Little Pieces Of Heaven...

Continuing with my birthday weekend theme of things that I love but don't do often enough, I asked my parents to take Justin and me out for dim sum. Dim sum might best be described as the Chinese version of tapas -- it is a meal, usually served in the morning or midday, that consists of a variety of small plates. The majority of dim sum items are types of dumplings, and given my profound love of all food products encased in dough, dim sum is one of my very favorite styles of dining. Any occasion that allows me to appreciate dumplings in all of their forms -- steamed, fried, baked, pan-seared, filled with pork, shrimp, chicken, or vegetables -- is more than okay by me.

As it turns out, my dad has a client who owns a restaurant in Chinatown that specializes in dim sum, Phoenix Restaurant, and it has become our de facto favorite since we can cut the insanely long weekend line and walk right in to be seated. They serve their dishes on carts heaping with steamer baskets and plates, pushed around by waitresses who speak very little English. You more or less have to guess what you're about to eat, unless you can visually identify your favorite dishes, which makes the experience a fun culinary adventure. (Diners with seafood allergies might want to go elsewhere, where you can order your dim sum off an English menu and have it brought to your table. I think that approach has significantly less character and charm though.)

The convenience and charming lack of user-friendliness aside, I also really enjoy the food at Phoenix as well. My absolute favorites are the steamed shrimp dumplings (center photo), full of sweet, firm seafood in a sticky, chewy wrapper, though I'm also quite fond of the pork shumai and potstickers (top row). We selected several new things on this visit, including spinach dumplings (the green ones on the right), which were actually a bit too vegetal for my taste, and baby octopi, which I was actually too afraid to try.

Naturally, we had to sample the perennially popular barbeque pork buns, both in their baked and steamed forms, though neither of them are favorites of mine, given my general aversion to barbequed meats. For dessert came my other favorite: egg custard tarts (top left), which may not seem particularly Chinese, given their fusion of flaky, buttery pastry with rich, sweet custard. However, the dessert hails from Hong Kong, which spent over 150 years under British rule, so a bit of European influence is to be expected, and in this case, it's very welcome.

Full of love... and many, many dumplings...

The only problem with dim sum is that it is easy to let your eyes overestimate the amount of space in your stomach. Everything looks delicious, and your brain wants to taste everything, while your stomach groans in protest. Overeating is definitely a given.

I love this picture, not only because everyone apparently got the "black and white" memo, but because Dad is in solid black, I have on black with white polka dots, and Mom is wearing white with black stripes. It's a cornucopia of patterns!

In light of the dumpling binging, it's probably for the best that I don't indulge my love of dim sum very often. Going over two years without, especially when such an excellent restaurant exists not more than ten minutes from my apartment, seems a little silly though. It definitely made the meal a special treat for my birthday, and I feel like I chose wisely in requesting it. Thanks Mom and Dad!

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