Cafe Society

The dim sum shines at Star Kitchen

For more photos of Star Kitchen's dim sum, go to

I woke up to the sound of pigeons beating themselves against the porch eaves. It was sunny, ridiculously warm and clear, beautiful for Colorado in February. Global warming or whatever. The world was coming to an end, but in the meantime, the pigeons seemed quite pleased.

I was on the couch, and the sun streaming in the windows was blinding — God's own alarm clock. I got up, brushed my teeth, splashed water on my face and ran fingers through my hair. I turned on the TV, but it was full of bad news because these days, there's no other kind. So I decided to go eat. I gathered my jacket, my cigarettes, my phone, my book — Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives. The night before, I'd eaten Indian food in a strip mall in a Russian neighborhood in Greenwood Village; I could smell the faint traces of curry and tandoori spice on my fingers whenever I took a drag off my cigarette. I got in my car and headed out of my Aurora apartment complex. Muslim men stalked the sidewalk in their simple dishdashas, white, cream or pale blue and thin, hanging to their ankles, while the women, clustered in groups, talking, walking quickly, seemed to float in their floral abayas and black hijabs like laughing ghosts. The parking lot of the neighborhood mosque was full, and I wondered if it was a holiday, something special. People streamed in like they knew something I didn't.

It was early — earlier than I usually get up — so I turned a corner, drove a few blocks and stopped at the pho shop across from the Ethiopian restaurant and down from the Korean market for Vietnamese coffee. The Bolaño book was good and the coffee even better, but I didn't linger. The section I was reading (reading again, actually, one of my favorite bits) follows Latin American poets from cafe to cafe, where they sit and drink coffee and read books. They fall in love, too. And eat. The synchronicity brought a touch of magic to the morning and, more, made me even hungrier. So I paid my minuscule tab (like, a dollar), walked out and pointed my car toward the city — past the mosque, past Koreatown, my book about the Chilean and Mexican and Uruguyan poets beside me, headed for the Vietnamese and Mexican neighborhood along South Federal Boulevard and a Chinese brunch. If I were to drive carefully, to choose my route precisely, I could've gone the entire distance without ever slipping the veil, piercing the illusion of otherness, of a world built from no known map, right here in suburban Denver, in the middle of America.

I didn't; I took the highway. But I could have if I'd wanted to.

God, sometimes I love this town.

And I love dim sum. Star Kitchen opened this fall, started by Jong Ng, who'd moved here from Los Angeles, got a job cooking at Super Star Asian and then, when the moment was right — when money and space and availability all came together — went out on his own. He and his wife picked up a forgettable Chinese buffet in a strip mall with a big sign and a small parking lot and flipped it, fast. Four months in, the room — with its slight decor, its greening live tanks in the back full of suckfish and uglyfish and lobsters, its daily specials written in careful, clear Chinese script on colorful sheets of construction paper hung on the walls — still had the feel of a skin-of-the-teeth operation. But also an expert operation, practiced and precise and well thought out. Boiling with trade.

One of the hostesses surveyed the room with cool, squinted eyes, like she was looking at a battlefield; another stood pop-eyed, seemingly stunned by the chaotic ballet of tables coming and tables going and tables turning and the snapping, billowing linen as bussers laid fresh tables for the fresh customers pressing in past those trying to go out the door. Servers and bussers darted everywhere, pushing carts full of dim sum and trolleys full of soups and congee; carrying plastic cafeteria trays loaded with more food that the kitchen just kept turning out, small white plates of steaming broccolini and cabbage and special dumplings and weird, quivering cubes of black beans in gelatin topped with perfect, square caps of white cream.

I got one of the last tables in a room full of tables of twenty, of eight, of one, and asked for tea. The host brought me a pot of fresh green tea, loose-leaf, still steeping. I opened my book, thinking that the place was so busy I'd have to wait for the first cart to come my way, but then quickly closed my book as the cart ladies, having spied me, descended like smiling, dive-bombing Stukas.