is a yearlong project to canvas Chinatown, block by block, discovering
the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price:
It's not hard to fill the table up with dumplings and other snacks within a matter of minutes. Half of the tables were sharing plates of lobster chow mein, and every five minutes we'd see another waiter circulating with plates garnished in bright-red heads. But we stuck to the standards, and their quality proved middling -- black-bean spare ribs, cold pot stickers, chewy pan-fried shrimp-and-chive dumplings and chewier sesame balls, gai lan with oyster sauce. (The latter: $8!). A steamer of xiaolongbao came by, and we called that over too. The soup dumplings were sloppily formed, but the chopped pork floated in a pool of broth and fat that gushed from each dumpling when we bit in.
If there was a dish I'd return for, it would be the lobster noodles. (Conformity always has its rewards.) Second choice: the "bees' nest" taro puffs, ovals of purple-gray puréed taro wrapped around seasoned pork. The outer layer is mixed with tapioca flour so that, in the fryer, it becomes a lacy golden cloud. There aren't many dim sum places that can produce taro puffs with the same succession of distinctive textures -- feathery crunch segueing into creamy taro and the granular chewiness of ground meat. Between shouting out numbers, the cashier totalled up my check, and I headed back to work, hoping I'd drunk enough tea to prevent that dim sum drowsiness from wiping out the afternoon.