Weekend Lunch: Dim Sum at World Tong in Brooklyn
This may surprise you, but over the weekend I don’t eat lunch in Midtown. (Why would anybody???) I do however feel the same hunger on Saturdays and Sundays that I feel during the week, and my tastes don’t change either (fat man likey good food). So, I’ve decided to share a few of my weekend lunches that would fit the very high Midtown Lunch’ing standards (namely- cheap, fresh, authentic and delicious!)
If you love Dim Sum, aka Chinese brunch where small plates of dumplings and other steamed and fried goodies are served off of carts that roll around the restaurant, it stands to reason you’ve been to the Manhattan Chinatown. If you are serious about finding the best Dim Sum in New York, you’ve probably made the trip down the 7 to Flushing in Queens. And for the most hardcore of fans, there is Sunset Park, the strip of 8th Ave. known to most as “Brooklyn Chinatown”.
But as I found out this weekend, the best Dim Sum in the city may not be in any of those places. It might just be three stops past Sunset Park on the N line, at a little place called World Tong. Formerly home to Joe Ng, who was lured away to the very upscale Chinatown Brasserie in Manhattan, World Tong has been a favorite of hardcore Dim Sum aficionados for awhile, but the train ride (combined with the fact that Joe isn’t there anymore) has kept it mostly under the radar. Hoping to avoid the Chinese New Year crowds, we headed out this weekend to check out what many have called the Best Dim Sum place in New York City.
Dumpling porn, after the jump…
I will readily admit that I am not an expert on most things. I’ll write about hamburgers and pizza you can get in Midtown, but I’m no expert. (I leave that to guys like Ed Levine & Adam Kuban.) I love sushi, and have eaten at some of the more expensive Japanese restaurants in the city… but I don’t think I could tell the difference between really good toro and sublime toro (it all tastes delicious to me!). But if there is one thing that I don’t mind considering myself a connoisseur of, it’s Dim Sum.
After years and years of “research”, in every major Chinatown in North America (Boston, San Francisco, L.A/Monterey Park, Vancouver, and of course New York), I feel pretty confident in my ability to recommend a good Dim Sum place. I also know the pitfalls of taking somebody else’s opinion (i.e. Chowhound or Zagat’s). While occasionally you’ll get lucky, (I’ve read about World Tong very often on Chowhound) many of the posted recommendations or “votes” that go to determining the winner of a “best of” contest, may come from people with a different view of what makes a Dim Sum place good or bad. For example, I love you to death, but if you don’t eat chicken’s feet, how can you determine if a place is the best? I also find that many recommendations come from people who don’t like large crowds, or are intimidated by the process- so they complain about service, or their inability to get food or understand what they’re ordering, at some of the larger, more authentic places. Listen to these people, and you’ll end up eating at the easiest place, not the one with the best food.
For me, here are the key elements in a great dim sum place. Freshness. Quantity. Variety. In many ways, for me, variety is the most important. You can get shu mai (open topped pork and shrimp dumplings), har gau (shrimp dumplings), and pork buns everywhere. What I’m looking for is something new- to be surprised. Show me something I’ve never seen before, and I’ll be hooked.
I tend to like the very large Dim Sum halls, because the more people there are, the more variety there tends to be. Unfortunately, the larger the place is, the more likely you may sacrifice quality for quantity. Small places, some of which ask you to order off a menu, may be fresher and of a higher quality, but the selection is usually smaller, and if they don’t push the food around on carts, it’s not dim sum. I don’t care what anybody says. You might as well just go to a normal restaurant, and order off the menu. Carts is part of (if not most of) the fun.
World Tong in Brooklyn is an aberration. Small (to medium) by most measures, the food never stopped coming. And not just quantity, but variety and quality to boot. All the standard dishes were fresh and delicious, but they gave me some things you don’t get at every Dim Sum place in NYC. And did I mention the food never stopped coming? All the dumplings pictured above were outstanding, but here were a few of the real highlights:
Chicken Feet. Oftentimes the tiebreaker when determining whether a Dim Sum place is just good or something truly spectacular. My brother, a chicken’s feet connoisseur, opined that these may have been the best he’s ever had.
Pork w/ Cracklin. The more the merrier when it comes to Dim Sum… so I invited along some friends- including the first profiled Midtown Lunch’er ever (and co-owner of the Brooklyn Kitchen). This was his favorite dish.
Pork Pie (Innards). Think miniature apple pie, but with roasted pork instead of apples. Wow.
Pig’s feet. I think pig’s feet are my new favorite thing. These weren’t as good as the ones at Hakata Tonton, but delicious nonetheless. (And haven’t you heard? Collagen is good for you!) (Update: Hakata Tonton has been closed by the DOH. Very upsetting.)
Durian Pastry – A perfect gateway food to actual durian, the big spiky fruit whose innards have been said to smell like stinky socks. It is said to have a taste and consistency similar to custard, or a stinky french cheese, with an onion aftertaste. Delicious right? Even better when mixed with sugar and baked into a pastry. The ones I’ve had at Jin Fong in Manhattan’s Chinatown are deliciously sweet and custardy, but at World Tong you get a feel for what durian might actually taste like. Amazing. I think I’m ready for the real thing now…
Ironically, as the N takes you above ground at the southern part of Manhattan, you get a nice overhead view of Chinatown- allowing you a moment to wonder why the hell you are passing all those Dim Sum places to ride another 30 minutes on the train to some little place in Brooklyn. One meal at World Tong, and you’ll never question it again.
World Tong, 6202 18th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11204 (Bensonhurst) (718) 236-8118
Take the N to 18th Ave. It’s on the corner of 62nd St. & 18th Ave.