Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dim Sum Garden : Philadelphia

Ahh, it's good to be back in Phili and reviewing the local restaurants. But enough small talk. As they say in Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, let's get it on!

Dim Sum Garden was a place that I'd been meaning to go to for some time now. I've walked it by so many times on my way to Chinatown and dismissed it as a greasy fast-food Chinese restaurant, so it was doubly intriguing finding out that respected local foodies gave this place a thumbs up.

Shao mai (烧卖)- This was the first time I've had this rendition of Shao mai, but apparently it's more common in the region my gf originally hails from. As always, Wikipedia elucidates. Like me, most people probably have been exposed to the Cantonese version of shao mai with mostly ground pork inside. This version is more similar to that made in the Jiangnan region with sticky rice and pork. This was quite nicely done. The homemade wrapper was thin and moist, very nicely done. The rice was slightly drier than I might have liked, but then again I suppose the trade-off to achieving that is to add more lard to the rice.

Shanghai pork xiao long bao (Soup dumplings) - (上海猪肉小笼包)- Lots. Of. Juice. Holy smokes, I nearly squirted the juice clear across the table. But besides that emm, I thought these were just okay. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be surprised if this is the best xiao long bao of the Philadelphia area. I loved the surprising mouthful of juice inside and the slightly sticky home-made wrap. But I was hoping for a deeper and more complex meat filling. But going further, having tasted some pretty eye-opening Asian foods in SF over the summer, I really was hoping for a rendition of xiao long bao that could stand up to versions in New York, LA, and SF. And this isn't there. While I think lawslaw comment on Chowhound is complete bollocks (besides the evident home-made taste, I saw the good folk behind the counter making the dumplings), perhaps his intention is similar to my sentiment. This is good, but it still needs to be taken up a level.

Beef tendon soup noodles (牛腩面)- This was disappointing in a head-shaking manner. The noodles were fantastic, the way home-made noodles should be: hearty, rough on the edges, just something you can sink your teeth into. (And they're different than the drawn noodles at Nanzhou Hand-drawn noodles - mainly, they're flattened and cut up, instead of the uneven roundness that comes from stretching the noodle.)

But as great as the noodles were, the broth's use of MSG was downright puzzling. You've already gone to all of this work making the noodle, surely it deserves something better than a broth you could make with a ramen packet?

Secondly, the beef brisket meat wasn't the right cut of beef. I'm not sure why they did this and I can't quite place the cut they did use, but its gaminess was a downgrade from the beef brisket I'm used to.

All in all, Dim Sum Garden, given its deceiving cheap exterior, serves surprisingly solid food. But I still am looking forward to the day when Philadelphia Chinese food can rival that served in some of the more recognized U.S. cities.

Dim Sum Garden
59 N 11th St Philadelphia PA (map)
(215) 627-0218
Chowhound | Yelp
($Chinese, $Philadelphia)

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