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Treasures á la carte 

Golden Wok's dim sum puts pleasure on plates

click to enlarge _goldenwok2.jpg
Release Date: 2004-05-20

"Fresh Asian Cooking" is Golden Wok's new tag line, and the venerable restaurant has freshened its look to emphasize the presumed culinary transformation. With snazzy lighting, pleasant colors, and a lot more glass, the place now feels nothing like the cranky Cantonese classic from which it emerged. A little bamboo, used imaginatively as valences and friezes, remains as a reminder of the Chinese restaurants of our collective past.

"Dim sum and then some" is the rest of Golden Wok's updated motto, and to make that point clear, the "heart's delights" (the poetic translation of dim sum), are available at all hours the restaurant is open. Dim sum was our focus at Golden Wok, but first a bit of advice: Don't bother to order dim sum at weekday lunch. It's not that they won't be good, but rather that the service is likely to be about as frustrating as looking for an open space in the crowded parking lot. Give yourself, and the waitstaff, a break and save the experience for evenings or weekends.

On weekends, these Chinese teahouse treasures are served in traditional fashion from a cart until 2:30 p.m., an especially good way for the novice to pick and choose. But the photo-illustrated menu you'll receive during the week may be even more useful: The stuffings hidden within many of the steamed, fried, and baked rolls, buns, and dumplings are described for you (though there are fewer offerings than on the cart). Fung Jou by any other name are chicken feet - but don't be afraid to experiment. Once you get over the look (there's no hiding the foot-like form) and the strange textures (a combination of bony and gelatinous), the taste is really very good. Honest.

The chicken feet, double-cooked and then steamed, are the most obviously challenging choice on the 31-item dim sum menu, but some other surprises are in order as well. The Nor Mai Gai, or stuffed lotus leaves, are a good place to start: The sticky rice filling, studded with chicken, pork, and Chinese sausage, is sweet, savory, and vaguely perfumed all at once, and well worth the effort necessary to access it. Lotus paste made from seeds is used to stuff both fried and steamed buns. The #13, a steamed wheat flour bun filled with the paste, has a springy, resilient, and bland dough wrapper, making the sweet paste a pleasant contrast.

The forms of many dim sum can be as fascinating as the fillings, and as you have thought ahead to assemble a sizeable group (For dim sum: The more the merrier), you can order to your heart's content. Har Gau, or #1, consists of a shrimp, bamboo shoot, and green onion mix encased in a skin made from tapioca and wheat starches (sometimes called shrimp bonnets). As served by Golden Wok, they're delicate, tender, and altogether delightful - but no more so than Siu Mai. Filled with a pork and dried-mushroom mixture, the steamed Siu Mai are shaped like tiny purses (the menu calls them "kettles"). They're equally appealing, but use the malevolent chili oil sparingly. The baked pastry turnovers filled with barbecue pork that constitute #23 need no dip; they're flaky, slightly sweet, and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Among the dim sum that appear to be hiding nothing, the Taro Root Cake may be one of the most deceptive. Both the spongy texture and the perfumed taste may be a surprise, and the preserved pork mixed throughout is unexpectedly effective in contrast. The spare ribs steamed in black bean and oyster sauces are deceptive in another fashion: Though the taste is rewarding, the tiny ribs are almost all bone and gristle. Give this one a pass. The What You See Is What You Get squid steamed in a ginger, garlic, and wine sauce, on the other hand, are amazingly tender and there's absolutely nothing unexpected or challenging about the delicate flavors. Jasmine tea would be a culturally correct companion, but we preferred the sow mee. The bo nay (or po nay) tea was less immediately appealing, but some have given it the nickname "Chinese Alka-Seltzer" due to its ability to cut through grease. Fortunately, its properties were not needed. At least in dim sum form, "fresh Asian" seems to be a fair assessment. •


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