Chinese New Year celebrations may have ended, but our craving for dim sum hasn't. And now that the crowds have thinned somewhat, it's a great time to indulge.
If you're new to the experience, think of dim sum as Chinese (specifically Cantonese) brunch. Delicious little plates, both savory and sweet, are offered from carts that servers wheel around a dining room. If something looks good, you can point and request — that's how you order. The plates are shared family-style. The server stamps or marks what you've chosen on a ticket that stays on your table, to be tallied up at the end.
How great does that sound?
Dumplings, which can be steamed, baked or pan-fried, are probably the treat most people think of when they hear the words "dim sum," but the repertoire goes way beyond that to include buns, roasted and Chinese-style barbecue meats, vegetables, noodles and rice dishes, seafood and more.
For a deep dive into all the various offerings, we have put together a Chinese Food Lovers' Guide to Ordering, Eating and Appreciating Dim Sum, including an Off the Menu video: How to order and eat dim sum.
So, where can Dallasites go for great dim sum? It's actually pretty simple, as there are two restaurants that I highly recommend: Kirin Court in Richardson and J.S. Chen's Dimsum and BBQ in Plano. If you had asked me a month ago, I would have also recommended Maxim's Restaurant, a long-running Cantonese place a few blocks from Kirin Court in Richardson. I'd found the dim sum much improved there recently compared to in years past. (Hurray!) The restaurant has since closed, however. (Boo!) Try to go, and you'll find a landlord's lock-out notice on the door.
Though there are not, to my knowledge, any restaurants with full dim sum (cart) service in Dallas proper, I have nibbled my way through dim sum experiences in Carrollton, Garland and Arlington, none of them great.
The good news is that the two I recommend are pretty wonderful – especially Kirin Court, which lately has been outstanding. Even exciting. The ownership changed in 2013, and co-owners Michael Chan and J.D. Bennett (who's also head chef, with Kam Yuen Tse as dim sum chef) have really amped up the offerings. Kam's dim sum is hands-down the most sophisticated and varied in North Texas.
On weekends, beginning at 9:30 and going strong till 2:30, some 15 carts roll around the restaurant's sprawling dining rooms offering outstanding dumplings and more. From the carts, I particularly like the steamed shrimp-and-Chinese-chive dumplings, shu mai, har gow and crisp-skinned roast duck – all standard dim sum dishes you'll find just about anywhere. (What are har gow and shu mai? Learn about them in our dim sum guide.)
There are also some more unusual ones, like tarot-root balls. With lacy, light and perfectly fried crusts, they're filled with a savory mix of pork, mushrooms and other vegetables. I also love a cold plate of sesame-flecked marinated jellyfish garnished with rounds of a hammy pork terrine.
After you've had a few treats from the carts, be sure to head to Kirin Court's dim sum table (don't forget to take your ticket!), from which cooks pan-fry and plate dishes to order – that's where you can find a number of the restaurant's most delicious dim sum offerings. Recently I fell in love with something called marinated bean curd skin – a salad-like dish that looks like white-meat chicken. Tossed in a gentle sesame-oil dressing with cilantro leaves, the shreds of tofu have a wonderful texture, like silk wrapped in velvet.
More highlights from the table: dried shrimp fun rolls; pan-fried shrimp-and-chive cakes; and gai lan (known as "Chinese broccoli") with oyster sauce. I can't leave Kirin Court without ordering "turnip cake," which is actually not made from turnips, but daikon (Asian radish), Bennett tells me. For dessert, there's a super-light Hong Kong-style waffle that tastes exactly like a fortune cookie.
The carts offer other desserts, including flaky egg-custard tarts, fried sesame balls filled with sweet red-bean paste and wonderful milky-white coconut-flavored jellies flecked with red beans.
What a feast, every time. And with some 60 dim sum offerings, there are still great-looking dishes I have not tried. My compliments to chef Kam.
My second favorite place is J.S. Chen's Dimsum and BBQ. The much smaller, more intimate place — in Plano, tucked between Jusgo Supermarket and Little Sheep Mongolian BBQ — has a much more limited selection, but executive chef Qi Rui Zhou, who is in charge of the dim sum menu as well as the regular menu, does a very nice job.
I particularly enjoy the roast pork, with its crackling-crispy skin and succulent, flavorful meat. Steamed shrimp-and-chive dumplings are wonderful, too. I love the way you can see the shrimp and herbs inside the fragile, nearly transparent skins. Other standouts include plump har gow, tender gai lan and saucy barbecue pork fun roll, plus pan-fried turnip cake, pan-fried shrimp-and-vegetable dumplings and terrific coconut pudding.
J.S. Chen's serves dim sum from the carts Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. On weekdays you can order it from the menu. Typically there's a wait during prime weekend hours, but on a recent Sunday visit, my party of four only waited about 15 minutes.
As for Kirin Court, unless you arrive early on a weekend, you can count on a wait. The crowd in the waiting area can appear daunting, but things move quickly. At prime time on a recent Sunday when that waiting room was packed, we waited about 20 minutes. I was recognized as a critic, but not until after we were seated.
By the way, though it's super fun to go to Kirin Court on weekends, the restaurant actually serves dim sum — yes, from carts — Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Should you miss the cart hours any day of the week, you can order dim sum from the menu until 9 p.m. every night.