We had excellent dim sum yesterday at the Phoenix. The whole experience was great: we arrived at 12:30, and were immediately seated. Although we were in a corner table, almost all of the carts made their way to us with their contents piping hot, and only one or two of the servers were unable to let us know the contents of their steamer trays in english. Plus our waiter was very solicitous, and jumped in to fill the gap and fetch special requests for us.
We ordered the squab special (which Gary Wiviott I think had mentioned in one of his previous posts) and I liked it alot. The dark meat had a pronounced liver taste to it, which turned off some of the more squeamish eaters in the group -- but I liked it. I've never had squab before: the skin was thin and crispy and not at all fatty. We also ordered a half roast duck which was terrific. A little less succulent than the version at Sun Wah on Argyle, but very good nonetheless.
From the carts, it's hard to settle on individual dishes. Shrimp dumplings were very good. i enjoyed the chicken feet which were much more tender and juicy that I would've guessed. Octopus in a ginger and cilantro sauce was phenomenal -- the octopus was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy wihtout even a hint of chewiness. There were also some excellent deep fried yellowish shrimp dumplings with cilantro inside, and great deep fried crab dumplings, each one of which contain a whole shell on crab claw. I ate a whole plate of tender steamed pork ribs with black beans, and everybody liked the taro and pork deep fried hairy dumplings. Deep fried sesame buns were sweet and a steamed egg custard bun at the end of the meal was the perfect sweet to finish up with (the egg custard alrd tarts were all sold out).
There were a couple of dishes that were not greeted with universal acclaim -- the silken tofu with sweet syrup was interesting, but ultimately i enjoyed watching them serve it form the barrel with a tiny handle-less stainless steel spade more than I enjoyed eating it. One sticky rice banana leaf bundle was bland and gummy, and there was a sort of steamed bun sliced tube with sticky rice and nuts inside that didn't really work for me.
As we were finishing up, two or three carts came around, each one making me wish I had paced myself more slowly: one with an array of egg roll type deep-fried wonders which I wish i hadn't been too stuffed to sample, one with four different kinds of deepfried softball sized sesame balls and their cousins, and one with a lovely looking broth with shrimp wontons. Next time. I also would love to get a table closer to the kitchen door next time around -- i would've liked to get my grubby little hands on more dumplings and wontons - those were the only carts that didn't make it to our corner fully laden.
Phoenix on a saturday compares very favorably with my only other chicago dim sum experience -- Mountain View with the vital information clan on christmas day -- although that was very good too, especially the dumplings. I'm looking forward to exploring the rest of the dim sum options, especially shui wah. 5 of us ate a lot of food for $20 a piece. Next time, I'll bring along another beef eater so I can sample the cow side of the cart.
We finished up with a stroll through the chinatown mall. It looks like Joy Yee is either expanding or moving: one whole corner lot had papered windows and laminated reviews of their bubble tea. We had some predictably good shakes, and then hit the Aji Ichiban sweet shop. What a peculiar place -- they probably have 500 little bins of asian confections, all with little sampler bowls on the top. About half are indivually packaged,the rest are bulk. They had grat gummy fried eggs, and several varieties of slurping jelly cup. There was 5 different kinds of preserved ginger, 10 bins of little wood chippy licorice kibble bits, lots of shrimp and lobster flavored styrofoam, plus several different kinds of oozing pork jerky. There were indivual snack portions of wasabi peas, abotu 20 peas to each cellophane wrapper, and they had my favorite ginger gummy candy: the kind with the black and white chekerboard pattern on the wrapper, with a ginger and bamboo scene and a seal reading PABERIK KEMBANG GULA : SINA : PASURAN on the reverse. However, a little baggy of twenty of these candies set me back about 4 bucks. Pretty expensive, but I haven't seen these candies anywhere else I've looked.
On an unrelated side note, the hot dog stand on armitage just east of western is terrible-- even their polish sausages have no casing. Add that one the list of establishments disproving the common knowledge that even the most mediocre of chicago hotdog stands serves hot dog worth eating.