Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dim Sum Sum

Among the three foods I miss most when I'm away from home (and the first ones I seek out when back in town) are Tex-Mex, barbecue and dim sum. Restaurants offering the first two are spread throughout the city, not surprisingly, and though proper Houstonian has at least one Tex-Mex and one barbecue joint to swear by, there is no clear consensus on a city-wide winner; some are more famous or storied than others, but passions for the numerous contenders seem to vary by age, class, neighborhood, political preference and even the types of vehicles driven by the regulars.

Due to the city's large Cantonese population, there are also a decent number of first-rate dim sum spots, mostly concentrated in the Bellaire/Chinatown area. But in terms of both size and reputation, one local institution outshines the rest.

The appropriately named Ocean Palace is a grand, two-story Hong Kong-style dim sum hall complete with sufficiently gaudy chandeliers and a lotus flower pond. The sumptuous offerings include everything from roast duck and black bean clams to shrimp shumai and two kinds of chicken feet. Accompanied by steaming pots of jasmine or chrysanthemum tea and topped off with beautifully flaky egg custard tarts.

Upstairs dining hall

The best part about dim sum, of course, is that all you have to do is wait for a cart to pass, inspect the goods, and point to what you'd like to have on your table.

Sesame balls and happiness

Here's the highlight of my conversation with the seven-year-old boy sitting next to me:
他: What's 245 times 45?
我: I'm not sure. Would you like another prawn?
他: It's 11025. I checked on the calculator this morning.
我: Cool. Thanks.
他: (Turning to his mother) Mom, I don't think he's especially bright.