The new frontier of Chinatown dim sum may be a more premium version. Open earlier this year at 68 Mott Street, Dim Sum VIP is offering an innovative and slightly upscale product, charging a dollar or two more per plate than usual.
The narrow storefront, seating 40 at small tables and along a counter, is bare bones and business-like, with none of the sumptuous banquet trappings of stalwarts like Golden Unicorn and Royal Seafood. The room is too narrow for carts, so ordering is via a paper menu of 37 selections with check boxes.
While the bigger dim sum halls also vie with each other to provide innovative dumplings, Dim Sum VIP does so on a pleasingly small scale, and it may be a prototype for boutique dim sum storefronts to come.
The dim sum chef is Wan Lung Kwan, a veteran of the Marriott hotel chain. His creations include outsize siu mai bulging with an amalgamated pork-shrimp filling, each steamed dumpling surmounted by a coin of abalone (two for $5.95). I’d never seen this before in a dim sum service in Manhattan, Sunset Park, or Flushing, and it’s well worth trying.
The chef has also imported dim sum style dishes from other Chinese cuisines, including a tasty version of wontons in red oil ($6.95). This Sichuan standard arrives ringed in steamed greens, every bit as spicy as you might wish, though lacking in Sichuan peppercorns.
A unique rice noodle roll of smaller circumference than usual features a fried shrimp pastry something like an eggroll inside the noodle material, generating a nice crunch in the middle of a squish, while huge dumplings with a crystal wrapper spill jicama, peanuts, pork, and shrimp onto the plate. Known as fen guo, these dumplings are associated with Chaozhou, a seaside region of eastern Guandong adjacent to Fujian, whose cuisine is known for its incorporation of Southeast Asian elements.
For kids, there are steamed bao with a carrot puree inside and a pig face exterior. These have been seen before at other dim sum restaurants around town, but they are still surprising to look at, though too sweet for many tastes.
Other unusual dim sum include crystal shrimp dumplings immersed in soup; pot stickers such as you might find in the Lower East Side’s northern Chinese dumplings stalls, but in a more delicate rendition; featherweight shrimp and spinach dumplings; and chicken feet in black bean sauce. Other dim sum selections are ones you’d expect, in versions that are sometimes bigger, sometimes more perfectly turned out than average.
A decade ago our dim sum possibilities were largely limited to enormous restaurants in the city’s Chinatowns, but now smaller places, some with revolutionary approaches, are serving it all over town — including the East Village’s Tim Ho Wan, giant Jing Fong’s bistro-like outpost on the Upper West Side, trendier upscale restaurant Red Farm, and Nom Wah’s mini-chain of dim sum in food courts. Many places also now serve dim sum for dinner, rather than just breakfast and lunch. All in all, it’s a great era to love dim sum.