Mike Madriaga 9:30 a.m., Nov. 23
Best Dim Sum in Town?
I go through dim sum phases -- for about a year, Jasmine was at the top of my list. But, after so many sloppy shells in my shrimp dumplings, the smell of mildew emanating from the old carpet, the rickety chairs, it just seemed more and more dingy. So I went back to Emerald, and I couldn't remember why I'd stopped going there in the first place. Before I start talking about why this is my current favorite dim sum joint, I'll admit that I have yet to try China Max, though I'm not sure it would feel like dim sum without the carts.
The best time to go to Emerald is 11 a.m. on a Saturday -- that's when you still get the best selection of the early serving options (many of which disappear after a while), and the items that take longer to prepare (such as the dry, stir-fried noodles), which are just starting to come out of the kitchen. Also, Saturday is not nearly as crowded as Sunday, so you won't have to wait long, if at all for a table.
The fun starts the moment you sit. A server in a vest (remember this, as it's only the vests who can get you refills on beverages and bring your check when you're finished) delivers a hot pot of jasmine tea and the standard dim sum condiments: chili oil and hot mustard, the soy sauce (a small vessel with a seemingly endless supply of soy sauce -- it must be bigger on the inside) will already be on the table.
I like to begin by chopsticking (that's right, I made a verb) some chili oil onto my plate and adding a small pour of soy sauce.
Once seated, the carts appear, almost always pushed by women, most of whom speak very limited English.
Here you can see with a glance what is on offer, and select by pointing (or asking, if you know the right name for your item) to small plates or tins that you want added to your table.
Some items require cutting, to make things more sharable, or simply easier to manage with those slippery oversized plastic chopsticks.
Here's an overview of some of my preferred dim sum plates. Of course, anything shrimp -- these are shrimp shumai and har gow, or shrimp dumpling.
On my last visit, I tried (and liked) the jiaozi, or pot stickers. These ones were pork.
David loves the barbecue pork buns.
I'm a sucker for the fried glutinous rice dumplings, filled with minced mushroom, shrimp, and pork. They're sweet (almost like a donut) on the outside, and savory on the inside.
These breaded shrimp balls are wrapped around sticks of sugar cane.
These are called "shark fins," but not because there's any shark meat in there -- rather, they're named for their shape. These have minced pork, prawn, and cilantro inside.
Finally, we recently discovered these fried scallop and shrimp gems, served with a side of sweet and sour sauce.
Weekend dim sum is great for large groups -- it's fast, easy, inexpensive, and lately at Emerald, always tasty.