March 21st, 2007
EATING OUT WITH HARRIETTE: CHINESE TRADITION – AMERICAN PALETTEby Harriet
Fact: A Jew knows their way around a Chinese food menu like a wasp knows their way around a liquor cabinet.
Every Sunday, being good Jews, my family would order Chinese food, gather around the T.V. and watch our Sunday night HBO programs. It was both a tradition and a significant memory, since it was the one day of the week we could all sit as a family and have dinner together. I remember the cold sesame noodles with crispy cucumbers, which I always drenched in the red-hot spicy oil, sucking the brown sauce out of the broccoli florettes before chewing them. Looking over and seeing the T.V. reflecting off the grease on my dad’s chin as he held his chop sticks and carton of lo-mein like a trough in the dark room. This was our tradition as a busy family living on the Upper East Side.
An interesting fact is that New York City has its own type of Chinese cuisine, tweaked from its original Chinese recipe. The differences are, however, subtle to most Americans, like a peach to a nectarine, a McDonald’s hamburger to a Burger King hamburger, Penelope Cruz to Paz Vega. There are variations of the same thing that are different but equally delicious in their own way depending on what you are used to.
Walking up to Dim Sum Go-Go on East Broadway, I was a little turned off by the exterior. Big red awnings that read “Dim Sum Go-Go” in what seemed to me the kind of font you find on a rundown discotheque from the early eighties, I’ll be honest, made me a bit hesitant to go in. But, pushing my judgment behind the grumbling noises of my belly, I entered and was surprised by the clean and symmetrical decor, which was certainly a deviation from its threadbare exterior. I sat down to three condiments which looked to be like a departure from the traditional New York trinity of soy sauce, duck sauce, and spicy yellow mustard we are all accustomed to. Instead, upon inquiry, it seemed I had before me a fresh, zippy ginger and scallion tapenade, a sweet yet tobacco-y dried scallop and shrimp sauce, and finally, a clear, spicy, pink vinegar. These were all to be enjoyed with the namesake dim sum I was so eagerly anticipating. Before I knew it there was a party of crispy nibbles, smoky steamed pouches and fluffy and meaty buns. The entrees were equally impressive, as the server pulled back the tender pieces of meat and vegetables with a big metal spoon to show me the bottom of the bowls and proudly exclaimed “Look! No grease!” I was dazzled. This was like nothing I have ever seen before in Chinese cuisine. There were olives being used! And chives as an entree!
Striking a conversation with the very friendly and attentive owner, Veronica, I learned that all these recipes were from her grandmother in China and none of them have been changed or altered. I also learned that Veronica has owned and run this restaurant by herself for six years. While I try not to be biased towards hardworking and independent female restaurateurs, I admitted to Veronica that the clean and almost ethereal flavors were not what I am used to in my New York Chinese fare. She explained that in China, not only does every town have its own type of cuisine, but so does every household and every matriarch. I realized what she was talking about was far from the differences between a peach and a nectarine. This was about family and food, and Veronica is taking her version of watching HBO on a Sunday with her family and sharing it with all of New York City.
So, with the discerning palate of an obstinate Jewish girl/professional chef, I must say that this is one of the rare opportunities where I can say that the service was fast and kind, the atmosphere was warm and inviting, and every flavor was balanced with each texture in every bite of the food. Like yin and yang, like the moon and the stars, like Goldie and Kurt, you and Dim Sum Go-Go really do belong together!
Dim Sum Go-Go
5 East Broadway New York, NY 10038
(212) 732-0797–Average $20 pp
Harriet* is a professional chef and glamour puss who lives and plays in New York City.