Can you really find authentic dim sum in a gleaming Westfield shopping mall? Can you eat good har gow and shu mai next to Victoria's Secret and Banana Republic? And really, can you trust a place that has a cheesy "Hollywood" theme and an equally cheesy website? My friends, the answer is unequivocally "Yes!"
As we've mentioned, if you want real dim sum you've gotta go to the suburbs. We like China Garden in Rosslyn, but I've long heard tales of glittering dim sum palaces tucked in the faraway lands of Wheaton and Silver Spring. From what I read, Oriental East and Hollywood East were the two not to be missed. Despite sharing a part of their names, they aren't related and each has loyal devotees that swear by one over the other. Well, I'm a sucker for anything Tom Sietsema blesses, and he raved about Hollywood East in his latest dining guide. After a quick text message to our buddies M & A (wouldn't it be cool if they specialized in mergers and acquisitions?), we decided to venture out to Hollywood East on a Sunday morning. The four of us are DC dwellers through and through, and we only had a vague notion of where Wheaton was. "I think it is somewhere in Maryland" was the consensus. Our Droids and car's GPS led the way to the Westfield Wheaton. I could sense B rolling his eyes as we pulled into the mall's parking structure. Mall dim sum? Really?
B rolled his eyes one more time as we arrived at the front entrance to a half-empty restaurant. The rest of us wanted to go early because we'd heard about long wait times on weekends and knew of the long line that forms outside China Garden before the doors open. Well, maybe it is because nobody can figure out where Wheaton is, but it definitely wasn't packed when it opened. By the time we left, however, the place was jumping.
Though it felt a little odd eating dim sum in a mall (in a space that would seem a better match for some Asian-fusion monstrosity), once the silver carts began to speed past, I knew we'd be ok.
We pointed out our favorite dishes and shook our heads at the duck feet, and within 3 minutes had a table full of goodies. Since I was definitely the impetus in our Wheaton excursion, I held my breath as the others took their first bites. Would I forever be blamed for dragging the group (too early on a Sunday morning) to Wheaton for crappy dim sum? A few bites in and . . . Hooooray! The food was really good and they don't hate me!
I don't need to tell you about each dish. If you've had dim sum, you know what this stuff tastes like. If you haven't had dim sum or have only had dim sum in DC, then log off the computer and get your butt in a car and point it toward Wheaton or Silver Spring or some other place off in the distance. This was what dim sum is supposed to be: plump dumplings showcased on silver carts and served with such speed that you're done eating in 10 minutes and hungry again 15 minutes later.
Second Thoughts from B
As J said, I clearly played the "I told you so" card when we arrived at a mostly empty restaurant at 10:30am after being told that there would be an hour wait starting at 10am. While doing so probably won't win me any husband of the year awards, I think the group was happy that I was right. Along the same lines, I was thrilled to have been proven wrong about the lack of quality dim sum in the DC area. So let me say it here publicly, "J, nice job! You were right. Thank you!"
Hollywood East Cafe, with their cheesy website and oddball theme, fits beautifully into my idea of the perfect dim sum place. Consider that I grew up with ABC, NBC, and my grandmother's favorite, CBS, not as network channels but more as the three best options for Chinatown dining. In that case, why would our latest find be all that odd to me? In fact, it makes perfect sense. The owners have clearly found a way to bring Hollywood's Chinese cuisine - in all its delicious, yet quirky glory - to the East coast. Now doesn't that sound like something this pair of transplants would support?