My wife and I had a post-Thanksgiving lunch here, as our entire 14 lb. turkey AND a sous-vide-in-duck-fat breast along with half a dozen sides had been so thoroughly consumed by seven people it was impossible to cobble together a lunch from leftovers.
Since we were not THAT hungry, we decided a selection of small plates would be just the kind of nosh for this kind of Friday.
For those who have not been, this unassuming place is nicer on the inside than the exterior hints. While spartan in decoration, it is clean and inviting. It is apparently NOT, however, heated and so required wearing outer garments during the meal.
Undeterred, we ordered primarily from the Dim Sum menu (there are traditional Americanized Chinese entrees – including very inexpensive lunch specials) as well as a variety of the usual Thai dishes (curries, drunken noodles etc.)
We began by sharing the $6.25 Peking Hot Spicy Noodle (w.Ground Pork.) The portion was more than adequate to share. These are called Zha Jiang Mian in Mandarin – Fried Sauce Noodles. Their version is similar to the way it is served at Sang Kee; thin wheat noodles with tiny cubes of tofu mixed with the crispy bits of ground pork. It was spicier than most of their dishes, and quite satisfying.
We each ordered a Pork bun, because at $1.75 each, why not? They arrived one at a time (which I found confusing) and were about 1/3 larger than the average Char Siu Bao. Also, instead of the expected red-food-coloring sweet sticky BBQ pork, they were filled (quite generously) with a seasoned ground pork mixture. They were tasty, but not as sweet (dough or filling) as expected.
Rounding out the dim sum courses were Pan-Fried Soup Dumpling at $5.95 for five. These were expertly prepared and presented. They are steamed and then pan seared in the fashion of Japanese gyoza. They were, however, again not quite what we had expected, as the pan fried version of soup dumplings do not contain soup. They were filled with the identical ground pork as the previous buns. With a splash of the table’s dumpling sauce, though, they were imminently edible – but again, an explanatory warning from the wait staff would have been appreciated.
Because a menu will inevitably contain more choices than we were prepared to eat, we did bolster the dim sum order with a bowl of roast duck noodle soup ($7.95) and a healthy side of Shanghai Baby Bok Choy ($8.95) The soup (served with two bowls) was the star of the meal. The wide egg noodles had the texture of hand-drawn (I don’t know that they were) and the broth was so complexly spiced it caused smiles with each spoonful. There was a HINT of the ubiquitous five-spice, but the star anise was not overpowering as it often can be. Silken baby bok choy floated in the broth adding color. The roast duck was probably a quarter of a bird, and the skin still displayed a hint of crispness, indicating it had been freshly roasted before being added to the stock. Fat was nicely rendered, and the meat slid easily from the bones, making for an enjoyable soup-slurping experience. There were slivers of a root vegetable in the soup that I could not identify, which were pleasantly bitter and added a bit of crunch. Maybe someone knows what that is ?
The side of bok choy was not TOO garlicky, despite visible slices of fresh cloves, and though bathed in oil, did not seem “greasy.” It was wonderfully enhanced by the dark, thick vinegar supplied at each table (along with the dumpling sauce, soy, and chili in oil.) The vinegar was complex with notes of malt and molasses. It made eating the vegetables a treat.
A number of reviewers here had mentioned issues with the service. The first time I had lunch here with a friend we were waited on by a 20-something young man who spoke unaccented English and was happy to make recommendations and explain menu items.
On this occasion, there were three young-ISH woman, none of whom displayed a smile during our entire visit. Water was refilled frequently, but also wordlessly. Our waitress was efficient in bringing out our dishes, but appeared less than pleased to be asked for clean plates (so, for example, the pork bun would not swim in the leftover spicy noodle sauce.) We had to ask for the single medium-sized paper napkin be fortified with a new one between courses two and three.
I am not a high-maintenance diner, and typically do not give a rodent’s hindquarters about the disposition of the individual bringing my food to the table. In a situation like dim sum, where the dishes are not explained with any level of verbosity, it would be nice, for example, to have a waitperson make suggestions to avoid ordering successive dishes that are nearly identical. I have to suspect that there was a language issue in play. My Mandarin is woefully limited, so I would share the blame were I dining in Beijing… but this was Havertown.
Often, the prospect of larger tips can motivate a waitstaff, but it could be that they pool them here? I don’t know, but although I will return, I’ll be careful to ensure the dishes that I order are inherently different in ingredients and preparation that fending for myself will not be an issue.
$35 total was a very reasonable price for the quantity and execution.