Turn up the lights...it's dim sum

It’s Saturday Morning. The offspring is gone to Kings Island for the day. The parental units rejoice. It means coffee and a newspaper in bed. It means Tony running around the house in his undies. And it means I can make wolf whistles without hearing the word “gross!!” from the peanut gallery.

Best of all, it mean that we get to go out for lunch and eat what ever we want. I had a hankering for dim sum. Lil’ bites of Chinese goodness. Tony and I used to eat dim sum every weekend (pre-baby) at a little restaurant down on Campus, but it has been long closed. A couple other places here in town claim to serve it, but generally it is frozen dumplings that are thawed and held until ordered. They are nasty, sticky and wholly unappetizing.

I love the internet though. I did a little search and came upon a review for Lee Garden Restaurant. The review was about three years old, but it promised dim sum seven days a week, until 1:30 am in the morning. So I gave the restaurant a ringy-dingy and sure enough – dim sum every day, but only until midnight. I guess you can’t ask for everything.

Located near Sawmill and 161, the restaurant is hidden around the side of a large strip mall. I had been driving by it for years and never known it was there. The inside was quite and dim, with several two and four tops filled and a large table twelve sitting in the middle of the dining room. Everyone seemed to really be enjoying their selves. Another point: everyone there except us was Asian. I guess it’s kinda like the rule about truckers eating at the good diners…

We were asked which menus we wanted to look at. It seems there are two or three specialty menus, including the dim sum menu, a Korean noodle menu, plus something else I can’t remember (Yeah, yeah I forgot to take notes. Sue me!) While the noodle menu looked good, the dim sum was what we came for.

Lee Garden does not have little carts that get wheeled around like some of the dim sum houses in the larger cities. Here in the sticks, you get to mark your choices on a badly copied paper menu and your dishes come out straight from the kitchen.

The first items to catch our attention were the chicken feet. Yes, I said chicken feet. Black Bean Chicken Feet, to be precise. Our waitress was impressed that we wanted to order the chicken feet. I think we shocked her by asking for them first. She asked incredulously “You like chicken feet?” For those of you who have never eaten the foot of a chicken, it is damn tasty. (Too good for any bird to walk on!) That’s about all it is though. It is salty, garlicky and has a gelatinous quality that makes you mouth happy as you eat it. Here is Tony proudly displaying his chopstick skills for your viewing pleasure. See? Doesn’t that look good?

My next favorite was boa. What’s a boa? No, it’s not something that showgirls wear around their neck. It is yeast raised bread that is stuffed with Chinese bbq pork and steamed. It makes the bread soft and moist, with a sweet/savory filling. See? They look like ‘lil white clouds in their steamer. Savory pillows of lusciousness. Isn’t that sweet?

Tony also ordered some black bean spare ribs. They are prepared in the same manner as the chicken feet: smother in a garlic black bean sauce and steamed. However, they are cut into tiny one inch pieces so they cook quickly. They are still chewy though, so it makes you work for your dinner.

Then we moved onto the stuffed dumplings: crystal buns, shiu mai, pork and shrimp dumplings and shrimp and scallop dumplings. All of these dished have finely minced fillings that are then wrapped in dough and steamed. Most are based on a wheat dough like those used to wrap egg rolls. However, the crystal buns and the shrimp and scallop dumplings are wrapped in rice dough that goes translucent when steamed. They almost seem gemlike with the pink and white of the seafood showing though their skins. That doesn’t stop me from sending them down the hatch however.

Now you can’t go to a new restaurant and just order the safe food you always order every place else you go. You have to ask your wait staff what they recommend. Having passed the chicken foot test, she started recommending items for us. Her chief recommendation was the Golden Shrimp Ball. At $3.95, it was one of the most expensive items on the dim sum menu. We said, “Bring it on!!” They looked weird. They were big and golden brown and um…messing looking. But being brave souls, we dived it. It was great. The coated
turned out to be rice noodles that had been wrapped around a minced shrimp mixture and then deep fried. And the price was totally reasonable for the three balls that we got. Tony made some jokes about emasculated jumbo shrimp while we ate them.

I also ordered taro dumplings. The online review had recommended them. So I jumped in. They were weird. And not in a pleasant way. The filled was minced pork that had been coated in a taro paste and then deep fried. The outside was kinda crunchy and oily and the inside was slimy from the taro paste. Blech! I should have taken heed when the waitress asked, “you want taro dumplings?” with an odd look on her face.

So that’s it! Our dim sum adventure. We are definitely going back. It might even become a weekend ritual: ditching the kid for an adult feast once a month. However, once she reads this and finds out we know where to get chicken feet, I think the jig will be up!

Lee Garden Restaurant
2685 Federated Blvd
Columbus, OH 43235(614) 764-1525


Kathy said...

The pork buns are bao, actually, char siu bao if filled with roasted bbq pork. Yummy! I prefer the baked version to the steamed ones, so try them next time if available.

I'm not a big fan of the spareribs, but I love the taro dumplings! So...you might not want to take my recommendations, but here goes: turnip cakes; sticky rice in lotus leaf; and my all-time favorite, shrimp rice noodle crepes.

sher said...

Oh, I could eat dim sum everyday! My mom and I once made char siu bao, the steamed variety. They were fabulous! Boy Rosie--you've been gone too long! And thanks for this post. I can look at dim sum any old time you want! You are adventurous, eating the foot.

Rosie said...

Kathy -

I would be willing to try the taro dumplings again at another place...ya never know, they might just have sucky ones at Lee Gardens. I am gonna try shrimp rice noodle crepes, it is on their menu! Thanks for the tip.

Sher -

Tony has been bugging me to make homemade dim sum. Where did you get the recipe? I would love to try something different at home.

Besides chicken feet, I also love pig ear. The crunchy texture is satisfying in an odd way.

As far as being away - our apartment doesn't have AC except for a small window unit in the living room. So it has been just too damn hot to do anything but hunker in front of the tv and eat lots of salads for the past week or so. With a little luck, the weather will hold and I can get some writing done!

sher said...

The recipe that my mom and I used was from an ancient Time Life cookbook on Chinese cooking that my mom had. As I recall Tigers & Strawberries has a recipe of Bao that looks excellant. They freeze very well and you can steam them or bake them at your leisure. I'd love to have a freezer full of them! Yeah--you're a serious dim sum eater--you eat the pig ears!! Yeehaw!!

Hope it cools down for you soon!