Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dim Sum: Golden King, Sterling, VA

Before my chef days, I used to eat dim sum regularly when I was living in Fairfax County and when I was on the road on the West Coast. I have eaten dim sum more times than I can count in tiny little places without cart service to huge airplane hangers with hundreds of diners, in New York, in Seattle, in Portland, in San Francisco, and of course, in DC and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. My dim sum experiences span the gamut from rigidly traditional to more innovative and downright avant garde. And as a chef, I have made many of these dishes you'll see below with my own hands. Kudos to all the cooks in the back turning out these delicacies: I know what hard work it is.

Since becoming a chef more than a dozen years ago, though, there hasn't been much opportunity to eat dim sum, except for what I have made myself. It was time to break the drought and Ann has been asking to eat dim sum a lot recently, so when we found ourselves heading into Landsdowne on Sunday to see some friends, we decided to go early into Sterling and get dim sum at Golden King beforehand. I have been reading some good vibe on the Internet about Golden King and since it is a lot closer to us than any other place, I was eager to give it a try.

A Cart of Various Dim Sum at Golden King, Sterling VA
On the scale of traditional to avant garde, Golden King is strictly traditional. I saw nothing out of the ordinary dim sum canon on offer and that is just fine by me. I'm not looking for a novel experience when I go for dim sum; I'm looking for comfort food. Typical of most dim sum places, there just isn't any décor: it's a big open room full of huge round-tops in the middle and small tables around the edges. But you're not going into the cacophonous dim sum hall for the ambiance, are you? If you are, maybe you're looking for a different experience elsewhere?

The always hustling staff in this apparently family-run business were friendly and hospitable in my experience, treating both the mainly Chinese crowd (and it was crowded) and the scattering of non-Chinese equally. As a round-eye who has made the dim sum rounds, I can tell you stories about the receptions that I have had, from indifferent to downright hostile. Once we selected a table, our server swooped in and dropped a dim sum check on our table and I asked him for tea before he could ask me. I'm glad he dropped the dim sum check: many places will ask non-Chinese if they want dim sum or the standard menu, the unspoken assumption being that the table has no clue what dim sum is. I only saw it happen to one table at Golden King (and I might have asked them too, for they seemed very much fish out of water).

 Siu Aap : Roast Duck: Ice Cold
Our roast duck was refrigerator temperature. That strikes me as very odd and was the only thing I might have complained about.

Fung Zao: Chicken Feet: Among the Best I've Had Anywhere
The chicken feet were really good, some of the best I have ever eaten. Ann was brave and tried two of them. She was a bit hung up that they look like what they are, but she tried them anyway! Me, I can't imagine dim sum without chicken feet.

Lo Baak Gu: Turnip Cake: Tasty, but Crudely Executed
Turnip cakes are my favorite dim sum and this one was probably the crudest in execution that I have ever seen. Generally the radish is grated: in the photo you can see the big strip of radish on the plate. Somebody whacked away at this one rather than grating it and as a result, the texture of the cake was a little off. Also, I like my turnip cake infused with lop cheung flavor; there wasn't much meat at all flavoring these cakes. In any case, I still enjoyed it.

Siu Mai and Har Gau: Run of the Mill
Really nothing much to say about the siu mai (pork dumplings in the foreground) and the har gau (shrimp dumplings in the back steamer tin) other than the wrappers were torn in places. They were fine, but nothing to rave about.

Wu Gok: Taro Balls: So-So
The taro balls were a little greasy as you can see in the paper wrapper in the photo and the pork filling was not memorable. I have had some really, really good taro balls in the past and these were not them. Again, they were fine, but I won't remember them in another week.

Cheong Fun: Steamed Rice Noodles: Sauce Could Have Been Better
Cheong fun, large sheets of rice noodle stuffed with various items, is always one of my favorites. The server cut them into pieces with a scissors for us and everyone, which is a nice touch that I haven't seen before. Otherwise, it gets a bit tricky to cut them with chop sticks. We had two orders, one stuffed with shrimp and another with fried tofu. I like the sauce that they pour over the noodles to be a bit thicker so that it clings a bit more, but other than this, just what you'd expect.

Jiu Cai Bau: Leek Dumplings: Awesome
Towards the end of the meal, a server came from the kitchen bearing a small tray of leek dumplings, maybe three orders. We snapped one up and they were awesome, everything you want a dumpling to be. When we tried to get seconds, we found they were all sold out.

Chow Mai Fun: Rice Noodles: Waste of Money
Ann wanted some mai fun so we got an order and it was miserable. And that it such a shame because one of my all-time comfort foods is Singapore-style chow mai fun. Slathered in chile oil, they were still stiff, dried out, and flavorless. Bummer to finish our meal with such a low light.

I'd go back. Everybody was friendly and the food was decent. The prices were very reasonable. And at an hour from our house in Winchester, it is by far the closest place to get dim sum. I definitely prefer other places (Oriental East in Silver Spring and Mark's Duck House in Falls Church), but the much shorter drive is a huge bonus.

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