By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
2200 W. Alameda Ave., #34
Denver, CO 80223
Region: Southwest Denver
Steamed pork buns: $1.98
Siu mai: $1.98
Stuffed eggplant: $2.85
Spicy jellyfish: $5.25
Cold chicken feet: $3.75
Lemon chicken: $7.95< br>Wonton soup: $8.95
Shark’s fin soup with crab: $46
For two solid hours at Super Star Asian, from one until three on a Sunday afternoon, the food never stopped coming. Brought on carts and plates, on unbreakable orange plastic cafeteria trays carried by smiling, indomitable women packing scissors and wearing rubber surgical gloves, this was some of the strangest food I've ever eaten. For two hours I didn't say no to anything. Unwilling, unable to refuse, I was like that toy bird that drinks water, head dipping time after time after time in an exaggerated nod, just repeating, "Yes, please. Yes, please," and meaning "Don't ever stop."
Fried taro, steamed beef meatballs that squeaked when I bit into them and gummy rice-flour crêpes with sweet shrimp swimming in a spoonful of salty soy sauce, clipped in half by the server's scissors. Warm, steamed chicken feet with the claws removed, served with a bowl of thick black-bean sauce -- sweet and spicy, like K.C. Masterpiece gone Chinese and drizzled over...feet.
If there's a heaven for potty-mouthed itinerant Irish restaurant critics and brave gastronauts with an Asian bent, Super Star is it. If I could eat at only one restaurant for the rest of my life, Super Star would be high on my list of choices. I know I've been to better restaurants, but sitting there on a Sunday in that blank, bunkerish, almost completely anonymous space -- just a restaurant-shaped hole in Alameda Square, next to the place that offers herbal medicine, phone cards and tax advice, down from another place with $1.99 Mexican lunch combos, and with its fraying GRAND OPENING banner still hanging over the front door -- I couldn't quite remember when. I know I've probably had better food, too, but when the woman with the cart stacked with steamer baskets came around, stopped beside my table and revealed, one by one, five kinds of perfect, beautiful, handmade dumplings, I couldn't recall exactly what that food might've been.
Like some kind of commercial for the pleasures of Chinese dining, the dumplings were actually wreathed in fragrant steam when she pulled off the lids of the baskets and tilted them in my direction. "You like?"
How could anyone in his right mind have said no?
Super Star opened back in January, when new owners took over what was already a Chinese restaurant. The menus -- there are at least three of them, maybe four, listing dim sum during the day and dinner after that, with one version for Chinese-speaking customers and another for everyone else -- are in constant flux. So are the prices. The dim sum offerings (served from 10:30 a.m. until around 4 p.m. seven days a week) change every day, and every day they are amazing, overwhelming, habit-forming to the point that now, after just a few visits, I find myself hoping for fortune's favor in a language I don't even understand -- rising up a little in my seat to scan the carts going by and praying phonetically for siu mai.
But on that first Sunday, I ate like a blind king: pointing, nodding, having not the slightest clue what I was asking for as the crowds surged and the carts rolled. There were dumplings upon dumplings, whole fingerling fish lightly battered, fried and eaten like carrot sticks -- three bites and gone. I ate sweet sesame balls and gelatinous slabs of seared, blistered water-chestnut paste and unspeakably good shrimp purses in translucent dumpling skins topped with a spray of orange tobiko. Farther off, I spied carts holding more chicken feet, this time cold, and spicy jellyfish and stuffed eggplant that never made it as far as my table because every time a runner leaped out from the kitchen carrying fresh plates to re-stock the cart, those plates were snapped up by diners closer or quicker than I was -- in particular, the guy seated behind me, who must've eaten four servings of eggplant by himself.
The wait for a table on the weekends is extreme -- an hour, easy, sometimes longer -- and every inch of floor space is packed. The lanes between booths and tables are so narrow that two carts going in opposite directions can't pass each other. Complicated traffic jams -- tangles of food and servers and runners from the kitchen and customers trying to find the bathrooms -- occur every few minutes and are solved only with delicate maneuvering, the backing of carts, the rearrangement of chairs and people sitting on each other's laps.
And at the door, more people wait -- clustered around the entrance, packed together shoulder to shoulder, holding newspapers and squirming children, making way for the carts when they pass, pointing at favorite plates going by. They squeeze up against the small raised box where the hostess works, watch as she adds names to her list in fine Chinese script, bringing some modicum of order to the swarming chaos with shouts across the dining room as tables are turned and a system of hand signals as byzantine as a Wall Street floor trader's.