Saturday, May 20, 2006
Pacific Moon Cafe
I've always heard that there's no better place for dim sum in Cincinnati than Pacific Moon Cafe. I've been a fan of the cuisine ever since I lived in San Francisco and used to frequent the extremely well-know establishment called Yank Sing. I've even experienced the privilege of having dim sum in Hong Kong where it just doesn't get any better. I was in heaven while my family looked warily at each cart of food, certain that they would get food poisoning at any moment. But right here in river city, it's a little more difficult to find authentic dim sum, so when Sihui, one of our co-workers, offered to make a reservation at Pacific Moon and serve as a guide to those who were interested, we (and six others) jumped at the chance.
I love the whole concept of dim sum. It's kind of like my obsession with tapas, but with an Asian spin, consisting of small plates of food best shared among friends. While I love eating out, I find the excessively large portions of food typical in many restaurants overwhelming, not to mention boring after several bites. Maybe it's the influence of Peter's ADD-ness on me? Regardless, any kind of dining experience in which I can sample many different flavors all in the same meal makes my tastebuds happy.
As we arrived one by one we ordered tea, discussed the recent Da Vinci Code movie release, some of us nervously eying our chopsticks. When we were ready, Sihui signaled to the servers that we were ready to get started. Here's how it works: servers roll carts around the restaurant, each containing dozens of steaming hot round metal containers and ceramic plates of items. The servers pull the lids off the containers, give a brief description of its contents, and you have a few seconds to respond with your yes or no answer. There must be at least 100 different items from which to choose, but Sihui did a fantastic job of ordering and two minutes later the oversized lazy susan in the middle of the table was overflowing with containers of unrecognizable dishes. Don't like what's in front of you? Just spin the wheel until you see something that piques your interest!
We all bravely dug in, sampling steamed pork buns, bean curd rolls stuffed with pork, mushroom dumplings, roast pork, scallop dumplings, fried tofu, short ribs, and curried calamari. Thankfully, Sihui had steered clear of the chicken feet (and yes, they look just like you'd think they would, but covered in sauce). Far and away my favorite dish was the jalapeno peppers, which were split lengthwise down the center and stuffed with shrimp. The dish had just the right hint of spicy kick from the jalapeno, an ingredient I don't recall seeing in Asian cuisine. The crispy salt and pepper prawns also went over well, but were somewhat of a disaster at our table. Peter managed to spray his shirt, shorts, and the tablecloth (thank goodness I bought him all those Tide to Go stain sticks for Christmas) with a reddish orange sauce while pulling the head and peel off, while another co-worker made the mistake of attempting to eat the prawn without peeling anything off. The only dish that the table unanimously dismissed was the beef tendons, and I have to admit that they looked and sounded scary enough that I couldn't force myself to try even a small bite.
After a brief pause to sip our green tea and ice water, we dug into the dessert cart. Even though we were stuffed, we still managed to polish off chocolate tarts with mango filling, custard buns, and sesame buns filled with sweet bean paste. I truly had trouble breathing at that point, and wished I'd worn pants with an expandable waistband.
We tried so many things that I was convinced that the check was going to sting, but everything is priced by the plate or container in the $3 - $5 range, and therefore turned out to be surprisingly affordable. In the end, a small price to pay for such a fun outing. Who knew you could have such a good time with your co-workers when you're not forced to be together and without any alcohol involved?
The damage: much to my surprise, it was only $20 per person, including tip
Watch out for: getting there! The location is unassuming and easy to miss, so make sure you look for the large sign that reads Market Place along Montgomery road and turn there. Also, Sundays are super crowded and not the best for dim sum newbies
Food: 4 out of 5 forks
Romance: 3 out of 5 kisses (though we're off the market, I think this would be a great place for groups of friends to go to introduce other friends for potential setups)
Pacific Moon Cafe
8300 Market Place Lane
Cincinnati, OH 45242