Winning the weekend cart game
On the Cheap by Liz Zack
On any given Sunday morning, Empire Garden bustles at full throttle: crumpled
napkins and paper drinking-straw sleeves clutter the carpet, and along the
walls, strategically placed men in ill-fitting tuxedos stand watch over the
700-seat dining room (it used to be a theater), monitoring the carefully
orchestrated chaos. Dim sum is a Chinese brunch delicacy that consists of small
tastes of different foods chosen from a cart; as soon as you're seated, the
carts begin their drive-by service, one after another. On the morning we
visited, the vast majority of the patrons were Asian, and there wasn't much
English spoken, by customers or servers. Often "chicken" or "pork" is all the
description you'll get (if you're in doubt, ask for a quick peek at the dish).
This is how we ended up with chicken feet, which, once you get over their
cartilaginous texture, are actually quite tasty. Other nods went to many of the
shrimp offerings, including shumai (dumplings stuffed with shrimp paste and
cilantro) and the delicious tart/sweet combination of green peppers stuffed
with shrimp. Pork rice wrapped in tea-soaked lotus leaves was also a good
choice. For dessert we loved the roll-like pastry made from bean paste and
topped with a sticky, sugary glaze. Although Empire Garden doesn't have the
most extensive dim sum selection in Chinatown, the quality is always high, and
it doesn't get more authentic than this.
Expect to pay between $1.95 and $4.50 per item. A meal card on your table
keeps a running tally as you choose dishes, but don't expect to know how much
anything costs while you're eating it -- unless you read Chinese.
Empire Garden, located at 690 Washington Street, in Boston, serves dim sum
from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Call (617) 482-8898.
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