One recent night after getting my haircut, I decided I was hungry and that I should wander Chinatown to find food. TC decided to join me, and after we’d shared two banh mi from Paris Sandwich, and then each taken down a pork chop over rice and a chicken leg over rice respectively, it suddenly occurred to me: dim sum, made to order, at New York’s oldest dim sum parlor. Uhh… yes please?! So we headed over to Nom Wah to indulge in what would – are you counting? – be our third dinner of the night.
Instead of dim sum push carts – which might not fare so well inside the narrow restaurant – you’re given a menu checklist and a pen. Mark off the items you’d like and how many, each clearly labeled with the price, and hand it to your server, who disappears into the backroom to send your order to be filled. This isn’t a new system – I first saw this in San Francisco many many years ago, and even then, I don’t know that it was new – but it has its pros and cons. Pros would definitely include freshly made dim sum, instead of ordering stuff that may have been sitting on the cart for a while; knowing the price of something before you order it; having things clearly written out as best as it can be so you know what you’re ordering exactly. Cons would include not really being exposed to new things – afterall, some people like just looking at what’s on a cart and deciding then and there what they’ll order; sometimes descriptions can be less than helpful (though I had no problems with Nom Wah’s menu); and this does tend to limit the menu. But Nom Wah does a good job with this: they have a section called Nom Wah Favorites.
Nom Wah closed for renovations late last year, though the owner decided to keep much of the dining room intact for nostalgia. The old school feel to the place is definitely very much still in place, and made me feel almost as though I’d stepped into a Hong Kong tea house back in the 50s. Not that I’ve ever been to a Hong Kong tea house – nor even Hong Kong, and I’m sure my parents had not even hoped or thought of me yet in the 50s…
So much history preserved here. Love the bar stools.
Not to be missed – the vinyl booths.
After we’d placed our meager order (hey, we’d just eaten 2 dinners already!), I noticed that one of the placards on the table boased that they had fresh ginger ginger ale. BeerBoor reviewed that here.
And then the plates started coming. My personal favorite dim sum dish: ha cheung, or shrimp rice rolls. Properly made ha cheung boasts large, whole shrimp, rolled inside sheets of thin rice crepes that are pillowy soft, like biting into a cloud that’s been given a savory bath of lightly sweetened soy sauce. As I took my first piece, I immediately noted the texture – not so soft that it just fell completely apart; the shrimp stayed inside where they belonged, and they weren’t tiny nor too big to eat comfortably. The rice crepe part was delicate… and just absolutely perfect. I can comfortably say that this is the best ha cheung I’ve ever had in New York. YUM.
Ha cheung is a dim sum staple much like this next dish, ha gow – my brother’s favorite dim sum dish. The description “crystal shrimp dumpling” is about as vivid a description as you can get: shrimp, sometimes chopped into pieces, rolled into a ball and ensconced within an exterior dough that becomes translucent in the cooking process. The idea here is that the skin should be thin enough to be see-through (aka ‘crystal’), but thick enough that when you pick one up, it doesn’t explode all over the place. While ha gow is not one of my favorite dishes, these were definitely above average in quality.
Innards shot. The shrimp were fresh, and though the skin was just a touch too thick for what I’d call perfect, they were still very good, and I would feel comfortable telling my brother to try this place.
Listed on the menu as one of Nom Wah’s specialties was the char siu bao, or roast pork bun. A steamed, fluffy white bao with little flavor on its own, filled with bits of the red roasted pork, these are easy to find but not easy to find great ones. I actually don’t like roast pork buns all that much,
But this really impressed me. Sure, there could have been more filling, but what there was burst with pork flavor, onions, and the white part was just as background as it’s meant to be, standing back to be the carby foil for roast pork. I probably wouldn’t order this again, but I say that knowing that I never order this dish when I have dim sum, unless someone requests it.
Yet another dim sum staple – as you can see, we were trying to stick to the staples of dim sum in our full state, so we could make fair comparisons – siu mai or pork dumpling.
Inside shot. Again, not one of my favorite dim sum dishes, but definitely a standard that I can comfortably compare to the thousands of times I’ve had this in my life. I thought this was flavored nicely, and well-prepared, tasty. The pork was definitely the standout flavor here; some places mix shrimp or dried shrimp into these, which is fine, but then they put too much and all you taste is that. Not so here: pork shone.
And the last dish, which we ordered solely because us two fobs didn’t want to have four dishes on the table, shuen jhuk guen (my poor attempt at anglacizing…), or tofu skin wrapped around vegetables and sometimes pork. I found this very good as well, though the sauce boasted a touch too much cornstarch. The rolls themselves had a lot of flavor and the tofu skin was very soft, clearly prepared very recently.
Yvo says: This was a preliminary meal at Nom Wah; I fully intend to go back when I haven’t just eaten two dinners and give it a proper go by ordering just about everything on the menu. However, I was very impressed by what I’ve had so far. Clearly, being made fresh is an overwhelming pro in terms of dim sum, and though this does come at a small premium, I didn’t find the slightly higher than average dim sum prices to be outrageous whatsoever (maybe 25c-75c more than other places). I definitely recommend Nom Wah for dim sum at any time of day, freshly made and completely yummy. Oh, and a small note: while Nom Wah is one of the few places in Chinatown that accept credit card, there is a $20 minimum, so keep that in mind!