The Boston Phoenix
March 11 - 18, 1999

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Empire Garden

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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