Founded in 1978 and seating over 800, Jing Fong is the largest restaurant in Chinatown, maybe in the entire city. It’s also well regarded for its dim sum that’s delivered to tables by rolling carts daytime only, seven days a week. Late in the afternoon the menu switches to semi-modern Cantonese, with an emphasis on seafood.
The new outpost on the Upper West Side opens at 5 p.m., giving Jing Fong’s dim sum cooks one hour to get from Chinatown to the Upper West Side after the downtown dim sum service — though I have no reason to believe they actually do, except for the fact that the dumplings at the two places look exactly the same. One day recently I went to both branches to test the dim sum.
Downtown at lunch, I had the shrimp har gow, pork shumai, shrimp rice noodle roll, and soy-braised chicken feet (each $3.25). In general, the dumplings were a little more thick-skinned than I remember them. Apart from that, the two shrimp-bearing types were delightfully plain tasting, with the rice noodle rolls ramped up with the usual squirt of Worcestershire-flavored soy sauce. The shu mai were chunkier with pork than usual, but the chicken feet blew everything else away in their excellence.
Which is a shame, because chicken feet aren’t offered on the uptown menu. In fact, the bill of fare offers about one-third of the dim sum available on carts at the mothership. Excluded from the uptown menu are the tiny pork riblets with black bean sauce, congee ladled from a vat, honeycomb beef tripe, and platters of bronzed duck cut in pieces. The other har gow, rice rolls, and shu mai I’d tried were available on the UWS, though. But I was in for a surprise.
While the shrimp har gow and shrimp rice rolls looked exactly the same, there was a faint taste of garlic in both, and the rice rolls were garnished with a nest of shredded beets and carrots — not a bad addition, though not really edible. The pork shu mai were equally as chunky as their downtown counterparts, but also had some tiny golden roe sprinkled on top, which gave them a fishy flavor.
The turnip cakes we tried were fantastic, creamy and jiggly and dotted with dried shrimp, and the sauteed string beans were totally up to par. All were priced at $7 or $8 per plate, making them more than twice as expensive as they are on Elizabeth Street. The plate of char siu ($11) was excellent. Best of all was a brilliant example of beef chow fun ($17) ringed with steamed greens, while the honey walnut prawns ($22) were a dish best forgotten.
What you will find uptown that’s missing downtown: creative cocktails. A companion and I found a 5-spice cucumber-fennel drink ($14) particularly refreshing on a summer evening. The drinks menu, occupying half the printed menu, lists beers and wines, too.
All in all, maybe it was a good idea to combine a dim sum spot with an old-fashioned Cantonese restaurant on the Upper West Side. It’s a boon for the neighborhood.