202 Centre Street, New York, NY 10013 (Between Hester and Grand; map); redeggnyc.com
Service: Cheerful and professional
Setting: Comfortable and spacious, if a bit tacky
Must-Haves: Steamed beef rolls, Red Egg shrimp dumplings, steamed pork ribs with black olive
Cost: $2.75 to $6.50 per dim sum dish
Having grown up hitting the cart-based gigantic Chinese palaces of New York and Boston's Chinatowns for my dim sum fix, I've never really considered menu-based dim sum as a viable dining option. Somehow, checking off boxes and waiting for your food to come is just not quite as fun as pointing at what you want from a stack of steamers.
But the truth of the matter is, the quality of the food you get at check-the-box-and-wait establishments is often much higher than at the cart-based operations. It's a simple matter of freshness and volume. At a normal restaurant, say, the very fine 88 Palace on East Broadway, you might get lucky and get a perfectly fresh steamed rice roll. On the other hand, you may get one that's been lurking at the bottom of the steam cart for a good couple circuits around the dining room, arriving at your table over-steamed and soggy.
Never a problem with order-as-you-go restaurants.
At Red Egg on Centre Street, the game is upped even more with higher quality ingredients, fresher preparation, and more interesting flavors than at your typical dim sum restaurant.
The space itself is decent. Clean, spacious, and comfortable, if a little tacky (seems like some level of tackiness is a prerequisite for a dim sum restaurant). While they do have a full menu featuring lunch specials and interesting takes on Chinese American and Cantonese classics (try their awesome Beef Chow Fun), their dim sum is their strongest point.
You can't go wrong with any of their expertly wrapped dumplings with translucent, stretchy skins wrapped around plump and crisp shrimp, pork, or taro-based fillings; while their rice rolls, steamed fresh to order, hit that perfect sweet spot between tender and chewy. The plain cilantro versions are a little bland. Order the stuffed rolls if you want a bit more flavor.
What's amazing to me is that despite using much better ingredients, being prepared with more care, and being served in a much friendlier, relaxed environment than your typical dim sum restaurant,* the prices are still extremely reasonable. Dim sum dishes start at $2.75 a plate for simple dumplings and siu mai and max out at $6.50 for house specials. The majortiy of the dishes fall in the $3.75 to $4.50 range, and most are pretty sizeable.
*Our waitress continuously gave us two thumbs up with the exclamation "awesome!"
There are tiny hints at a few East-West fusion elements going on in the menu, though they never go full fusion on you (that's a good thing). For the most part, they're successful. Particularly good is a black olive sauce that they use to replace fermented black soy bean sauces in several dishes, including pai gwut, the slippery starch-coated steamed spare ribs.
The advantage of made-to-order dim sum shows itself nowhere better than with fried dishes. Coming straight from the fryer to your table, there's no danger that you'll ever be served a lukewarm or greasy deep fried dish at Red Egg. All of the ones we tried were uniformly crisp, hot, and grease-free.
Though the prices at dinner are a little higher (they start at $4.50 and go up to $8), if you get there on a weekday between 4 to 7, you'll bear witness to the best dim sum deal in town: half price on every single thing on the dim sum menu. That's right. Not only is it better than anything at a dim sum palace, but it's cheaper too.
You should plan on ordering at least two to three dishes per guest.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.