(Seattle, WA) — After checking in to our downtown Seattle hotel, we head out for our first real culinary adventure together: dim sum at House of Hong. The walk from upscale eateries and high-end shops into the International District is about a mile. The weather is much nicer than anticipated (not to mention the roads a bit more hilly than expected), so by the time we arrive at our destination, we’re both a bit overheated but still looking forward to that first taste from the rolling cart...
I’ve never had dim sum, but Juliet has waxed poetic about it for years. It’s time. We are greeted curtly at the front podium and shown to a booth. On the way, I notice a glass case full of interesting Asian figurines and masks for sale, much like every Chinese or Japanese restaurant I’ve ever seen. The main dining room is huge, full of booths and tables, enough to seat a couple hundred people. It is currently being occupied by about 8 other patrons right now. To one side is a stage where, presumably, they put on shows.
After a couple minutes, we are brought waters and then the ladies descend upon us with their clattering, stainless steel carts. There are two women initially who push different offerings for lunch. Once more customers arrive, additional servers magically appear with different carts. To watch them move about the dining room is like witnessing a ballet. Each cart has a number of different items on it. I am a little confused about the process, and the language barrier doesn’t help. Still, between the two of us, we manage to guess the various dishes about 90% of the time.
On our first pass-through, we receive three dim sum: doughy pork BBQ wonton pastries; potstickers with prawns inside; and a kind of cabbage roll stuffed with pork and tiny shrimp. The BBQ pork dish is sweet and spicy, and the pastry is sticky/steamy. Although I don’t mind the prawn potstickers, the cabbage rolls are not to my liking, with their shrimp taste overwhelming the meat. No matter! That’s the beauty of dim sum...if you don’t like a taste, wait until the cart comes round again! (Thankfully, hot tea rinses the taste of something you don’t like right out of your mouth.)
Next up, we choose BBQ pork buns that are coated in a kind of honey butter glaze. It’s almost like eating a Krispy Kreme with meat inside. Is that a bad thing? I think not. We also put in an order of the spicy calamari, and it does not disappoint. The calamari is not chewy at all, and the breading is thick but light. How do they accomplish that? No idea. The spice, though, is the star of the show. It lingers on the tongue in a nice, slow burn. Delicious.
Juliet forges ahead with duck, but I pass. Duck and I have not been getting along lately, and though it looks deliciously greasy and fatty and thick, I don’t want to spend the rest of the vacation clutching my stomach. Instead, I wait for the dessert cart so we can order a little nibble of something sweet. Juliet chooses Coconut Balls, spheres of sticky glutinous rice flour rolled in coconut shavings. They are sweet and incredibly difficult (but fun!) to eat.
As we pay the bill up front, feeling very full and satisfied, I wonder that it has taken so long to finally try dim sum. We had agonized over which establishment to patronize, and both of us feel we received authentic treatment. Both dim sum and House of Hong are highly recommended.
We ease into Jeremy's first dim sum lunch with three seemingly easy selections: steamed barbeque pork buns, shrimp dumplings, and pork siu mai. The pork buns are enormous! The dough is bright white from steaming and while it looks dense when I cut into it, turns out to be fluffy—more like an old-fashioned Southern dumpling you'd find in chicken and dumplings. The barbeque pork filling is very sweet and rich, although the plain dough helps balance it out. I decide we need to try a baked pork bun to see the difference between baked and steamed.
The steamed shrimp dumplings are paper-thin and filled with whole shrimp and a few leaves of cilantro. The shrimp are large and briny tasting, like they came of the boat this morning. The cilantro adds a spot of brightness. The siu mai turns out to be roughly ground pork and shrimp (I'd thought it was only pork) with carrot bits wrapped and steamed in green cabbage. I enjoy my first bite, but begin to find the pork a bit gamey or wild tasting. It's unpleasant to me, but Jeremy's enjoying them so I put my second dumpling back in case he wants it.
We place an order for the fried octopus, the baked pork dumplings and the roast duck. The fried octopus looks a bit like French fries when it arrives. Strips of tentacles have been breaded and fried until nearly brittle and then tossed in a spicy seasoning. It's quite fiery with much more heat than I expect. But it's one of those addictive zesty blends that keeps me coming back; it's almost impossible to stop eating the crunchy little buggers.
The baked pork buns are deeply golden and crusty on the outside, much more attractive than the pasty white steamed ones. The filling is almost identical, but I like the sweetness of these glazed buns better.
The crispy duck arrives and it's not the pretty little sliced duck I'm used to seeing from my local delivery place. This is hunks of duck cut with a cleaver into finger friendly pieces. There are joints, ribs bones and lots of unidentifiable bits and pieces. I decide I can either get squeamish and shy away or I can pick up a piece and start gnawing. I go for the latter and eat some of the tastiest duck I've ever had. The skin is crispy and sweet, the meat is rich and flavorful.
Even though we're both full, I want to try a dim sum dessert. I order the coconut rice which turn out to be sugary brown rice balls coated in thick glutinous gel rolled in coconut. The outer layer is gluey and clear, reminding me something slimy from a sci-fi movie...but it's sweet and kinda fun to eat. The rice ball in the center is so sweet it makes my teeth itch and I have to leave it.
There might be more authentic dim sum houses in the ID, but we found the food and service solid at House of Hong. Maybe next time we'll try the chicken feet!