Restaurant Review: Vegetarian Dim Sum House

Vegetarian Dim Sum House
24 Pell Street
(between Mott Street and Doyers Street)
Chinatown, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (2.5/4)

The narrow, twisting streets surrounding the intersection of Mott and Pell in lower Manhattan, with its odd clash of pre-war tenements, brash lights and signage of Chinatown, and the Georgian spire on the Church of the Transfiguration make it one of my favorite spots in the city. At this intersection, more than almost any other in New York City for me, you feel that you stand at the heart of something living, grimy, proud, sacred, and perhaps just a little dangerous.

It is immediately off of this corner that the Vegetarian Dim Sum House can be found. Stepping in from Pell Street, it’s a cozy space with a pretty traditional Chinese restaurant atmosphere.

For those unfamiliar with dim sum, it is the poor man’s tasting menu – an opportunity to compose a meal solely of appetizers, building as meager or substantial a feast as one’s stomach and wallet can create. The restaurant offers some more standardized meal options as well, but ignore these: their dim sum is inexpensive, comes in huge portions, and offers many directions for your experimentation.

Upon taking your seat, brush aside the menu, seek out the dim sum scorecard, take a pencil, and start marking off the quantities you want of each. Don’t hope for much explanation; the waitstaff aren’t really talkers. You’ll get a standard tea with your meal, which we would suggest might be enough. Brian had a can of gingerale, and I tried a banana milk shake (a banana blended into a glass of water).

We chose 4 items each from the dim sum selection: an insane undertaking… Go with two for each diner as a normal meal (3 as a maximum if you’re really hungry. You could even share just one if you’re only looking for a quick bite). The quantity of food created by our order of 8 dim sum plates left us with a refrigerator rack full of leftovers for nearly two weeks.

But to the food itself: any choice you make will be an adventure. Our House Special corn congee (a white, paste-like porridge with bits of corn) arrived in an ungodly volume along with deep fried vegetarian crescents (heavy, like a sweetened donut). Faux shark fin dumplings had an OK taste, but an unsettling consistency – perhaps a bit too foreign for our Western tongues. The monk dumplings had a smooth taste and an incomparable texture. The fried sesame paste buns were like balls of peanut butter with a soft surrounding dough.

Some of the more delicious arrivals to our table: the lotus root cakes had a fascinating interior like a honeycombed wheel (lotus root is really a beautiful ingredient that is rarely seen), the mashed taro treasure boxes were wonderful fried potato balls, and the vegetarian mock roast pork buns had a truly delicious interior.

Some definite hits, plenty of misses, but overall very much worth the experience. At $19 each, we purchased far more food than necessary, and a more savvy diner could get a full meal for half that cost.

Food (2.5/4)
Atmosphere & Service
Value (3/4)

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