Long before the small-plate movement, centuries before tapas, there was dim sum – an expression for Chinese teahouse snacks that roughly translates into “heart’s delight.” Dim sum traces its origins to southern China, where it provided sustenance to travelers on the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road.
The new restaurant It Dimsum aims to provide sustenance to travelers along a modern trade route: Paseo del Norte. Unlike other Chinese restaurants that offer dim sum only on weekends, It Dimsum serves these small dishes from morning to night, six days a week.
The restaurant, in a strip mall at Paseo and Wyoming NE, was about one-quarter full when I visited recently at the tail end of lunch hour. The long wall on the east end of the narrow space features planks of wood stained in different colors and set in a staggered arrangement that resembles a city skyline. Chinese was being spoken at several tables, including one crowded with what appeared to be four generations of one family.
Dim sum is typically served from steam carts, but here you make your selections by marking items on a large, embossed menu with a dry-erase marker. The menu is organized into four portion sizes, ranging from small ($3.50) to extra-large ($5.95). Most items fall into the medium ($4.15) category. Familiar dishes like pot stickers and egg rolls share the menu with more adventurous dishes such as steamed beef tripe and chicken feet. It Dimsum also has stir-fry dishes, fried rice and congee, or rice porridge, with a protein of your choice, for a little over $10.
Steamed chicken feet ($4.15) are served in a bowl of broth in a metal steamer basket. The frying and steaming cook the toughness out, leaving you with fatty skin and connective tissue that taste of soy sauce and yield to the bite almost like al dente pasta. It might take a few minutes to get the hang of eating them, but once you do you’ll see why they’re enjoyed as a comfort food by so many around the world.
Barbecued pork is offered in both a steamed dumpling and a baked bun (both $4.15). The latter, a glistening roll that smells of fresh-baked bread, is more memorable. The bun is a soft, sweet wrapping for the rust-red, tangy pork inside, although the filling was disappointingly lukewarm.
Seeing the shrimp rice noodle, ($4.95), another dim sum standard, I understood why the Chinese name of this dish translates to “intestine noodle.” The two shrimp inside the broad, ivory-colored noodle look like something in the process of being digested. Despite its appearance, the dish is an irresistible combination of shrimp, soy sauce and rice. The jiggly, slippery noodle will test your chopsticks skills.
The best savory dish I tried was the pan-fried chive dumpling ($4.15) with pork. Chives, perhaps best-known in the U.S. for topping off a baked potato, shine here, bringing a mild onion flavor and some crunch to the well-seasoned filling. The frying leaves some nice caramelization on the dumpling.
Sweet dishes are served with the meal rather than at the end like desserts. Highlights include three sesame balls ($3.50) with crispy, sesame seed-covered outer shells that give way to rubbery layers of glutinous rice flour and slightly sweet bean paste cores. Both the baked egg tart ($4.15) in a delicate cup of flaky dough and the moist, light spongecake ($3.50), steamed rather than baked, were wonderful.
The food started coming out quickly, and everything was on the table within about 10 minutes. Service was cursory, perhaps due to the language barrier, but that’s OK. I suspect most diners are willing to sacrifice ease of communication for some authenticity.