Saturday, September 5, 2009

Northern Manor: Dim Sum Dujour

Beef Tripe, Preserved Duck Egg Congee, BBQ'd Pork Bun.

This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

"Dim sum taught me Chinese."

As a kid, I learned the bulk of my Cantonese Chinese food words from simply hearing the ladies who strolled past me hawking their carts' wares. I never cease to marvel at the sweet, salty, spicy, fried and steamed aromas and textures wafting by me every time I'm out to yum cha. In Cantonese, 'yum cha' literally means 'drinking tea' but has become synonymous with the dim sum we know today (eating small servings of different foods). Most traditional Chinese restaurants that sell dim sum have a sit-down menu in addition to the carts of steaming hot plate-sized Chinese delicacies. Wash it all down with jasmine or oolong tea, and you're good to go.

There's a reason why dim sum has become so popular: It's quick, tasty and cheap.

Northern Manor fits the bill. It's located on the border of Queens and Long Island, which is great because that means I don't have to trek out to Flushing every time I'm in the mood for dim sum. I tend to go with my family - the bigger the group, the better! I once had dim sum with just two other people, but it wasn't quite the same experience. Especially when you calculate the amount of food you're eating (count on a minimum of six or eight dishes). If you want to sample other things, it just makes more sense to go with a crowd.

Dim sum dining.

Here's a breakdown of the popular dim sum eats we feasted on:
-pay dahn sow yook jook (preserved duck egg congee - my preferred congee)
-law bahk go (white turnip cake with hoisin sauce)
-siu mai (pork dumplings)
-ha gow (shrimp dumplings)
-ngow pahk yeep (beef tripe)
-pie gwat (spareribs)
-ngow toe (beef stomach)
-ha chong fun (shrimp rice roll)
-ngow yook chong fun (beef rice roll)
-cha siu bao (barbecued pork bun)

Jasmine Tea, Joong, Shrimp Rice Roll.

After all these years, Mom's favorite dim sum dish is still shrimp dumplings - I think because her grandma used to make them from scratch. Of course, nothing can compare to homemade, but when you can't be bothered to cook, dim sum is where it's at.

Personally, my cousin's auntie in California makes the best joong (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves), but Northern Manor's isn't bad. The Chinese sausage is sharp and aromatic; salted eggs, mung beans, chestnuts, dried shrimp, dried black mushrooms, pork and rice are rolled into a tight hot mess (the good kind).

Turnip cake.

I also like the don tat (egg custard tart) and law my gai (rustic lotus-leaf wrapped sticky rice) here. It's a tough call, but my hands-down favorite dim sum dish is the turnip cake (which is actually made of Chinese radish and rice flour, not turnip). Taro cake is it's nearly identical, denser cousin. But given a choice between turnip and taro, I'd choose turnip every time.

Downside: No sesame balls or mong gwor bo deen (mango pudding) to be found. What gives!

Although dim sum allows you to try a variety of dishes, it can also turn out to be an MSG-laden grease fest. Luckily, Northern Manor shuns the overly processed gook in favor of fresh ingredients and healthier methods of food preparation. This means that the congee is seasoned correctly and utilizes a finer grain of rice that isn't just mush on the table, barbecued pork buns have a just-baked, golden sheen and the shrimp dumplings haven't been dragged through a vat of oil.

Final consensus? Northern Manor is a dim sum restaurant that even Grandma would approve! (Just don't come here if you're on a diet.)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars. Northern Manor does a solid dim sum, but something's not quite allowing me to give it 4 stars - could be the tight quarters, the wait (try to avoid prime time lunch hours between 12 - 2pm) or the lack of some aforementioned dishes. Be aware that it may take several tries before you master of art of not overeating. Good luck to you.

Northern Manor
251-15 Northern Blvd
Little Neck, NY 11362

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