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Archive for February 13th, 2010

Central Seafood

13 Feb


Place: Central Seafood, 285 North Central Avenue, Hartsdale, NY

Attendees: Andrew, Beir, Jeffrey, Pat, Reid, Shelley, Sylvia, Yuee

Jeffrey

In honor of Chinese New Year, the Westchester Breakfast Club went to Dim Sum at Central Seafood in Hartsdale. This is one of the only two places I know of in Westchester that serves Dim Sum. Over the years I’ve been asked to explain exactly what Dim Sum is to non-Chinese people who have never been to such a meal. Over the years, my definition has been evolving into a more coherent explanation. Well, here’s my time to shine. Finally, I will have to put into print a somewhat understandable explanation for all to read. Wish me luck, and here we go.

It all starts out with being seated at a table in the middle of a large dining hall, much as any restaurant. On each table, there’s a teapot, which we’ll get into later, and a ticket so that servers can mark how much you owe the establishment. Usually servers push around carts that contain various foods, which are kept warm by some device inside. The dishes range from small to large, and the price varies depending on the size of the dish. As the servers pass by each table they announce what they have to offer and if you would like anything you just tell them what you want and they will take it out and put it in the middle of the table. They will then proceed to mark or sometimes stamp, depending on the establishment, your ticket on the table.

The food stays in the middle of the table with the idea being that it’s a communal meal. Unlike typical American meals, the dim sum dishes aren’t passed around, so if you’d like something, you just reach over and scoop in onto your plate. The dishes are not large dishes. They are small. Maybe they are small in order to have a larger variety available.

Most of the dishes are normal foods and are usually eaten with no reservation by any American who has never experienced Dim Sum before. Other foods are rather different, but should at least be sampled by all. Such a dish is the beef tripe. It is an awkward idea, eating a stomach lining of a cow, but I swear, it tastes good to me. Some people at the table tried it for the first time and did not appreciate the flavor.

Another dish that I think is delicious but that may be strange to the unfamiliar diner is chicken feet. They are fried and then lathered in some sort of sauce. You don’t actually eat the whole thing. All you do is put a piece in your mouth and suck the meat and skin off the bone, then spit the bones out onto the plate. Some individuals were opposed to this dish, but were brave enough to at least try.

Not all dishes at a dim sum have to be ordered at a cart. Although we didn’t do it, you are allowed to order from a menu. Orders can consist of rice and noodle dishes that are large and are meant to feed the table. This is common practice with a large crowd but we, for one reason or another, did not do this.

During the meal, tea was constantly being poured. Every time someone’s cup was not filled to the top, in swooped a teapot, most of the time carried by me, to top off the cups. And even if the cup was full, I would come in and dribble a drop into the cup. It would seem a peculiar practice but to a Chinese person, this would be commonplace. In order to serve myself tea, I would have to first serve everyone else at the table. Why? Maybe out of respect. Maybe out of courtesy. All I know is that is how I was taught when I was a kid.

This review has been long, I know. Is it necessary? Probably not, but I am using it as an outlet to never again be asked, “What is Dim Sum?” and stand there and not have an answer.

Shelley:

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!

This was my very first dim sum experience, and I’m glad I had the Louie siblings there to hold my hand.

Based on what I read about Central Seafood on the internet beforehand, the restaurant apparently offers the closest cuisine to Chinatown that one can find up here in Westchester. It presents, from what I understand, a pretty traditional dim sum experience. The servers roll carts around, stop at your table, and you indicate whether you’d like some of what they have. We left it to the Louies to decide what we should and shouldn’t get for the table.

We arrived shortly after opening, and the restaurant quickly filled up with a combination of your average weekend diner along with families celebrating the new year.

I didn’t sample everything (I was not brave enough to try the chicken feet and tripe). The items I did try, though, I enjoyed. And, for the record, I used my chopsticks the whole time–and used them well!

I started off with the steamed vegetable and shrimp dumplings. Encased in a delicate dough wrapping was a mix of green vegetables and shrimp, which was nicely seasoned. The dumpling was light, making it a good choice for starting off a meal earlier in the day.

I next sampled some brown sticky rice, which contained pork and shrimp. This too was nicely seasoned, with some scallion accents providing nice flavor bursts. The pork cubes were tender, not too chewy, and cooked well. The shrimp, however, was undetectable.

Next up for me was a pork bun. This was delicious, my favorite item from the meal. BBQ pork was encased in a perfectly round, glazed, slightly sweet bun. It’s basically a pork sandwich, only all wrapped up so there’s no dripping. I went in for a second helping of this.

Following the pork bun I had some green vegetables.

For dessert, I had a small egg custard tart and some coconut gelatin. I preferred the coconut gelatin over the egg custard tart. I didn’t feel that the tart had much flavor–I would have wanted a bit more sugar in it. The gelatin was nicely flavored, with a subtle taste of coconut, and had a pleasant creamy consistency.

There was, indeed, something for everyone at this dim sum meal. The dishes that I did not sample were: chicken and rice wrapped in a banana leaf; shirmp dumplings; beef wrapped in noodle; shrimp wrapped in a noodle; fried vegetable dumplings; almond pudding; mango pudding, and the aforementioned chicken feet and tripe.

The ambiance was nothing special and is typical of any suburban Chinese restaurant–some glowing photographs of landscapes in China on the wall, pink tablecloths, and large fish tanks at the entrance. The pricing seemed reasonable to me–my contribution was $15, which I thought was fine given the variety of food.

Central Seafood provided me with a good introduction to dim sum. I’d go back for dim sum again, and would also like to give them a try for lunch or dinner.

Sylvia

The place fills up quickly. We were there when they opened at 11:30, and before we knew it, the place was bustling. The pushcarts were frequent, although it seemed that the same cart kept coming around to our table, which limited variety a bit. There were also waiters carrying dishes around to tables. Despite it being busy, it was not difficult to get a waiters attention to fulfill water and fork requests. The food itself was really good. They had many of my favorites, and many offered dishes were more of the safe dishes that are more palatable to the Western tastes. With exception to the chicken feet (a dim sum staple, and if they didn’t offer it, it would have been points off in my book), and the tripe, everything was safe. This being Westchester, the variety they offered, was more than sufficient.

A run down of what we had:

Steamed pork buns, Chinese chive dumplings, shrimp siu mai, pork siu mai, pork buns, har gow (shrimp dumplings), chinese greens, Lo mai gai (chicken sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf), sticky rice, steamed pork cheung fun, steamed shrimp cheung fun, tofu skin roll, mini egg tart, mango pudding, daufufa with mixed fruit on top, coconut jelly squares and sesame balls.

Pat:

What I had: Dim Sum!

What it cost: About $15 per person

Worth it: Yes, with reservations

The Rating: 3.5/5

The details: The first rule of Dim Sum is have an open mind. There are going to be options that look familiar to those of us with an affinity for Americanized Chinese food, and there are going to be options that…well..one might not regularly encounter. This restaurant had more of the latter than the former. Overall, the food was tasty, if not exemplary, and I was pretty satisfied with my meal. The first dish they brought out was Shrimp wrapped in a big flat noodle, topped off with Soy sauce. It essentially looked like a greasy white crepe. It was a little bland, though the shrimp was cooked to a perfect al dente consistency (the noodle was soggy – the opposite of al dente). Next they brought a series of dumpling like foods. The standout here was the steamed pork buns, which were light and fluffy and stuffed with a delicious, sweet pork (though not nearly enough of it). Of the other dishes I tried, I like the steamed sticky rice and ground meat steamed in a banana leaf, and this delicious vegetable concoction that I’ve spent the last five minutes racking my brain for a way to describe with no success. The sesame balls were a delicious, if suggestive dessert. Of course, no dim sum sampler is complete without trying some of the more…exotic offerings, in this case tripe and chicken feet. Needless to say, there’s a reason we don’t usually eat these parts of the animals. Overall though, the experience was a good one, and if you’re in the mood for dim sum, Central Seafood seems as good a place as any to go.

The Recommendation: Try it!

Bair:

The other day, I, Bair, was taken to a Chinese Restaurant for some Dim Sum. There…ahhhh, I lost my train of thought. Hold on. There, I ate some Chinese Dim Sum. It was…Chinese Dim Sum. I enjoyed some of the food, in particular, the Mango Jello dessert thing, and the steamed pork bun thing

Andrew and Yuee

There are probably 6 dishes that comprise the core dim sum dining experience. these dishes are generally only eaten during dim sum and not any time else and are always available at any restaurant that serves dim sum.Thus it makes a good benchmark for comparing various dim sum places. they are:

1) beef/shrimp in a rice crepe

2) shui-mai

3) ha gow

4) chinese-chives fried dumpling

5) mushroom/pork wrapped in tofu skin and steamed

6) chicken feet

The beef/shrimp crepe:

It wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible

It was steamed a little too long making the whole thing mushy. the beef was not that flavorful and also suffered from too much steam time.

the shrimps were small compared to the rice crepe making it look like little sad.

overall a 3 out of 5

The shui-mai:

I think i got a piece of bone in mine, and the pork was too salty.

2/5

ha-gow:

I didnt try this one

The chinese-chives fried dumplings

The skin was perfectly fried crispy but the chives inside were rather mushy.

2/5

Mushroom/pork wrapped in tofu skin:

Too much sauce, other than that it was good. the whole roll was firm, and the mushroom was springy and tasty.

3/5

Chicken feet:

The were small, covered in too much sauce and way too mushy.

1/5

Overall the dim sum here is decent. the place suffers from poor variety and creativity. It aim to just serve the core dim sum experience without much in the way of presentation.

overall 2/5

Reid

In dim sum, as in life, it’s all about choices. And when your choices are tripe and chicken feet, you’ve probably made a wrong turn somewhere along the line.

Of course, I kid. No matter the dim sum establishment, dishes that put white people out of their comfort zone are part of the experience. However, when the fact that you tried tripe and chicken feet and didn’t particularly like or hate either is the only salient memory you have of the food at a Dim Sum place, you’ve probably made a wrong turn somewhere along the line.

No one could expect every dish one gets at a dim sum place to knock your socks off. Part of the fun is trying a few things that you don’t like. But there should be a couple of dishes which really blow you away, and make you remember the whole dim sum experience. Six months later, I still remember the chicken buns I had at a dim sum place in the International District of Seattle. Less than five days later, all I can remember about Central Seafood is mediocre tasting tripe, chicken feet, and drinking too much tea.