The Condiment Queen (a/k/a Ms. VI) insisted that we be like normal working people and do "something" today. Even though as self-employed, every day seems like a day off, she "suggested" I give myself today off as well. So, we did what we often do when we need to do something, we went to chinatown.
With the kids a bit older and full of activities, we've not had much of a chance of late for dim sum. Today was our first dim summing in ages. We decided to skip the madhouse that is Phoenix and try one of the dim sum places in the chinatown mall. Amazingly, in the mall, there is a block of three places serving dim sum back-to-back-to-back. On deciding on a place, we made like goldilocks. This one was too crowded, this one was too empty, this one was just right.
Moutain View bustled, but we got seated within a few minutes of entering. Getting served was another question. Mountain View uses the check-off sheet approach, not the carts. All the servers were scrambling to bring various foods to different tables. It is a system new to me. The waiters leave the kitchen with, say, four plates. These four plates, however, were not the order for one table. Rather, each of those four plates could be going to a different table. Imagine the madhouse as waiters scrambled around the crowded resturant finding just who exactly needed this order of chicken feet that order of shrimp dumplings. We stewed with no tea, no water and no one taking our little filled out sheet of paper. We stirred long enough that I threatened to leave. My mini-scene did bring help.
Once ordered the food comes out soon enough. But not too soon, it was clear that the food was coming fresh, not sitting around. Before getting to specifics, I have to say this was the best dim sum I've had in Chicago.
The first thing that hit our table was the salt-fried tofu. The second thing to hit our table was the salt-fried tofu. Two plates of the special pancake also followed. It turns out that my number one was read as a number two, and we got twice as much as we ordered for everything I picked. Good thing too, as the pancakes and tofu were both worth extras (they had no problem with the condiment queen's writing). The pancakes were very similiar in texture and taste, if not in size, to the pancakes at Jim's Grill (a bit of super-hot kim chee and some funky tea would have sealed the deal). They were totally unlike the scallion pancake I expected. The tofu dish turned out to be a very fluffy custard melded to standard dim sum minced shrimp then encased in crisp fried tofu skin. A smidgen of spiced salt sat on top of this cube.
Other superier renditions included spinach dumplings, bar-b-que pork buns, an especially rich custard bun and shrimp crepe. While we missed the vast assortment at Phoenix--the chicken wings and other one-off goodies that get quickly passed around the room--we really enjoyed the high quality. Mountain View is a keeper.
I grabbed dim sum order forms from Mountain View's two neighbors: Happy Chef and Shui Wah. Interesting, while I somewhat assumed that the menu's would duplicate Mountain View (and even Phoenix), there was plenty of differentiation. For instance, Shui Wah has fried squid in pepper salt, Happy Chef has pea pod green dumpling. When I popped into both places, the dim sum looked very good. Anyone have any experiences with Happy Chef or Shui Wah for dim sum?
Beside being confronted with an array of dim sum options, I noticed that hot pots were everywhere. I mean everywhere. It seemed that all the resturants in the mall had some kind of hot pot deal going. Mountain View seemed to have the best deal as they were offering an all-you-can eat option for $9.95 per adult (2 person min.). Still, it was very confusing as to what came with this deal. I tried to ask someone there, but, well, we were mostly speaking different languages. Happy Chef's deal seemed odd too as the price, say for lettuce, was the same as the price for lamb. I really wish someone would do a hot pot review.
Finally, I echo Zim's great fascination with Kim Yen. Not only the double boiled soups, but there were all these deals for different times of day such as $5.95 lunch specials of spicy chicken legs (polkies) and $3.95 tea time specials, and the aforementioned double-boiled soups, say the black chicken. I would like to nominate Kim Yen for the next chicago chinatown chowhound chowdown, so we can, fully, as a team, figure this place out.
Mountain View, Happy Chef and Shui Wah are all in the Chinatown Mall on the west side, near Lao Sze Chuan and Joy Yee. Kim Yen is on Cermak.