Maybe it makes me a tacky American to admit this, but I adore ornate Chinese restaurants. The more dragons, gold paint, big red lanterns and Buddha statues, the better. When you add all that eye candy to the delicious odor of incense mixed with cooking smells, it equals an exotic sensory experience that spears me right through the heart.
Ming Dynasty serves dim sum that comes the closest to an authentic Chinatown experience as you're going to get in Albuquerque. This is high praise, yes, but the service and quality of food is comparable.
The wonderful world of dim sum goes something like this: tiny plates of appetizer-like foods, sweet and savory, hot and cold, priced between $2 and $5 each. You can try a cornucopia of goodies for a decent price. It’s not necessary to order an entrée with dim sum because those plates, little as they may be, will fill you up like you just rolled out of a buffet. Even so, I perused the regular menu first and ordered the crab meat with shark’s fin soup (market price).
Despite the far-from-pedestrian ingredients, the soup was fairly unadorned, resembling a giant bowl of egg drop soup. It was prepared well and had a reasonable amount of crab, but I didn't care for the consistency of the shark’s fin. Reminiscent of sea cucumber, I intensely disliked the gelatinous nature of the fin, which looked a lot like rice vermicelli. I went into it knowing shark fin doesn't have a particularly defined flavor, but since it's Cantonese delicacy, I figured it was worth a try. It's not for everyone.
But dim sum is the real focus of Ming Dynasty. Affable owner Mihn Tang has made it easy for uninitiated diners to partake in this Chinese meal with an organized dim sum menu—dishes are grouped by price and include individual pictures.
I ordered chilled mango pudding (note: Chinese pudding means gelatin) and coconut cake from the $2.35 list. From the $2.65 group I chose—deep breath—steamed spareribs, steamed barbecue pork buns, stewed chicken feet, baked barbecue pork pies, baked barbecue pork buns and beef balls. Stuffed bell peppers and deep-fried eggplant, both with shrimp paste, and scallop dumplings came from the $3.35 menu. The top tier items were $4.35 per plate, of which I chose ox stew, stuffed crab claws, stir-fried Chinese broccoli and seafood salad rolls.
It was the greatest mouth-stuffing glut-party I’ve had in months. The little plates and steamer trays just kept coming. And coming. The steamed spareribs were fatty but tender as hell, the steamed pork buns were sweet and meaty, and the beef balls were small but tasty globes of minced beef. Mihn told me they had a run on chicken feet earlier in the day and were sold out. Fine with me—the pork pies were succulent and sweet, the bell peppers stuffed with shrimp paste pretty and tasty, and I loved the starchy yet translucent coating on the scallop dumplings.
This was an edible orgy, and I was cramming my maw like a filthy hedonist while the little plates kept-a-comin’. I didn’t care for the crab claws—too much breading, but the seafood rolls were hot little pockets lined with crab and shrimp. Chinese broccoli, laced liberally with oyster sauce, was fantastic against all the meats, seafoods and starches. Chinese broccoli is in the same family as our American version, only this vegetable has tiny florets that blossom from tender leaves and stems.
My unexpected favorite of the meal turned out to be the ox stew; a hearty bowl of tripe, sliced beef marrow and onions piled high over the richest, meatiest broth imaginable. Tripe is not usually my thing, but the marrow was ruby red and moist, and flavored the broth with a blood-mineral-fat combination that was just intoxicating.
I cooled off with a refreshing, sugary bowl of mango gelatin laced with sweet cream. Little squares of coconut cake were the perfect end to my gluttonous feast.
Dim sum, also spelled diem sum, literally translates as “a little bit of heart” in Cantonese. I propose another translation: “a tummy the size of an apartment building.”
The Alibi Recommends:
• Ox soup
• Chinese broccoli
• Steamed pork buns
• Owner Mihn says, “Come in on weekends from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the traditional dim sum steam cart experience!”
Ming Dynasty, 1551 Eubank NE, 296-0298. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day. Price range: inexpensive to moderate. Credit cards, large parties, kids' menu, catering, party trays, vegetarian items.