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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lee Hou: Don't Skip Dessert

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge lee_hou_exterior550.jpg

Lee Hou wasn't always this garish. When we started going there a few years ago, it was a dingy place that happened to have good, cheap baked pork buns, which is among our favorite dishes.

The restaurant changed owners in 2008, and the new management wants to make sure you notice. Lurid photo posters of various main-menu dishes line one wall. Lines of colored tinsel stretch across the ceiling; hanging lanterns and red paper dragons compete for your attention.

Fortunately, if the prices have gone up, we didn't notice. Lee Hou is still a place where two people can eat dim sum, if you're careful, for under $20. We're not that careful; we spent nearly $25. But we gladly paid the extra $5 because it included perhaps the best dim sum dessert we've had yet.

click to enlarge Pork feet with preserved bean curd
  • Pork feet with preserved bean curd

But first things first. Lee Hou is a menu-order place, with check boxes next to 72 different items. While we like the atmosphere of rolling carts, particularly in relatively small places like Lee Hou, we've come to appreciate that menu checking often means fresher, hotter food. With one exception that was the case here.

click to enlarge lee_hou_menu350.jpg

The menu has 71 items, with 14 at $2 and only 18 over $3. There is some freaky stuff: snail (no cooking description), pork blood with chive, and boiled beef tripe, none of which we ordered. We did order pork feet with preserved bean curd ($3.50), and it turned out to be one of the best dishes.

We feared the preserved bean curd might be that stinky jarred made-in-China stuff, but in this case it was ropy firm strips of tofu reminiscent of yuba. The pork feet, on the knuckly bones, were seductively tender; no wonder, as the meat is almost all fat and cartilage: it's a lot like the fatty portion of barbecue pork ribs. The sauce is starch-thickened and has hints of onion, and the strips of tofu have absorbed plenty of savory porky juice. This is a heavy dish for two, and we couldn't finish half of it, but we ate all of the tofu and considered dipping other things in the sauce.

The best pre-dessert dish was the chicken with sticky rice in lotus leaf. The crumbled chicken meat and chicken juices have really infused the rice, which also has flecks of mushroom and a single slice of Chinese sausage. You only get two for $3, but they're large and easily shared.

For us, simple shrimp dumplings are a test of a dim-sum house's quality. For $2.50, Lee Hou's are solid but unexciting. The shrimp appears to be hammered into a flat plate of meat, and if there was garlic, ginger or black pepper, we didn't notice it.

click to enlarge Baked b.b.q. pork buns
  • Baked b.b.q. pork buns

We had mixed feelings about the baked b.b.q. pork buns ($2.50), one of the best dishes under the prior ownership. The top of the bun was light and pillowy, and the filling was flavorful, a good mix of sweet and savory. But the buns were served in cupcake paper and all three were wet and mushy at the bottom.

Jellyfish skin ($3.50) was a dud. It's the same dish usually described simply as jellyfish, but it was served refrigerator-cold, was over-vinegared and yet was too bland. It really needed some chiles, more sesame oil, or both.

Getting good vegetables at dim sum places is always a challenge. The snow pea leaf with garlic ($5.50) was a good-sized portion, and the pea leaves were crunchy fresh, with whole cloves of roasted garlic. It also was bland, though; it could have used a touch of soy sauce or perhaps salt.

We were about ready to leave, having decided Lee Hou is good value in solid if somewhat underspiced food. But the non-royal part of "we" decided she needed dessert. The royal we ended up grateful, because our mind and palate were about to be blown.

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W. Blake Gray

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