Eating dim sum should never be a solo experience. It's just too much fun, and there's too much variety to attempt it on your own. Last time I tried, I was full after a couple of steamer baskets of dumplings and still wanted to try at least a dozen other items on the menu. The best dim sum parlors are typically banquet hall-sized Chinese restaurants ringing with the clamor of guests, where cart-pushing wait staff offer treasures of small bowls, steam baskets and plates filled with all manner of little bites. Yes -- the expected dumplings and buns, but also ribs, chicken feet, stir-fried vegetables, the occasional soup and maybe some rolls or crepes. China Jade Dim Sum and Seafood, a smallish version of the standard, lacks the crowds and the carts, opting instead for sushi-style menus and pencils so guests can check off their dim sum and stir-fried plates in Chinese, English or Vietnamese. A standard menu is also available with more of the promised seafood, but I hardly glanced at it; the dim sum menu had more than enough unique and intriguing options.
My friend Dave was running a few minutes late, so Amy and I had already checked a few selections on the menu by the time he sat down. He added his preferences and our waitress vanished with the list, leaving us a little uncertain of our final decisions and whether we had ordered enough food. Soon, though, wave after wave of metal steamers, plates and bowls began to arrive: sweet and yeasty buns filled with chopped savory barbecued pork, pale steamed versions with the same meat filling, crunchy spring rolls, rough-chopped duck breast in a sweet and fatty jous. And that was just the first round. Pale braised pork ribs, stir-fried green beans with oyster sauce, gelatinous turnip and sausage cakes, and steamed buns with bean paste soon followed. As we picked our way through each dish, the waitress brought a round of rice crepes with sausage and shrimp, shingles of bell pepper topped with shrimp paste, baked buns with custard filling, and delicate translucent dumplings with an equally delicate filling of shrimp and minced vegetables. It was all too much food, but it came at a good pace for a leisurely late morning meal. We chatted about the flavors and textures -- from the slippery crepes with their thin but complex black sauce to the garden-fresh snap of the green beans to the boney cuts of tender duck and not-so-tender pork ribs, each bite washed down with a sip of chrysanthemum tea from our communal pot. We were just at the point of figuring out who would take home which of the many leftovers when the waitress delivered one last round: flash-fried sesame balls with molten, sweet bean centers and oddly dense meatballs wrapped in the thinnest of shumai skins. Of course we all groaned at the excess; of course we all dug in and enjoyed. The waitress brought Styrofoam to-go containers for us to divvy up the remnants. Her smile gave away her thoughts: She must have known that we had over-ordered, but I think she was just a little impressed at our stamina. Almost everything went into the containers; only the turnip cakes got left behind as unlikely candidates for reheating or eating cold. And even more amazing than the amount of food we managed to pack away was the final bill itself -- all this variety and flavor for little more than $20 each. A meal of dim sum is the quintessential small-plate experience. It's akin to the hip and trendy menus offering fussy tapas and artfully arranged bites meant to be shared -- only it's actually cheap. China Jade (not to be confused with the Szechuan restaurant of the same name in Aurora) also has a full bar, so a shared meal could potentially become even more convivial and boisterous. But the true charm of dim sum is relaxing, slowly taking in the variety, enjoying the company of friends, feeling the warmth of the morning sun through the storefront windows, and letting the restaurant guide you through a little journey of savory, sweet and back again. Keep reading for more photos of China Jade.
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