Dim Sum Truck Has “Tough” Opening Day
I love street food and covered it with Rain Man like precision in NYC, but at this point I feel like there is little left that would surprises me in the new school food truck scene. Grilled cheese? Sure. Peruvian food? Why not. Asian food in taco form from a truck whose name rhymes with “kogi”? Uh… yeah. In other words, just when I thought I couldn’t get excited anymore, a new truck goes and gets me all super giddy. Dim sum… my all time favorite food… from a truck? Here we go.
For a white guy I consider myself fairly well versed in the ways of dim sum. I don’t know the Chinese name for anything (besides shu mai and har gow), and still resort to pointing… but I have a pretty general idea what most things are (based on experience, shape, color, etc.) I like the giant places, where pandemonium rules and you might have to stalk items across long distances (like a hunter with a punch card in place of a spear.) I like carts, and lots of them (dim sum that you have to order off a menu is not real dim sum imo.) And to the delight of most dim sum cart pushers, this short fat Jewish guy loves chicken feet. I also know that in New York, if you want good dim sum you go to Brooklyn (or maybe even Flushing… but never Manhattan.) And in L.A. dim sum fans all head east to the (at this point incredibly well known) San Gabriel Valley.
In other words, if you want awesome “dim sum” you’re clearly not going to get it from a truck parked in Santa Monica! And yet there I was yesterday, “punch card” in hand, as excited as I possibly could be to try the brand new “Dim Sum Truck”. And you know why? Because we don’t work in Monterrey Park.
Yesterday was the Dim Sum Truck’s official “opening day” for lunch, although last week they had a soft opening where they cagily encouraged fans to try and find them (via twitter, naturally) and personally invited bloggers to come sample the food. Deep End Dining said the siu mai was the most satisfying he’s every had (anywhere), Noms Not Bombs liked everything but the pork buns (via LAist), and the Gastronomy Blog thought none of it would have been out of place in the San Gabriel Valley. THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME! Although I was slightly concerned that none of the posts had prices on them, and of course cooking up food for a bunch of invited bloggers during a soft opening is different then dealing with a lunch rush of hungry Yahoo & Lions Gate employees lined up on Pennsylvania Ave. In other words… I was still a little curious how well they were going to be able to pull this off for real customers.
By 12:30 word had gotten out, and a crowd had already gathered (much to the dismay, I’m sure, of the far less busy trucks on the block.) By 1pm they had run out of pork buns, and by 1:15 they had stopped taking orders. And then, to add insult to injury they got a ticket for parking in Santa Monica! (Apparently right now their permit is only for L.A. county, but they’re working to fix that.) Not a good start… but luckily we got there early enough to score some food.
The Dim Sum Truck’s ordering system is actually pretty well thought out. You fill out a little sheet with what you want, hand it in, pay and wait for your name to be called. I was half expecting to see giant steamer baskets in the truck… which would make service go super fast (after all, you know they’re not rolling the dumplings to order.) I couldn’t really tell exactly how they were filling the orders, but it wasn’t as easy as just packing up already completely cooked dumplings and handing them over (our order took maybe 20 minutes?) Of course that’s nothing compared to some of the trucks I’ve been hearing about (grilled cheese truck, I’m looking at you) and this was their first day with real customers, so I’m sure it will get quicker. We ordered almost one of everything…
Hello giant container of dim sum! Clockwise from upper left: shrimp and chive dumplings ($2.50), pork and sausage sticky rice ($3.50), har gow/shrimp dumplings ($2.50), shu mai/shrimp and pork dumplings ($2.50). Everything was plenty tasty, and was clearly made with quality ingredients (although nothing was super hot.)
The shrimp stuffing in the har gow was top notch.
And the shu mai were definitely good.
The only big dumpling disappointment was the gow choy (shrimp and chive dumplings). I prefer the round version, which usually comes stuffed to max with chives and has a nicely crisped bottom. These weren’t stuffed enough, and at 2 for $2.50 are too expensive compared to the other two dumpling options.
My favorite dish of the four was probably the sticky rice with pork and sausage wrapped in lotus leaf. At $3.50 it’s also too expensive for what you get, but the rice was tasty and it even had a real shrimp in it in addition to the mushrooms, pork and a bite of chinese sausage. (Usually it only has small dried shrimp.)
Pork buns (they serve the baked kind) would normally be an automatic order, but by the time our platter was being put together they had run out (it was around 1pm). So we had to go without. They also don’t serve their duck tacos during lunch… so don’t count on getting those either.
The OBLIGATORY CHICKEN ORDER. If you don’t eat pork and shrimp, there’s not a lot for you at The Dim Sum Truck (sorry vegetarians and chicken addicts of L.A.!) The chicken bun with ginger is pretty much your only option. Actually that’s not entirely true… they claim that they will be offering chicken feet at some point soon. Although if your go-to lunch order is chicken breast, I doubt feet is something you’d be interested in! The bun was my least favorite thing of the day. I actually prefer steamed buns over baked buns, but this one was cold and too dense in some parts, and had a bit of a crust at the top. Served fresh, I’m sure they would taste better. Although two small’ish steamed chicken buns for $3 is bordering on too expensive for me…
Now that I look back, though, the real star of the show was their sweet garlicky “secret sauce”. It made everything taste better and taken in context with everything else really shows that these guys can cook. As for whether or not it’s great dim sum? That’s entirely dependent on your expectations.
All in all, first day jitters aside, the Dim Sum Truck is going to be loved by some and equally hated by others. If you are a dim sum fanatic, who is more interested in experience and variety of options over how good a version of har gaw a place makes- you’ll likely be disappointed by The Dim Sum Truck (or any dim sum truck for that matter.) But if you work anywhere west of Downtown L.A., and want some decent dumplings for lunch, this will be a nice addition to your list of lunch options. I wouldn’t drive across the city looking for the Dim Sum Truck, but if they parked outside my office I’d partake.
It will be interesting to see if they can maintain quality as their popularity grows and they’re faced with growing crowds. Yesterday was a little dicey, but clearly they’re just getting started….
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I love dim sum. I love trucks. This is awesome!!!
- They are using quality ingredients
- Their “secret sauce” makes everything taste amazing
- I’m a little scared of real dim sum restaurants… dim sum from a truck is so much less intimidating!
- I don’t have time to drive to the San Gabriel Valley during lunch. I’ll take what I can get.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I like dim sum for the variety. And the carts. The menu on the dim sum truck is too limited, and ordering from a truck takes all the fun out of it
- During lunch rush, it can take awhile to package the orders
- $3.50 for one small pouch of sticky rice? Get the fuck out of here
- No duck tacos during lunch? That sucks!
- You can get far better dim sum at real restaurants for cheaper. Why do I need to eat it off a truck?
- $10 worth of food from this truck doesn’t really fill me up
- I’m not going until they add chicken feet