18 East Broadway, New York NY 10002 (at Catherine St.; map); 212-941-0912; goldenunicornrestaurant.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs, elevators
Best Dishes for Kids: Steamed buns, steamed rice rolls
In the past couple of months, after experiencing the fun of dumplings at the Himalayan Yak and reading a very handy SeriousEats Guide to Dim Sum, I've been thinking of trying out dim sum as a family meal. This past week I had the opportunity to get newly re-acquainted with dim sum through a friend who has lived in China (and London, where she says the best dim sum is), and to introduce my daughter to it as well. Dim sum turned out to be an excellent family-friendly dining experience, as variety, portion size, restaurant setup, entertainment, and cost all combine to make parents and children happy.
We'd been warned about the long wait for tables at the Golden Unicorn in Chinatown, but we had no problem getting seated for a weekday noon lunch. The restaurant was just about three-quarters full by the time we left. The Golden Unicorn is located on the second and third floors of a building on East Broadway and Catherine Street, but elevators make it easy to take strollers up. The dining room feels spacious because of the wide aisles required for the food carts that go around the room. The cart ladies serving the dim sum baskets were remarkably sweet to my daughter, playing and joking with her, and indeed, the constant ebb and flow of food in steaming baskets alone keeps the little ones entertained.
The Steamed Rice Roll with Roasted Pork ($3.25) and the Steamed Roasted Pork Bun ($2.95) were by far the most successful dishes with my daughter. She is well-acquainted with pork buns and loves them, so no great discovery there. Still, Golden Unicorn's buns' dough excelled in delicacy, and the sweet-and-sour filling tingled in our tongues.
She had two of the steamed rice rolls, loving not only the pork, sausage and vegetables but also the sticky, slightly sweet rice (easy to pick up for a chopstick novice). To her, the fact that it comes wrapped in a leaf adds to the fun and mystery of the dish; to me, I was glad she was getting carbs, protein and vegetables in one go.
It's also hard to go wrong with the Pan Fried Turnip Cake ($2.95), which balances sweetness from the root vegetables with savory flavors from ham, and a soft interior with a slightly crunchy exterior.
We also had a variety of steamed and fried dumplings, starting with har gau, steamed shrimp dumplings ($3.25). The shrimp's pinkness came beautifully through the ultra-thin skin, and the shrimp itself tasted fresh and flavorful.
In fact, I was pretty impressed by the shrimp at the Golden Unicorn. Whether in dishes like har gau, or the deep fried shrimp rolls ($4.25) where it is the sole meat, or in others such as the siu mai, pork dumplings ($2.95) and the fried sticky pork dumplings ($2.95) where it complements the pork, they had the unmistakable crunchy bite of perfectly cooked fresh shrimp. Similarly, the spinach in the steamed spinach dumpling ($2.95) retained its bite.
For dessert we were somewhat disappointed by the coconut jello, although we could have probably made a better choice from the many desserts still on the cart. The problem was that I was really keen on having a baked egg custard, but they were gone by the time we reached the end of the meal. I am a big fan of Portuguese pasteis de nata, so I am curious to try the Chinese version. Next time I come to the Golden Unicorn (which I will, because there are still so many dishes to try) I will make sure I grab one as soon as they materialize in front of me, and set it aside for the end of the meal.
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