I want to first make a point that from my experiences in Taiwan, dim sum ordered off the menu is generally better quality than ones wheeled on carts all day long. So I was more than happy when I read about it in previous posts regarding East Manor. Also, I noticed that most people went there for lunch buffet. I went for only dim sum on a saturday, and there were separate rooms for buffet and exclusively dim sum. The buffet, however, did have lots of dim sum. Many sweet pastry items and popular dumplings from our dim sum menu and in our dim sum carts also appeared at the buffet table. But I would say the dim sum menu has more choices. On Saturday, buffet is $17 per person. There were three of us and for some mysterious reason there was a pre-tax 20% discount. It should have been ~$33, but ~$6 was deducted so we paid ~$27 plus tips.
There were several reasons why I wanted to try East Manor. Since 5 years ago when I moved to boston, I have always gone to Chinatown for Cantonese dim sum -- mainly Chau Chow City, China Pearl, or Emperor's Garden. But I honestly think the dim sum there has been slowly going downhill. The dumpling wrappers got thicker and doughier; many items are really way too greasy; the hot bar is full of poorly made stuff (for example, terrible clams with black bean sauce and tasteless tripe). But the most unforgivable part is that after so many years of successful business, while the crowd gets even bigger, these restaurants have not made any attempt to improve. There have been no new items and no addtional carts/waitrons/space to accomodate the growing number of customers. Then I recently visited East Manor's two branches in Flushing, NY. I had two great dim sum experiences -- hot, well-made, and interesting variety of dim sum, attentive and friendly service, and very pleasant dining environment. Hence I wanted to give the Saugus sister restaurant a try. Here are what we had:
Tea: Ju-Pu (chrysanthemum flower and Pu-er tea). The first brew was ok. The second was so weak I couldn't taste much. I think they just put too little tea leaves and flowers.
Cha-Siu Bao (roast pork bun): Servd piping hot right out of kitchen. Dough was light and sweet. Excellent.
Xie-huang Siu-Mai (pork and shrimp filling open faced dumpling with crab roe): Of course, no real crab roe. But the filling was plump and the shrimp was substantial. Also very fresh.
Cha-siu chang-fun (roast pork in folded large sheets of rice noodle): This was disappointing because it was barely lukewarm. But the rice sheets were good and thin, not too doughy. And they skimped on the roast pork. Instead of filling the inside with whole slices, they sprinkle them in little bits and roll the sheets.
Fu Pi Juan (pork and bamboo shoots wrapped in layers of tofu skin): Hot and juicy. The layers of tofu skin were tender and good.
Feng-zao (chicken feet -- the red kind): Surprisingly good and significantly better than the ones I had in Boston. The flavor penetrates into all parts and the skin and tendons are at the right consistency.
Congee with fish balls and fish belly meat: This was pretty good except the serving size was a bit small, and I would have preferred more belly meat, which they used the real stuff for.
Chau-chow Fun-guo (turnip, peanuts, and pork dumplings): Very very good! The dough wrapper was thin, and the filling had a nice balance to it -- crunchy peanuts, juicy turnips, and savory saucy pork. This also was hot and fresh.
Deep fried chestnut paste filled bun, shaped like a hedgehog: We had no idea what this was until it arrived because the chinese name was so confusing. As previously posted, deep fried stuff is good there. They also took the time to lightly score the dough surface with a knife and placed sesame seeds to the side so that the finished product looked like a hedgehog with eyes. The paste tasted alright, but the outer fried crunchy part was excellent.
Egg custard flaky pastry cup: This is a bleh. A little over baked I suppose.
Fried turnip cake: Very well seared and browned on the outside but not greasy at all. This was very good. (But I do like China Pearl's turnip cake which has larger chunks of daikon and is softer. But it is so greasy at China Pearl which kinda ruins it)
There were carts, as opposed to what was previously described. It seems that they are still trying to figure out the best way to serve. We started out ordering off the menu, but we also ordered a few from carts later. Several waitrons were completely clueless. Some were very knowledgeable and friendly, and some not. When we received the lukewarm dish I couldn't help but think that they just went over to the buffet and brought over a leftover one. Since most items were good, I may have been just paranoid. (I did notice the outer tofu skin of the Fu Pi Juan looked a bit darkened and dry -- a sign of over steaming either by the chef or on the buffet table...) Regardless, I had a fairly pleasant dining experience. It is no Flushing standard, but I would gladly take it over the Chinatown mess. I choose to drive to Saugus rather than taking the T to chinatown and waiting with the crowd. (I live near Porter Sq.) It is just so much more pleasant not to have to wait, crowd with people, and to eat in a clean place with nicer lighting and decor.
20 Frank Bennett Highway (Route 1 North), Saugus