There seems to be a great deal of thoughts/questions on dim sum in the boards, so I was wondering what the fellow chowhounds' thought processes like in terms of judging a dim sum place and what their favorites items are?
First off - what kind of tea do you order with your dim sum? After all, in cantonese 'drinking tea' is the expression used for having dim sum, so tea is an important part of the meal. I for one like to order Pu Erh, or chrysanthemum (without sugar) if I don't want caffeine.
Secondly, what's your favorites and how do you judge the quality of the food? We always order the following dishes each and every time:
1) chicken feet - the feet must be tender enough to be able to take apart without effort, but not mushy. The sauce should be sweet, savory, a little bit spicy for kick. Generally the color is reddish brown
2) har gow - the gold standard for dumplings. The skin should be very, very thin, yet slightly chewy, definitely not soft and mushy. The shrimp ideally should be big, not minced, and crunchy to the bite. The filling should be mostly shrimp, and a little salt/sugar. A good hargow will also yield slight juice (not like juicy dumplings -XLB), not dry.
3) ham siu gook (football) - a good one will be hot and crispy on the outside, doughy/chewy within, with filling made mostly of minced pork (sometimes little shrimp can be folded in). The filling should be a bit savory and not overwhelming salty.
4) steamed pork ribs. A good one will have a good mix of the fat and the lean. The pork should be tender, with the sauce should not overwhelmingly taste of soy beans
5) lotus wrapped chicken. The rice for a good one should be soft, not mushy. The fillings vary but it should have enough flavor to blend into the rice. Some places uses dried scallop in the filling which added another dimension to the dish.
6) Rice Noodle wraps. A good rice noodle wrap should be thin - not thick and rubbery. It should be slightly chewy/have a resiliency as well. If shrimp is used in the filling, ideally they should be of the bigger variety, and not minced, and definitely crunchy to the bite.
Third - service. Good service to me means that your dirty plates should be taken away and replaced with clean ones at least once, and you don't have to flag down the waiter for additional water for the teapot (they should get the hint when the lid is on top of the handle). Unfortunately this kind of service seems hard to find.
Fourth - cart or order off menu? I prefer order, as I like to plan, and I think that the quality suffered a great deal if the food is on the steamer, or out of the fryer for a while. At a big dim sum place if you are not seated right outside the kitchen it can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes for the carts to reach your table. I guess cart style is more serendipitious and if you are not familiar with the food it allows a chance to view it before getting it.
Walking Specials - I don't usually order them. Most of the time they are a variation of fried shrimp paste/seafood and dough and it's where the restaurants make the most profit.