21 February 2010

My first dim sum experience at Asian Court

Two of my best friends had a baby recently so we went to see the little tyke the first opportunity we got, which was on a Sunday a few weeks ago. Since they live in Frederick and we'd be passing through Catonsville on our way out there I took this opportunity to check out dim sum at Asian Court.

We met up with a fellow Charm City Hound Dara Bunjon (founder of Dara Does It and who writes the blog Dining Dish) who was a little more versed in the whole dim sum experience. For those of you who don't know, dim sum is a Chinese meal of small plates usually served around early lunch time. Items are rolled out on carts and you pick and choose what you want and your items are marked on a card you're given which is tallied at the end of the meal. Almost immediately after we were sat a woman with a fully loaded cart came up and started trying to persuade us to try her dishes. The Mrs. and I were a little overwhelmed because she moved through them pretty fast. I had a few dishes in mind that I wanted to try and immediately acted once I saw one of them which was the steamed BBQ pork buns (char-siu-bao).

While I had read a lot about this item I didn't really know what to expect. While it was interesting I wasn't really blown away. The bun had a consistency similar to angel food cake and I felt there was too much bun and not enough filling but I didn't really have anything to compare it to, maybe they're supposed to be that way. Here's a blurry pic of the innards:

Too little filling? The correct amount? I dunno, you tell me. The next item we chose were some random dumplings which I believe were the steamed basket shaped meat dumplings (sui-mai).

These were filled with shrimp and minced pork and were very good. While the dumpling itself was a tad chewy, I don't think I've had a dumpling that was bursting with so much shrimpy flavor. I was quite pleased with this choice. Look at that big hunk 'o skrimp inside:

Now Dara stepped up with her favorite dish: steamed chicken feet with oyster sauce (fung-jeow).

I'll try anything once so nabbed a foot with my chopsticks and dove in.

Ain't it cute?

I wonder if eating one of these is part of the initiation process of the Foot Clan. Will I be considered a poacher now for eating Littlefoot? Brings literal meaning to the phrase 'foot in mouth'... Yeah, that's all I got.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting, something other than skin, fat, and bone maybe, but that's all I got. And I wasn't a fan. I compared it to eating someones leftover scraps of chicken. This is a dish that is for those of us who enjoy gummy gelatinous fatty skin with no meat whatsoever. I am not part of that club. It wasn't horrible or disgusting, just not my thing. The Mrs. declined the offer to try the chicken feet so Dara said that she would happily eat them all as she loved them. She did just that. I was impressed, well done Dara.

At this point in the meal an onslaught of new dishes hit our table and it was time to feast. We got steamed yolk cream buns (nai-won-bao), a different order of steamed meat dumplings (yu-chi-gow... Yu-gi-oh? I thought that was some lame card game...), clams with black bean sauce (this was a special and not listed on the menu), baked BBQ pork cake (char-siu-so), and one of my favorites: deep fried balls of glutinous rice flour (jin-dui) which is filled with red bean paste. Trying to take pictures and notes at this point was difficult but I did my best.

The steamed yolk cream buns were a nice sweet treat in the middle of our meal. I'm kind of at a loss for what to compare these to, so I'll just proclaim that I liked them. I will mention that these did have a much better bun-to-filling ratio than the pork buns. Here's another innards shot for your enjoyment:

These dumplings I didn't like as much as our first order.

That's all I remember thinking about them. I was pretty distracted at this point with all of the dishes flying around, can you blame me?

The clams were great, although I wish I had known how much the specials cost before ordering, that was a rude awakening when we got the bill let me tell you! Nikki proclaimed she didn't like clams and didn't want to try them. I pointed out the fact that she liked them in the paella we had at Sala 19 but she still refused. Only after Dara's prodding did she try them, and liked them. I think this was the only dish of the meal that was equally liked by all three of us.

The bbq baked pork cake was the first of a few dishes that one or all of us felt was a bit too oily/greasy. The filling was fine as it was the same as the steamed pork bun but the flaky cake was just too oily for my tastes.

I had high hopes for one of my most anticipated dishes: the sesame balls. I'd only ever had these at Grand Buffet here in Bel Air and I was hoping to be blown away by a true authentic iteration of the dish. I wasn't. The glutinous rice flour was super greasy and almost dripped when lightly squeezed. Look:

All of that shiny goo was just too much for me. I guess I'm starting to realize that maybe I just don't like greasy/oily food in general. On the plus side the filling was great but I just couldn't get past the grease.

At this point we sat back and let our stomachs digest for a moment. We were interested in trying more but were going to be much more selective with our choices. Dara recommended the stuffed eggplant with shrimp paste in brown sauce (neng-chee-gee) so we opted to try that.

This dish was too greasy for the Mrs but this was one of my top two dishes of the meal. I think it was because she was eating the eggplant on it's own in little bites whereas I just shoved the entire thing in my mouth. I loved the shrimp paste and I guess the it's presence cut down on the oiliness factor. This dish I would definitely come back for.

At this point I stopped someone and asked about a dish I was really looking forward to try after seeing it my incessant food blog browsing: sticky rice stuffed lotus leaves. After describing the dish to the guy he mentioned that they didn't have the pyramid shaped ones as with those the meat is actually cooked in the leaf, they had the flat rectangular version in which the meat is cooked before being stuffed inside. I replied that was fine and moments later he procured which came to be by far my favorite dish of the meal.

The smell that wafted from the leaves was intoxicating and only increased when I unwrapped my cute little present.

Mysterious isn't it? What bizarre treasures lurked inside the little mound of sticky glutinous rice? Feet? Heads? Dare I say... deliciousness? Luckily, the latter was actually the case. I had never tasted anything even remotely like this. There was shrooms, shrimp, definitely pork or chicken, and some sort of delicious little sausage. I wish to hell this next picture came out clear but I didn't have the patience to take another as I had more treasures to uncover.

Simply delicious. I will definitely have this again. The leftovers reheated amazingly well and made for a wonderful lunch the next day.

Finally, to conclude our meal Dara opted for one last special that came around which we were told was crispy chicken.

The skin was nicely crispy and the dish was great with a little sea salt sprinkled on top. The chicken was very moist considering it was white meat. I went for the thick meaty chunks and steered clear of the scrawny ones with bone. All-in-all it was a fine way to conclude my first dim sum experience.

The bill came out to be about $20 a person which seemed a little steep to me considering the reputation dim sum has as a dining experience that is easy to fill up on and light on the wallet. While we were most certainly stuffed the specials inflated our check somewhat unexpectedly.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my inane ramblings. Next up is lunch at Atwater's and my first experience of the awesomeness that is the Pennsylvania Dutch Market! If you haven't been, you don't know what you're missing. Have no fear for I shall merrily enlighten you. Stay tuned.

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theminx said...

They had baked char siu bao this past weekend - yummy! I also like the sticky rice in lotus at Asian Court because they are extremely generous with the mushroom and lap chang (Chinese sausage) and it does reheat well. They also have a sticky rice dish served in an inverted glass bowl. This version has cilantro and peanuts and does not have the lovely aromatic flavor from the lotus leaves, but is still worth trying. They are also generous with the size of their dumplings - the siu mai are humongous, as are the shark's fin dumplings (the other kind you had).

Other must-try items at dim sum, IMHO, are the head-on salt-and-pepper shrimp, the Cheung Fun (crepe-like noodles with shrimp and a sweetish soy sauce), hom sui gok (football shaped glutinous rice dumplings with a porky filling - these are fried though, and best when fresh and warm), Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, and either soy sauce noodles or Singapore noodles (curry flavored and quite spicy).

I'm not a big fan of the chicken feet - too much work for too little reward. I also skip the spare ribs for the same reason.

Kyle said...

Damn, you sure do know your dim sum. I'll give you a shout next time we plan on going!

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