Slurped: Rice Rolls at New Spring Garden

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Not long ago, I was sitting in a large, banquet-hall-type Cantonese restaurant, just soaking in the symphony of tea cups clattering, friends chattering, metals carts being wheeled to and fro. There is nothing quite like the din of a large dim sum joint in full swing. I like watching the carts go by, the steam rising from their tops like a locomotive.

I wasn't always so happy to sit back and let things be. In fact I'm ashamed to admit that I was one of those dreadful California transplants, who if given half the chance, would lambaste the quality of Mexican and Chinese food here in New York. But these days, I've mellowed out. No one likes a grouser. Now I'm just looking for two things when it comes to dim sum: Is it fresh? It is piping-hot? Check? Check? Well, alright, then.

Granted, not everything that is fresh should be piping hot, and not everything that is piping-hot is freshly made. But you know what I mean. I'm not shooting for the moon here, I just want my dim sum to be respectable dim sum.

The dim sum at New Spring Garden is definitely respectable, at times great.

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Especially the rice rolls. Those I found to be flawless. I liked best the rice rolls wrapped around you tiao, those foot-long fried cruellers of dough, often eaten for breakfast in China.

The combination is sort of brilliant, I think. It's carb on carb, but since the center is crispy and a little oily, and the exterior is starchy with the sweetness of rice, it almost feels like a dumpling in noodle form. (Does that make sense to anyone else?)

What I'm trying to describe is the completeness of fried cruellers with rice rolls. It is a thing. Like pizza is a thing, or fried chicken. And, like pizza and fried chicken, it tastes very good cold. The you tiao in the center softens, but in the best way.

Maybe there was nothing special about the rolls at New Spring Garden, except that I could find no fault with them at all. Flecks of cilantro were laced throughout, a nice touch for cilantro lovers. (Conversely, perhaps, an unfortunate state of affairs if you are one of those unlucky people who experience the flavor of cilantro as soap, since there's no getting the soapy cilantro out of your rice roll.)

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Everything I ate during the meal was at least decent, if not tasty. But nothing else was exemplary as those rice rolls were exemplary. Tasty things were: steamed buns with duck egg yolk; shrimp har gow (dumplings); glutinous rice fritters with minced meat filling. Decent items were: tripe stewed with turnip; egg tarts; deep-fried taro fritters; pork shu mai. (Sadly, not recommended: the dumplings; the deep-fried smelt.)

Here's another thing I love about dim sum: that the women wheeling the carts are ornery when you ask them to lift the lids on their metal steamers. It's because they know, and you know, that you probably won't take the bait, and so they don't want to waste their precious hot steam on you. Once, faced with an especially withholding steam cart lady, I reached out to lift one of her lids myself, and she slapped my hand so hard it stung. Well played, metal steam cart lady. Well played.

New Spring Garden

912 65th St Brooklyn, NY 11219 (map)
718-680-2289

About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city. Visit her blog, Mostly Tripe.

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