Congratulations to Best View in Brooklyn for winning a copy of Andrew Coe's new book, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States. Here is a post she wrote about Dim Sum in Sunset Park. Enjoy!
After several less-than-patient attempts to partake of dim sum at Pacificana, I have finally experienced the legendary tidbits and nibbles above the Chase bank on 8th Avenue and 55th Street. I went with a friend who speaks and understands Chinese, and she also was familiar with some of the items I hadn't ever seen. The servers did translate the dishes, so don't worry if you don't know Chinese.
We started out by ordering Chrysanthemum tea instead of the regular green tea. So good. Let it steep for a while after it gets to the table. Fanny also told me that it's polite to tap the table with your fingertips while the server (or your friend) pours tea for you. It basically means "Thank you for pouring my tea."
Other highlights we ordered were shu mai, shrimp dumplings, and some crunchy goodness wrapped in squishy goodness. Fanny had to eat most of that since only the crunchy-squishy goodness was sans meat. We then saw a bun/pastry cart go by. Fanny picked out the durian and egg custard plates. I was a little dubious about eating the durian pastry (pictured below) because I had seen that bizarre foods show with that food guy on that food channel. The durian vendors in his show were stationed far from everyone else due to the smell of the durian fruit. It's also banned in touristy hotels in China and Singapore! Fanny assured me that the taste (and smell) is much different post-cooking than fresh. I would have tried it anyway, just to try it.
However, it was really good! The durian filling is kind of like cooked but uncaramelized Vidalia onions. It was all I could do to save one to bring home for my better half.
The photo below shows some of the other items we tried. From right to left: the egg custard tarts were also quite tasty. Very eggy flavor, and sweet. The greens were excellent, and it was a good thing we ordered them. Nice to have something to help things move along. The turnip cake has chunks of turnip and some pork in it. I did try a little of the turnip chunk, and it was tasty. On the far left is an almond pudding. Very sweet and very good. In fact, it was particularly tasty as a way to cut some of the bitterness of the greens. There is also some hot sauce on the table. You have to order that specifically; just ask for "hot sauce."
The entire meal, Fanny had been talking about fresh tofu pudding. She hadn't had it for years, and we didn't see any going by in the carts. After we'd already ordered an obscene amount of plates (we were there to try lots of stuff - we didn't finish them all!), I saw a server scooping wobbly white stuff into bowls. I'd found it! I was very pleased to make myself useful at Pacificana. So, of course, we had to order a bowl of fresh tofu as well. It was a perfect ending, actually. Very light, the tiniest bit sweet, and it actually tasted like tofu...not spongey shoelaces like some of the pre-packaged tofu can be. Here's what the serving looked like before we attacked it.
What surprised me about Pacificana most was how crowded it was. I mean, it was 11:30 AM in the middle of the week! I thought there would be SOME people there, but the place was FULL. And when it started to thin out at about noon, a new wave of people came in. I have to say, we spent a lot more time there than most. At first we were seated with the maternal side of a family (grandmother, mother, three girls), they finished up while we started, and then a couple of White women came in and they were seated with us. (We three were the only White people there, by the way. Coincidence? I guess we got the kids'/White people's table.) The two women were out of there within 20 minutes...quick lunch. A third party was being seated when we finally had our bill tallied. Perhaps a lot of people use it as a quick, relatively cheap way to have lunch. Anyway, I was amazed by the amount of people in that huge space.
I'll be back, for sure. I know that on the weekends it's best to get there quite early. We were seated almost immediately, so weekday lunch is pretty easy. Enjoy!