What this area needs is one place where you can get great Cantonese-style dim sum.
Dim sum, for the uninitiated, is basically Chinese tapas: You order a bunch of small plates of different things, and you share everything on the table along with a pot of tea. It’s a nice, relaxed and delicious brunch/lunch option.
But most places around here are missing one or more dim sum staples on their menus, so you can’t get everything you want all in one place.
Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro
WHERE: 8 Wolf Road, Colonie, 431-6520; http://hkbakerybistro.us
HOURS: Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $41.41
MORE INFO: Visa, MasterCard and Discover accepted
So I had high hopes for Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro when it opened recently on Wolf Road in Colonie. Would this be the dim sum spot I’d been searching for?
I brought a Chinese-American dining companion along with me, since he has more expertise about Cantonese food than I do. But at the end of the meal, our opinions of everything were pretty much the same.
Variety of offerings
After squeezing past a crowd by the door, where there’s a bakery case filled with goods for takeout, we were seated and mulled over the menu. I have to say, I was impressed with the variety of offerings, from General Tso’s chicken (it’s not authentic, but lots of people like it) to abalone with mushrooms, something I hadn’t seen on a local menu before.
We ordered the most common dim sum dishes: siu mai, shrimp dumplings, baked roast pork buns, egg-custard tarts, sesame balls and deep-fried taro dumplings. We also got an order of chicken pan-fried noodles to split, just to round out the meal.
We also ordered a pot of jasmine tea. I’ve never been to a Chinese place that charged you for tea rather than just giving it to you free automatically, but here it was 50 cents per person.
The food came very quickly — almost too quickly, it seemed. Usually, the dishes would all arrive staggered as they were ready to be served, but here half of our meal showed up within minutes, and then our server asked if would we like the rest now or in a little bit?
We’d never been asked this question, and we had to wonder, if the food was all ready so soon, why not bring it all? And if it’s ready now and we opt to wait, what happens to it? Does it get cold? We said to bring the rest now, and it showed up immediately.
As we dug in, the pieces of that puzzle started to fall together.
We started with the siu mai, which was the first thing to hit the table. They were good, but the filling was chunky; usually, the filling is made with ground meat, but here, it included chunks of pork. I didn’t mind, but my dining companion was a bit thrown by this textural anomaly.
Next, I picked up a shrimp dumpling with my chopsticks and took a bite. The shrimp inside had a nice snap to them, perfectly cooked, but then I picked up on an odd flavor: Celery? Yes, it was chopped celery, and the flavor of it didn’t belong here; it overpowered the delicate flavor of the shrimp. The celery was taking the place of the usual bamboo shoots, but the substitution just didn’t work.
Also, I noted that the rice-noodle wrapper, which should be steamed so that it’s translucent and a bit chewy, was still opaque and yielded easily under my teeth; it seemed that these were a little bit undercooked.
The taro dumplings were all right, with their little bits of ground meat stuffed inside, but they weren’t spectacular.
The pork buns were a highlight. Baked pork buns are the one thing that’s impossible to find on the menu of any other Chinese place around here, so we were happy to see these. And they were delicious, the warm, slightly sweet bread stuffed with a good amount of barbecued roast pork.
At this point, my companion passed me the little plate of sesame balls: “Here, take one while they’re still warm,” he said.
I picked one up with my fingers, and I was immediately puzzled: They weren’t warm.
They still tasted all right, their crunchy, sesame-seed-covered shells giving way to a chewy exterior and a filling of sweet bean paste. But every other place where I’ve had sesame balls has served them fresh from the deep-fryer, and these had been left sitting around. It wasn’t gross, but it was odd, and cooling made the glutinous dough congeal a bit, so it was less sticky and stretchy than I’m used to. (Trust me, that sounds odd, but it’s delicious.)
The egg-custard tarts were also subject to an odd variation; the crusts, usually made with a flaky pastry, were more of a shortbread here. It wasn’t bad, and the slightly sweet filling was tasty, but the usual flaky crust would have been better.
Finally, we dished up the chicken pan-fried noodles. And here, we were also let down: The noodles weren’t fried enough, and the sauce for the chicken, carrots, snow peas and bean sprouts was very bland. Both of us speculated on what was missing: Ginger? Soy sauce, or oyster sauce? Maybe just more char from the wok?
Trying too hard
And that’s when it hit us: This place was in such a hurry to serve us quickly that they had sacrificed quality. The whole dish could’ve used more time in the wok. The sesame balls had been cooked ahead and allowed to cool rather than being made fresh to order. And the shrimp dumplings had been rushed out of the steamer too soon.
The whole thing runs contrary to the idea behind dim sum: Service should be efficient, sure, but it shouldn’t be rushed, and it shouldn’t sacrifice food quality for speed.
That, coupled with the needless alterations to classic dim sum recipes, makes us reluctant to want to go back here again — except, perhaps, for some of those delicious baked pork buns.