpings are bursting with sweet allium flavor.  The delicate shark fin dumplings are packed with jelly noodles.

The non-dumpling fare is equally good.  The radish cake is unusually peppery, studded with chunks of daikon, and expertly pan-fried.  The sliced duck oozes wonderful golden fat from underneath crisp skin and is accompanied by a piquant sour-sweet dipping sauce. The bao are beautifully glossy little gems.  I also spotted dishes of cold duck tongue and chicken feet, for those who are more adventurously inclined.

Choosing items, such as duck tongues, from a dim sum cart can be an easy way to try a food that can seem challenging at first to Western tastes.  There’s not as much chance that one will be steered towards something bland such as broccoli beef or sweet and sour pork.  This irks me, but I understand this impulse on the part of the restaurant owner.  Just recently I was caught grimacing at (and given a refund on) a bowl of bun bo hue in a Vietnamese café because to my palate it tasted and smelled too strongly of the wrong end of the cow.  I feel guilty knowing that that server will probably try to steer the next non-Vietnamese customer towards a “safe” grilled pork chop.  Sorry, adventurous eaters of Sacramento, I let you down.

That’s why I was so pleased that my server at Hoicin, another of my fave dim sum haunts, seemed excited rather than concerned when I ordered pork belly with preserved greens.  She also eagerly retrieved and displayed a bundle of fresh water spinach to convince me to order it in place of the pea shoots that they were out of.  I followed her advice and thoroughly enjoyed the large heap of crunchy, grassy greens seasoned with hefty chunks of garlic.            The pork dish was also a delight.  Each meaty, yielding slice of pork belly is rimmed with a rich layer of fat, and the preserved vegetables add an earthy complexity.

Asian Pearl 2009Hoicin is primarily a Cantonese restaurant, and their lengthy menu includes a section with Cantonese specialties.  Of these, I sampled the “tai chin spicy chicken”.  This dish is mostly remarkable for the fact that it appears to include sliced hot dogs (really pepperoni-ish Chinese sausages), but the soy-based, glossy sauce is rather boring.  The whole, deep fried, “Sampan crab”, which is plucked live from the tank before preparation, didn’t really benefit from the hot oil bath.  The deep fried garlic and jalapeno chili chips it is garnished with are addictive, but I need more to justify the $20 price.

Hoicin also offers a few dim sum items.  The “Shanghainese pork dumplings”, while not as soupy as I would like, come enclosed in a perfectly al dente wrapper and are set off nicely by a pink vinegar sauce.  They don’t do carts, but from the overall quality of the food there I imagine one could put together a proper dim sum feast.

Another pet peeve of mine is when people bemoan the lack of good Chinese food in our area.  If you don’t think we have good Chinese food, you just aren’t trying.  I urge you to hit up one of these spots, or New Lai Wah, or Macau Café, and watch what those around you are ordering.  Don’t be daunted by language barriers, just plunge in and ask questions if you see something that looks good.  Order something from the tank, although you might want to inquire about the price first to avoid sticker shock when the bill comes.  Whatever you do, don’t just order broccoli beef.

Asian Pearl 2009, 6821 Stockton Blvd, (916) 391-8881

Hoicin Cantonese Restaurant, 9555 Folsom Blvd, (916) 369-8915

Tags: , , ,

Post a Comment