29 July 2011

Get some dim sum in Denver!

I belatedly decided to take someone's advice and visit Empress Seafood Restaurant on West Alameda in Denver.  They have the standard Chinese meal menu, heavy on the seafood, but they also have dim sum, which I enjoy for the food and for the circus.

Now, I have heard that the dim sum carts do not always come around in this place (though there is always a dim sum menu, presented much like a sushi menu, from which you can order), so the best time to enjoy the circus is Saturday and Sunday, mid-morning to mid-afternoon.  Dim sum is traditionally eaten at the time we Americans designate as brunch, so I suppose this makes sense.  I went to Empress at 11:30am on Saturday, and most of the diners were Chinese (and elderly).  Yesssss.

The other thing about dim sum is that is traditionally form the Canton region, which favors mild and slightly sweet dishes.  Many reviewers have raved about their BBQ pork buns, but to me they were a very large dessert item--sweet bread wrapped around a small amount of sweetly sauced shredded pork.  I think they were good, don't get me wrong, but being the size of softballs, I wish I hadn't wasted all that room in my stomach when I could have had another vegetable bean curd roll.

Speaking of which, did I mention the vegetable bean curd roll?  It was a very thin egg pancake filled with bean threads and bok choy swimming in a brown gravy.  In texture and flavor, it was divine.  I was surprised I loved it so much.  I also really enjoyed the sticky rice in lotus leaf, but be forewarned: this is not a sweet treat.  It's described that way, and I suppose the sticky rice itself is similar to sushi rice, but it's loaded with little bits of tender duck, pork, diced eggplant, and water chestnuts with a savory seasoning.  I had been told about this before--it's actually eaten around New Year's in the Canton region.  One wrapped package is huge and oh-so-filling--good for sharing with another.

We also tried their famous shrimp crepes, which were OK but a bit on the sweet side for me (it's a steamed egg crepe filled with sweet shrimp), and the steamed shrimp and pork (two separate fillings) dumplings were quite tasty.

For dessert, we tried sesame dumplings, which were perfectly fried and sweet, like the Chinese version of a doughnut...but, er, sprinkled in sesame seeds?  Whatever, they were good.  I love the Chinese dessert aesthetic of eating sweet fried breads--not too sweet and very chewy.  We also got something that sounded scary to me but ended up being my favorite dessert: egg custard dumplings.  They were basically flattened little patties of fried sweet dough with what looked like hard-cooked egg yolk in the middle.  Please try them. They are amazing.  Finally, we asked for a coconut pudding before seeing it.  It had a very mild coconut flavor, but I just couldn't get past the blobbiness and rubbery texture.  It was basically an opaque, white block of Jello-O.  It creeped me out, but I think that I am overly picky about these things.

The dim sum menu is vast, and covers common, parent-friendly items as well as some authentic specialties for the brave, like chicken feet and duck with squid.  Prices for each item hover around $2.25, and there's enough on each little plate to share.  My husband and I walked out so stuffed we thought we might pass out, all for the price of $22.65.  And if you're clueless about the process like I was, we found that the dim sum carts came around fast and furious for about 15 minutes when we and another family first showed up, and then we didn't see them again for a long time.  But they leave a menu with you at the table (which is how they keep track of what you buy), and you can always flag down a waiter and order things without having to wait for the cart again.  If you know what you want, you can just say so from the start.

The neighborhood is a little out of the way, but there's ample parking and the food is really worth the visit.  I highly recommend getting your dim sum on at Empress!