2010.07.02 - Jeffrey Forman
I was down in Chinatown a couple weeks ago having shabu shabu while my mother was in town. I was waiting for her to arrive, and wandered over to an area of the neighborhood I don’t normally frequent (the East side of Surface Road for those curious)t. I came upon Hei La Moon, a resturant I had frequently read about via local food blogs and forums. I grabbed a menu and noticed that the dim sum list was at least 20-30 deep. It’s a big place, one massive room, with pictures on the front doors showing carts weaving their way through a packed weekend lunch service.
Two weeks later, M and I, along with another couple friends who have become our restaurant seekers-in-crime, descended upon HLM at 12:30pm on a Saturday afternoon. To say this place was busy is an understatement. Now I don’t pretend to speak any Chinese, but that’s all I heard among the hostess shouting out numbers to parties waiting to be seated. (Being the stereotypical white male, I have heard the adage that a restaurant with ‘locals’ to the cuisine is normally very good, so I was psyched.) Without waiting more than 5-10 minutes, we were ushered through the throngs of people and incredible number of staff pushing carts to our table. I looked around and all I saw was a sea of people and staff, working the crowds entering and exiting, ushering food between tables, and turning tables over for the next party.
Within 30 seconds of being seated, we had a cart off to the side of our table, with a waitress offering us various kinds of dumplings. This is all from memory, as I was not able to either take pictures nor write down any of what we had due to the intense commotion of the entire dining room. (In no particular order)
- Beef Ball
- Peking Duck
- Tofu skins
- Pork knuckles with thick wonton noodles (the latter were incredible)
- Steamed shrimp dumplings
- Steamed Pork buns
- Sticky rice with peanuts
- and others I am unable to remember.
This was a new experience for me, having never had ‘cart service’ dim sum. Waitresses did speak English, but over the din of the dining room (it was incredibly loud, but still possible to carry a conversation at your table), we ended up just pointing to things we wanted and that we hoped had the food we expected in them.
There were some hits, like the peking duck, tripes, and wonton noodles. Each had a distinct flavor, never bland, and perfectly cooked, even though they had probably been sitting on the cart for several minutes making their way around the dining room. And there were some misses, although few and far between. Only the beef balls and sticky rice received less-than-rave reviews. We found those dishes to be very single-note, with not much interesting flavor. The beef balls tasted more like meatloaf, of which I am not a fan. The sticky rice had boiled peanuts, which surprisingly added no peanut flavor to the dish. We drank hot tea throughout the meal, but I must imagine cold water and soft drinks are available. Flagging down a waiter or waitress was not a problem when we were looking for more dishes, most of the time they came to us before we were done.
Needless to say, we were full, but not stuffed, after polishing off the food we had ‘ordered.’ The one thing we were unsure of was just how much money we spent, given that the dim sum menu has no prices. After giving them my credit card and hoping for the best, a bill of $44 came back. We were blown away that so much food came from $11 a person. While not an every weekend trek for us from the near suburbs, we will definitely be back to try more of the menu and experience the frenzied atmosphere of Hei La Moon.