To stay on top of the Chinese restaurant scene, I check out the local Chinese-language newspapers – the USA China Tribune, and the Minnesota Times – whenever I get a chance. (You can usually pick them up at Asian grocery stores.) I can’t read a word of Chinese, but I look at the ads, which have lots of color photos of the food, and at least the name and street address of the restaurant in English.
I assume that the restaurants that advertise in these publications are trying to reach the local Chinese community, and are therefore likely to be the restaurants with the most authentic Chinese cuisine. (You won’t find ads for Big Bowl or P.F. Chang’s.)
A lot of the ads in the current issues are for places that I would put on my 10 Best Chinese list: Mandarin Kitchen, Grand Szechuan, Tea House, Tian Jin, Yangtze (for dim sum), Cafe 99, Grand Shanghai (for Shanghai specialties), Peninsula (for Chinese/Malaysian) and Pagoda. But there are also a lot of ads for all-you-can-eat Asian buffets, like 98 Pounds in Bloomington, Ichiban Asian Buffet in St. Louis Park, Teppanyaki Grill in Minneapolis, Super World Buffet Chinese restaurant in Inver Grove Heights, and all-you-can-eat sushi at Sushi “X” in Golden Valley.
This time around, I spotted ads for dim sum at a three restaurants I had never heard of before – A&L Chinese Restaurant in Inver Grove Heights, the Sesame Cafe in Minnetonka, and the New Beijing in Eden Prairie, and checked out the first two last weekend.
The A&L was worth the 25-minute drive from Uptown to Inver Grove Heights. The selection of dim sum isn’t as big as Mandarin Kitchen, but quality (based on my limited sampling) was comparable, and there was no wait in line – at noon on a Saturday, only a few tables were occupied. I was the only non-Chinese customer in the place. My very friendly server told me that the dim sum are house-made – one of their two chefs specializes in dim sum. All the classic varieties were offered – ha gao (shrimp dumplings) and shiu mai (pork dumplings) and stuffed tofu, and sticky rice in lotus leaf, pork and egg congee and many more. Service was very friendly, and so are the prices – everything is priced at $3.25.
The regular menu features all the usual Chinese-American favorites, from chicken egg foo young and shrimp fried rice to barbecue pork lo mein and General Tso’s chicken. But there is also a menu of more authentic dishes that you can’t find in very many other places locally – dishes like crab meat fish tripe soup ($18.95), shredded roast duck with sauteed chive flowers ($9.95), pig stomach with chili black bean sauce ($12.95), deep friend crispy intestine ($11.95) and seafood tofu hot pot ($14.95). A&L’s dim sum are also available weekdays till 3 p.m., but you have to order them off the menu.
The Sesame Cafe, next door to the Minnetonka Lunds supermarket, was less satisfying. The shrimp and scallop dumplings fell apart in my chopsticks, and the shrimp paste filling for the stuffed fried tofu didn’t have a lot of texture or flavor. It was a bit of a struggle to get the server pushing the steamed dim sum cart to actually show me the full assortment on offer before making my selection – she wanted me to pick the siu mai or ha gao and get on with it. Prices vary from $2.95-$3.95. The dinner menu offers pretty standard Chinese-American fare.
I haven’t made it yet to the New Beijing in Eden Prairie, but if you have dined there, for dim sum or otherwise, drop me a line at jeremyiggers (at) tcdailyplanet.net and let me know how it was.