Dim Sum at Chinatown
Some of Austin's best dim sum
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., April 18, 2008
Sun.-Thu., 11am-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-10:30pm
Dim Sum at Chinatown3407 Greystone, 343-9307
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10:30pm
Dim sum service: Saturday-Sunday, 11am-2:30pm
Ronald Cheng has 25 years of experience as a restaurateur in Austin, and with Chinatown's dim sum service, that experience shows. Chinatown occupies the upper floor of a stand-alone building on the southwest corner of Greystone and the MoPac frontage road, a few blocks north of Far West; Musashino Sushi Dokoro is on the lower level. One caveat is that for the disabled, Chinatown access could prove daunting.
Inside you'll find a sumptuous interior, all dark wood and lacquer, with red linen table settings and loads of Chinese decorative accents. There's a separate fully stocked bar and a very complete wine and sake list. The menu also features an assortment of upscale gourmet teas ($10-40 per pot). The waitstaff hovers in black-and-white uniforms, providing excellent service.
The dim sum menu offers 53 different selections (actually more, since some of the items we sampled were not on the menu) in prices ranging from $2.45 to $6.95 for the special selections. Service is from carts, but one waiter implied that if you wanted a particular item from the menu, it would be brought. We never tested him, since there always seemed to be an infusion of new items into the circulating carts. As for the carts, kudos go to Chinatown for their service equipment: Their carts are heated so that all of the items arrive piping hot; pan-fried items are par-cooked and finished table-side on a portable griddle.
We started with a large savory timbale of sticky rice topped with copious slices of Chinese sausage ($4.25): the rice with nice flavor and texture, the sausage rich and complementary. Chicken-mushroom pastry rolls (two for $2.45) were less successful: the pastry sweet and flaky with a rather homogenous and nondistinctive savory filling. Pan-fried daikon cake (three, $2.45) is nicely done: light-textured and golden-brown with bits of pork and dried shrimp. Baked barbecue pork bun (two, $2.45) is excellent: a light, golden pastry with wonderful char siu pork interior. Pork pot sticker dumplings (three, $3.25) are superb: a perfect wrapper stuffed with coarse minced pork.
Chicken-basil dumplings (three, $3.25) are plump, flattened globes stuffed with forcemeat of minced chicken; we'd love more basil in the mixture, but they are superb. Shrimp-and-cilantro dumplings (two, $4.25) are large, elongated steamed dumplings with a delicate wrapper and chunky shrimp filling; the cilantro taste is subtle. Steamed scallop dumplings (three, $4.25) are delicious, stuffed with sweet scallops and crunchy water chestnuts. Hong Kong stalwart shrimp chow fun (three, $4.25) is wonderful: a silky rice sheet enwrapping chunks of shrimp in enchilada or banh cuon fashion, topped with sweet soy sauce.
We loved our bacon-wrapped prawn roll with honey sauce (two, $4.75). Minced shrimp is molded around a central stick of Chinese celery into a large log, which is then wrapped in bacon and browned off. It arrives in a puddle of sprightly citrus-honey sauce, which complements the shrimp and bacon quite well. Coffee-glazed pork spareribs (four, $4.75) are a surprisingly good treat. The acid from the coffee balances nicely with brown sugar and spices; the ribs are very tender. And just to break the monotony of the pork and shrimp fest, we grabbed a rather large dish of fresh snow pea shoots, barely stir-fried with a little garlic and oyster sauce ($4.75). Roughage is a good thing!
On our two trips, the Asian diners were out in force, especially families. They seemed to be just as content and satiated as we were once we reached our limit. Our advice: Stake out a table near the kitchen door, pace yourself, and enjoy some of Austin's best dim sum.