Chinatown in New York isn’t where one will find good dim sum. There are many good options in this part of Manhattan for an authentic Chinese meal, but when it comes to the Chinese version of high tea, fughetaboutit. Across the East River in Brooklyn in an area called Sunset Park, there is what the Upper West Sider calls The Chinese Restaurant. It’s what I call The Chinese Restaurant. During the week, The Chinese Restaurant serves the gringo’s Chinese food like Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Shrimp and Chop Suey. It’s actually good for what it is and wait times even to this day can be over 18 minutes long without commercial interruption. But on the weekends, The Chinese Restaurant changes its tune. It scares the white man away by becoming much for traditional to its culinary history. It serves the best dim sum in the entire state. The wait time turns into hours, which many cannot stand for, but the people who have the stamina to starve and cancel all of their plans will be richly rewarded.
Enter through a gaudy grandma’s version of Imperial China into an enlarge banquet room where round community tables are situated less than a foot away from each other. Chinese middle-aged men and women in faux tuxes with cumberbuns and all hustle to and fro in and out of the kitchen to get the piping hot made-to-order dishes while bumping into patrons along the way.
It is always an event that screams fun when dining for morning or afternoon dim sum at The Chinese Restaurant. The Chinese Restaurant like other Asian restaurants make the whole dining experience dummy proof.
The Chinese were probably the original food pornographers. They slapped pictures of each dish next to what was written on the menu. It wasn’t sexy and wasn’t meant to be, but it was highly effective and still is. I don’t bother studying the menu. It’s a look and point system. The waiters or waitresses don’t have time to say, “I’ll give you a minute to look over the menu,” because once the pictures are presented in front of you, you end up saying, “I’ll have that…and that…and that one too. Oooh, that looks pretty and sort of sexy, what is it? I don’t care. Bring me that too, please.”
For insurance, there are numbers to every dish. If only every restaurant, Chinese and non-Chinese had this system. At The Chinese Restaurant, the waiter doesn’t even ask what you want. You actually grab a take-out version paper menu and mini pencils that are in a cup holder next to the metallic chop sticks and mark a tally next to each item. That way the waiters aren’t liable for you ordering too much which is usually customary when dining at any dim sum establishment. There’s no time to talk about the specials. There’s no time to say any formalities. Going to The Chinese Restaurant is strictly business. It’s almost military like. And that is a good thing.
In New York, like California, every dim sum restaurant is going to have the same dishes and then one or two that they’re known for. It’s best to try them all. The Chinese Restaurant doesn’t have the employees wheel the carts around. It prides itself on its freshness. This is one of the main reasons that put The Chinese Restaurant on top. Your steamed buns will always be guaranteed fresh no matter what time you arrive. They won’t be sitting on the shelves for hours on end losing their luster.
The first item that touched the table was one large Tang Bao, the ‘roided up soup dumpling. I ordered mine with fresh crab roe. I asked for a boba-sized straw, and slurped up its innards first, then conquered the rest as if I was a child all over again playing with his food. One hardly ever sees this on a Chinese restaurant’s menu, dim sum or not. The Chinese Restaurant offers lobster har gow as well as shrimp, the translucent dumplings. Their rice noodles are made daily. Usually this is where many dim sum restaurants save on time and money, they use run-of-the-mill rice noodles from a large warehouse purveyor. The shrimp dumplings contained peas, corn, and wolfberries (aka the Goji berry). The plates kept coming. I refrained from ordering the Xiao long bao for the doughier sheng jian bao. I received my bony Phoenix (chicken) Feet and sticky rice inside a lotus leaf. And the plates kept coming. Though the dishes were all different, they began to taste the same. This is not only the case for The Chinese Restaurant, but also all other Chinese restaurants that serve dim sum. The fried foods The Chinese Restaurant offered proved the point even further: taro fritters and egg custards, turnip cakes and red bean filled sesame balls. These items seemed best to belong at a state fair. They would be a much better alternative to the deep fried Oreo. I opted to eat the marinated cucumbers instead, a much better palate cleanser.The tea was nothing to brag home about, but it was always hot and freshly brewed.
In defense of The Chinese Restaurant, they serve over a 1000 covers a day on the weekends and the chefs and cooks in the back don’t have time to work on their flavor profiles or attempt to elevate age old traditions that have become comfort and street food to over a billion and counting.The Chinese Restaurant isn’t the oldest or newest place in New York. It was built in the early 90s to little applause, but because of its dim sum, it has stood the test of time.
ATMOSPHERE: A hustling and bustling Chinese restaurant serves dim sum to working class Chinese families and the occasional “gringo”
SERVICE: Military style. The staff doesn’t have patience for one to look over the menu. It’s almost fast food like and it’s excellently efficient
SOUND LEVEL: Loud. There’s no music because the noise and chatter from the tables and kitchen would drown it out
RECOMMENDED: The Tang Bao with crab roe, the lobster and shrimp har gow
DRINKS: Tea, water, sodas, and bottle beer
OPEN: Dim Sum is only offered on Saturdays and Sundays: 10am-3pm. It’s hours during the week are 5pm-11pm
RESERVATIONS: No with wait times ranging from 18 minutes – 3 hours
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes