Dumplings, glutinous rice and pork buns – yes.
Roving steam table carts – yes.
Congee with cut-up fried doughnuts – yes and yes.
Dim sum? In Tacoma?
Weekend-only dim sum offers promise at Ginger Palace II, an 8-month-old Asian fusion restaurant tucked into a hotel district on South Hosmer. Its dim sum service is less than a month old.
It’s the only dim sum restaurant in Tacoma now that the Lincoln Neighborhood’s short-lived Lobster House has closed. That restaurant served dim sum prepared to order.
For the uninitiated, dim sum is a style of morning or mid-day eating – think of it as Chinese brunch – in which diners assemble meals from roving steam-table carts filled with small dishes of steamed dumplings, fried buns, slow-cooked meats and delicious sweets. Until now, a South Sound diner’s best bet for dim sum cart service was Renton, Bellevue or Seattle’s International District.
Ginger Palace II is one of those second-chance restaurants for me. A visit in November, two months after opening, found a meandering menu of fusion Asian (Hawaiian, Thai, Chinese, Korean) with squishy focus, unevenly executed food and uneven service that started with friendly greetings and ended with an abandon-ship mentality as servers sailed to other tables. I pledged to put off writing about Ginger Palace until a return visit. While the food seemed more expertly composed on a recent visit for dim sum, service still was uneven. One server was aloof and resistant to questions; another friendly server doled out descriptions aplenty. The recent meal ended — again — with servers abandoning us. At least they’re consistent.
As for the food, the more recent visit for dim sum was far better than that first visit for lunch months ago. I’ve had better dim sum in Seattle. However, faced with a drive to Seattle, I’m happy to stay in Tacoma, thanks. At Ginger Palace II, expect an average price tag of $10-$15 per diner. Dumplings came in orders of four; buns in pairs; meats in portions of 3-4 pieces.
The dining room, which has the appearance of a teal and wood-toned hotel convention restaurant circa the 1990s, appeared short on diners, heavy on servers, with carts offering steamy-hot dumplings, buns and stuffed items amid a Perry Como-esque soundtrack. A bakery case looked replenished at least once. Low diner turnover meant a few items had sat a bit long, but nothing suggested items had languished in a steam bath all morning.
Pork dumplings (siu mai) were hearty and delicious (you can spot them by their yellow wrappers). Pleasingly chewy wrappers encased the shrimp dumplings (ha gow). Slow-steamed chicken feet (fung zao) released easily from the bone; with a sticky, sweet glaze. The restaurant presented a fine version of fried glutinous rice balls coated in sesame (jin deui).
Doughy white buns stuffed with sweetened pork (char siu bao) tasted a touch stiff. Steamed rice in a tea leaf (lo mai gai) called for more seasoning.
Congee, the rice porridge soup, provided a splendid gingery finish with chewy fried doughnuts snipped into bite-size chunks for dipping or topping your soup.
I counted a dozen dim sum choices on my visit. A server mentioned selection would increase as the number of diners increased. I hope so.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.
Ginger Palace II
Where: 8736 S. Hosmer St., Tacoma; 253-548-2419
Serving: Lunch and dinner daily. Dim sum only offered 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Dim sum pricing: $2.75 small items; $3.55 medium; $3.95 large; and $4.95 extra large.
Forecast: Worth a trip for dim sum, but this restaurant displays trouble with the basics.
Tip: The side entrance had no greeting host, so enter in the front.
Dim sum basics for beginners
Power in numbers: Ideal for four diners; dim sum is built for sharing.
When seated: Servers keep a tally sheet of what you eat. Sit back, order tea, eye the cart contents. Start with one dish per diner.
Go slow: Carts continuously roam; take a leisurely pace. Eat everything before the next round — dim sum cools quickly.
Dumplings: Siu mai are open-faced dumplings with ground pork; ha gow are pleated, encased shrimp dumplings. (Note: American translations/spellings will vary).
Stuffed items: Char siu bao is pork stuffed into a steamed white, doughy bun or in a glossy baked bun. Lo mai gai is sticky glutinous rice steamed inside a tea leaf.
Meat: Fung zao are puffy, steamed chicken feet with a savory-sweet sauce.
Vegetables: Steamed/sauteed Chinese broccoli with hoisin.
Soup: Congee is rice porridge, with fried doughnuts.
Sweets: Dan tat are egg custard tarts. Jin deui are round, fried glutinous rice balls coated in sesame seeds.