Our Gourmet: Dim sum offers a different kind of Sunday brunch
By OUR GOURMET | February 14. 2017 6:28PM
Though we have dined extensively in Asian (mostly Chinese) restaurants, not once had we arrived early on a weekend day to sample the special small plates presented in dim sum fashion.
Chef Wei Weng Zeng and his wife, Winnie, have been serving excellent Chinese lunches and dinners at North Garden in Pinardville for nearly 20 years. What started as a small booth-and-takeout shop on the west side of Mast Road was replaced and upgraded years ago to a modern and spacious restaurant and lounge on the east side of the street, not far from the Kelley Street intersection.
We visited for a dim sum brunch recently, and spent a very pleasant part of our afternoon, nearly an hour, to sample several dishes.
Traditionally a form of small bites or snacks served in Chinese teahouses, dim sum at North Garden takes advantage of modern, steamed cooking and serving styles to produce delicate, delicious and affordable samples of more than two dozen dishes.
For dim sum beginners, it might be best to inquire about how long some of the dishes take to prepare. Some can be ready in under five minutes, while others take 20 minutes or more. All dim sum dishes are cooked to order.
The menu, consisting of 27 items, offers more shrimp, pork and variously filled dumplings than anything else. We enjoyed the simpler dishes the most.
Also, supplementing dim sum choices with a vegetable dish off the main menu is a good idea. For that, we suggest Green Jade ($8.50) a stir-fried and bountifully fresh medley of broccoli, pea pods and green beans in a light sauce.
We started with tea and orders of Steamed Shrimp Dumplings ($4.25) and Crispy Chinese Crullers ($3.50). The crullers were simply fried dough in cut-up rolls, with no filling. They were crispy and tasty and accompanied our entire meal.
The dumplings consisted of very delicate steamed shrimp rolled in a thin, almost translucent dumpling wrapper. The seafood inside was bursting with flavor all of its own, with no sauce or other distraction. Very healthy and tasty. (But we admit, we couldn’t help dipping occasionally into the chili oil and soy sauce that are on all tables.)
The next four dishes took longer to prepare, but we were pacing our meal nicely and they arrived at just the right time.
Steamed Pork and Shrimp Dumplings ($3.50) were entirely different than the first dumpling order. The pork and shrimp filling was not enclosed entirely in the dumpling wrap, and the juices of the filling provided an entirely different, hearty flavor. Very little dipping occurred with this dish, and it was one of our favorites.
All the steamed orders are served in individual steaming dishes, keeping them hot and moist.
The Minced Meat Balls ($3.50) were tightly rolled Chinese versions of the meatball we’re all used to. These delicacies proved to be the most filling and distinctive of the dishes that we tried.
Next came Fried Taro Turnovers ($3.50). Golden brown, crispy and flaky on the outside, their filling was a soft, almost gooey mixture of meat and taro (a sweet-potato-like tuber). Very tasty.
Then our favorite dish arrived, Rice Rolls with Shrimp Filling ($4.50). The rice rolls were long and thinly-wrapped around fresh shrimp inside, and the entire dish was swimming in a light soy/garlic sauce. It was a substantial serving for a small plate, and absolutely best tackled with knife and fork: Unless you’re a native to chopsticks, these slithery and sauce-laden morsels would never arrive at your lips. But with utensils, (and a spoon for the sauce), they can be sliced nicely and scooped up for maximum enjoyment. A delicious dish that topped off our meal.
We were told that the Custard Egg Tarts ($4.50) took 20 minutes to prepare, and during our meal we completely forgot about them. By the time we finished everything else, we were full and it was too late to wait. There are photos of many of the dim sum dishes on the menu, and these tarts look good! Next time, we won’t forget.
If this description sounds like a lot of food, keep in mind these are small, appetizer-sized dishes, and the beauty of dim sum at North Garden is that they cost half as much as most appetizers in an American restaurant.
The Zengs put hospitality first in this family-oriented West Side favorite of the West Side, and service is friendly, fast and lively.
North Garden has been a favorite of ours for many years, and dim sum offers a fresh alternative to traditional Chinese food.