There was a time when I could easily name my favorite dim sum restaurant. These days, quality is even across the board, so it’s more a matter of cherry-picking the best haunts for your favorite selections. You might go to one place for shrimp dumplings, another for siu mai, another for chive cakes.
I’ve simply adopted the path of least resistance, heading for places least likely to have a line, or where I’m most likely to find a prime parking spot.
But now, Yee Hong Pavilion has arrived to shake things up a bit.
Their dim sum is noticeably vibrant, packed with identifiable fresh ingredients and less salt than other restaurants. On that point there will be some who will find food here bland, but I welcome the fresh, light touch.
I never understood the charm of the Chiu Chow-style half moons ($2.35), for instance, merely tolerating them when someone else orders them. But here they are delightful gems full of the crunchy, nutty textures of peanuts, minced celery and water chestnuts, mixed with savory bits of chicken. I’ll be ordering these on my own next time.
I haven’t seen watercress dumplings ($2.95) appear on any other dim sum menu locally, and it’s not something I’d demand. Watercress is another ingredient I tolerate for its health benefits, but I don’t love its bitterness. Presented here in dumpling format, it’s mellower than usual, a treat for your senses and body.
Along that track, in addition to the usual shrimp and spinach dumpling ($2.95), there’s also a bok choy and dried scallop dumpling ($2.95) that I haven’t seen on other menus, either.
Just a few weeks ago, I mentioned menus’ regional quirks. It’s as if ethnic food purveyors spy on each other and conspire to serve the same dishes to ensure their customers don’t miss any dishes that might be on competitors’ menus. In that column I noted that General Tso’s chicken is prevalent on the mainland but not here.
Suddenly, Yee Hong Pavilion comes along and introduces several dishes that I haven’t seen here before, including General Zuo’s spicy and chili chicken! It’s a Hunan-style dish named after Qing dynasty Gen. Zuo Zongtang (or Tso Tsung-tang). The chicken is lacquered with a sweet red chili sauce and shot through with a fistful of whole red peppers that you can avoid or chew on, depending on your tolerance for fiery food.
From Jiangsu province comes Wuxi spare ribs ($9.50), coated with a sticky, sweet amalgam of sugar, soy sauce and rice wine. It’s more addicting than candy.
But the dish the restaurant touts most on Twitter is Hainan chicken over rice cooked in chicken stock ($8.75). It’s the rice in this dish that’s supposedly very flavorful.
The server misunderstood and simply brought out the head-on half chicken ($10.95), which is the equivalent of your basic cold ginger chicken, although it comes with two sauces, one of ginger and oil, the other of tomato and chili. Even so, the amount of sauce is skimpy. All of the sauce offered would cover only two or three pieces out of about 12 pieces of chicken.
Other items, such as eggplant with chili and pork and deep-fried pork chops with spicy salt ($9.50), are comparable to other restaurants, although in addition to the garlic, chili pepper and green onions that usually top the latter dish, the restaurant adds slivered shallots to the mix.
Another favorite dish was a casserole of chicken and black mushrooms ($9.95) with lup cheong and whole garlic cloves added.
If you’re able to plan ahead and are so inclined, you might put in an order for appetizer platters or individual appetizers that might include bacon-wrapped shrimp roll ($9.50), seafood salad roll ($9.50) or teriyaki beef roll ($9.50), available only by calling ahead.
Even the custard tart here is superior to those offered elsewhere. I usually peel off the crusts because of their rancid smell, but here I was able to eat the whole thing, marked by its hot-out-of-the-oven fresh buttery scent.
Let’s hope competitors follow suit.
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.