Today we had some business down in the Chinatown area which was perfect since I had a craving for some dim sum. I must say that the Chinese Cultural Plaza is a crazy place to be on a Sunday. When we arrived to the parking lot of the plaza, there was a line of cars trying to make the turn in. After a few minutes of waiting (and effectively blocking traffic!) we were able to get in. The good thing is that, despite the crowd, there were just as many people trying to leave as trying to get in. We found a stall rather quickly on a lower floor, and proceeded downstairs to the ground level. A short walk through the plaza and we arrived at our destination, the Won Kee Seafood Restaurant.
At this busy lunch hour the restaurant had a line up front. Upon walking in we were greeted by a very busy hostess, who took down the number of people in our party, then gave us a Post-it note with a number scribbled on it. We went outside to wait and found that, much like the parking lot, the line dwindled just as fast as it grew. We were about fourth in line but got a table in under 10 minutes. Inside the restaurant are a number of tables bustling with excitement. The restaurant was packed to the full capacity, and was loud with excitement. We were led to our table at the rear of the restaurant (where there is another entrance). Waiters promptly brought new plates, fresh glasses and a pot of jasmine tea for our table. Already sitting at the end of the table were little sauce plates, accompanied by mustard sauce, hot chili sauce, and soy sauces. Being a fan of spicy food I mixed all three into a sauce plate and waited for the dim sum carts to arrive.
The first three items that we got off the dim sum carts were all dumpling-like dishes. The steamed shrimp dumplings were quite tasty (we ordered two!). It is a very basic dish but the dumpling wrap combined with the gently steamed shrimp is a simple yet delicious combination. The sui mai was a little more complex, containing pork and some shrimp bits in it as well. The sui mai was a saltier dish than the shrimp dumpling, but still very tasty. We also decided to try a steamed chive dumpling, which used the same dumpling wrap as the shrimp dumplings but contained a mixture of chives and pork. This had a light, refreshing taste that melded well with the saltiness of the pork.
Next up we had some spare ribs that were prepared in a black bean sauce. The sauce was very flavorful and the spare ribs were very tender and juicy which made the dish even better. I had tried the Beef with Bean Curd only once before at my girlfriends house, and these turned out to be quite good as well. The ball itself is made of beef with chives mixed in, and the entire ball is steamed together with a few layers of bean curd underneath. And of course the classic manapua (slang word for Char Siu Buns), which was well seasoned and had a nice light bun.
And what meal would be complete without some sweeter selections! The baked egg cream dish was quite nice with a light taste and flaky crust. The Taro Gok was quite an interesting dish. The exterior of the dish looked very interesting and slightly crispy. The taro inside was a little light on taste but the overall texture and flavors came together to form a nice little dish. And lastly, we ended with my all-time favorite dim sum dish, the sesame roll. These little rolls of mochi-like dough are deep fried after being sprinkled with sesame seeds. The ones that we picked up were filled with red azuki beans, which gave it a sweet taste.
At almost all dim sum restaurants, your bill will be totaled by the “size” of the dish that you order. Typically you will be given a piece of paper that the servers will check as you order items. The prices of each dish within one size are all the same, making for an easy way to total your bill.
Final Thoughts: Like most dim sum places Won Kee Seafood Restaurant offers fast service with reasonable prices. All the dishes we ordered were considered “small”, and therefore only came up at $2.00 a piece (Dishes run from $2.00 “small” to $3.95 “special”). We left the restaurant feeling quite full on only $20.95 after taxes! Unfortunately, the quality of service is a little lacking which is rather typical of an establishment like this. I waited for quite some time before having to ask for a refill on my water. However, the dim sum carts to pass by regularly and provide a quick “replenishment” of tasty dishes. The atmosphere of the restaurant is just what you’d expect from a busy dim sum restaurant. Between a full house of customer conversation and employees scrambling to and fro, the restaurant is actually quite loud. Some effort is made to decorate the restaurant, but not quite enough to really stand out or warrant a second glance. Overall, Won Kee offers a fast-paced environment that does offer up some good food, but at the cost of some atmospheric elements. I would recommend folks to try out Won Kee in place of more “mainstream” locations for dim sum, like Legends.