By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
No matter how long the wait, no matter how crushing the press at the door, no one leaves. People coming from the Asian markets park their loaded shopping carts in the breezeway between Super Star's two sets of doors. They talk in a half-dozen languages, and when I can understand it, the conversation is never about anything but food: how good a certain dish was the last time they were here, what they're going to eat today when finally, eventually, their name is called.
Language -- or at least my native tongue -- is insufficient to describe half of what I've eaten at Super Star, and I still don't know the names of the other half. Some plates were offered with no description, and I said "Yes, please," just because they were pretty, because I was curious, because I was afraid that, were I to say no, I might miss out on something amazing. If you never say no, you never miss a thing: the motto of the terminally overserved.
Other plates I was simply ordered to eat -- with my acceptance of them and of the wisdom of the cart ladies implicit in my wide eyes and beatific grin.
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
"Eat vegetables," I was told, then handed a plate of something jade-green and leafy, the heads separated from the stalks with a single knife cut, straight as a razor, and both ends laced with something that might've been oyster sauce but also might've been something else entirely.
Another cart. "This, you'll like," I was informed, and I reached out to accept a plate of three crackly, egg-shaped puffs with shells that looked like deep-fried spider webs (probably taro), filled with gray mush (probably water-chestnut paste and disturbingly squishy), and cored with a tiny dab of amazing, sweet barbecued pork and shrimp chunks that made the entire package seem to suddenly explode with flavor.
Even the special, hip-kid food glossary I work from can't help me describe the plates of baked poodle ass -- pure-white baked buns that were filled with bright-red barbecued pork or cream but looked, more than anything, like the hind ends of tiny show poodles aimed at the ceiling. Or capture the experience of eating whole shrimp crusted in salt, jalapeño and dried chile powder, fried in the shell and served head-on with the best, most powerful kick of flavor coming from the creamy, pasty, red-tinted stuff clotted up around the joint where the head connects to the body. The most efficacious way of getting at it was to jam a finger or a chopstick into the broken-off head or just raise the head to your lips and suck it out. The brain tasted creamy, shrimpy, salty, briny, sweet, hideous, delicious, messy, gross and wonderful at the same time. And since there's no one word for that, I have to use them all.
And that was just what I ate for breakfast -- or lunch, depending on how long I waited for a table. That was just dim sum, an intimate meal shared with a hundred of my closest friends while fifty more waited for me to be done, already -- to stop eating and waddle my fat ass out to the car so that they could have their turn.
Dinner at Super Star is quieter, stranger in its own way and possibly even better, though it lacks that awe-inspiring rush of seeing so many plates and so much good food just waiting for you to point and eat. The dinner menu is long, photocopied onto dog-eared pages of green construction paper stapled at the spine, written in Chinese, Vietnamese and English. There's another menu, too -- this one a single page, printed on white paper and written entirely in Chinese. It might list special dishes meant only for the neighbors, or could offer mortgages with low down payments, for all I know. My high school didn't offer conversational Cantonese.
Still, the expansive green menu alone holds more than enough adventure for anyone. For any two anyones. There's whole abalone -- a scarce and murderously expensive commodity -- and more abalone served chopped, in sauce, and made into a sauce. And if whole abalone are in short supply in Denver, then shark's fin soup is almost unheard of. But Super Star has it, in a half-dozen varieties -- despite the fact that possession of shark fin is virtually illegal, and the ordering of any that slips onto a menu somewhat prohibited by the cost: $46 for a small bowl.
Of course, I had to try one of the shark's fin soups and found it thick and rich with a deep, earthy, almost fungal flavor barely lightened by shreds of crabmeat that I knew was fresh, because the crabs sat awaiting execution in tanks right next to the kitchen. The broth was shot through with cartilaginous shards of the shark fin itself -- a texture that started out unpleasant when the soup was lava-hot but softened into an oddly appealing stiffness almost like rice noodles as the soup cooled. But it remained, well, shark-flavored.
I had war wonton soup as well, which smelled like coffee grounds and tasted like a dark, powerful pho even before the addition of soup dumplings and sliced scallop, shrimp, cold pork and something spongy that tasted like erasers soaked in cold saltwater so was probably squid.