All about the dim sum at Peking Chinese Restaurant
Give me sum
By Michael Sullivan 05/31/2012
Peking Chinese Restaurant
5960 Telegraph Road
Dim sum $1.50-$9.50
If there were ever a person I would be happy to trade places with, for a day, a month, maybe even a year, it would be Anthony Bourdain, renowned chef, author and host of Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. His sharp wit, commanding presence and overall intelligence are something to admire. But that isn’t the reason to swap places. Simply put, pay me to experience various cultures, taste all sorts of amazing (and sometimes terrible) food and live to tell about it.
It was due to an episode of No Reservations that my fascination with dim sum came to be. In a packed restaurant in Hong Kong, Bourdain and company delved into the fascinating world of the individual, sometimes bite-size morsels of the Chinese cuisine. Having experimented with modest dim sum choices at the Vietnamese restaurant Mai’s Cafe in Midtown Ventura, I was desperate to expand my dim sum horizons. That’s when I came across Peking Chinese Restaurant. When we called, we were told Peking offers 30 choices throughout the week; but on the weekend, around 35 choices. So we opted for a Saturday night.
No matter what one thinks of the food, Chinese Peking Restaurant is a little gem. The atmosphere is somber yet sleek and contemporary, with thick oak tables and black booths, the walls highlighted by classic Chinese landscape wood carvings and paintings. Enya and similar new-age music made it easy to relax — quite different than what I saw on No Reservations. The staff is courteous and respectful. The main hostess is pleasant and informative. If there had been waterfalls and spa treatments, I am sure that I would have found my inner zen.
While Peking offers familiar Chinese dishes like egg foo young and beef and broccoli, among many others, we came for the dim sum. Apparently, we missed the lunch offering, which featured more than the 30 standard options on the regular dim sum menu, but we were impressed, nonetheless, with the numerous choices.
We ordered drinks and several dim sum dishes, including the steamed dumplings, the Szechuan wontons, the barbecue pork bao and the traditional rice wrap. Almost as soon as we placed our order, the dumplings and wontons were brought to our table, plus a complimentary iceberg lettuce salad with fried wonton noodles, sliced carrots and a peanut dressing.
The steamed dumplings were rather basic — a ground chicken and green onion mixture in thick wheat wrap, served with what tasted like ponzu sauce, which is soy sauce, rice vinegar and lemon juice. The Szechuan wontons were a bit more flavorful with a slight bite. The pork wontons come in a shallow bowl, served in teriyaki soy sauce with red pepper flakes and diced green onions.
The steamed barbecue pork bao came shortly after we dug into our wontons and dumplings. Just based on appearances, one might liken it to a large stuffed marshmallow. It’s a bit doughy due to the fact that the soft puffy bread is steamed rather than baked or fried. For those new to bao, it’s spot-on to all other bao dishes I have tried. The thick dough encapsulates a small portion of chopped pork in a light, sweet barbecue sauce.
The traditional chicken rice wrap was one of the more interesting dishes. Diced chicken with mushrooms and sausage, stuffed in a compact mixture of sweet sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf, giving the dish an earthy aroma. It was a heartier portion than the other dishes.
Not quite full, we decided to order a couple of additional dishes, the seaweed-wrapped chicken rolls and the fun guo. Within a few minutes, both orders were brought to our table. Served with sweet and sour sauce, the rolls were ground chicken meat wrapped in seaweed, then fried tempura-style. Our server suggested that we eat them without the sweet and sour sauce, which did bolster the flavor of the seaweed, as he stated. But Americans in general love their condiments, so try them with and without the sauce. The fun guo was packed with all sorts of goodies — peanuts, pine nuts, ground pork, carrots, mushrooms and green onion kept moist with a soy oyster sauce in a rice-flour wrapper. It was a savory treat.
Overall, it was a memorable experience. While the flavors weren’t too extreme, the delicate dim sum dishes are emblematic of refined techniques and Chinese culture. And if you are looking for a unique, ethnic experience, Peking Chinese Restaurant is a must.