January 1, 2016

Golden Unicorn | Food Diary & Restaurant Review

, shrimp dumplings
 A little photo diary of New Year Eve's dim sum at the Golden Unicorn

糯米饭 sticky rice

If you've never heard of dim sum, it's essentially the Cantonese equivalent to an English afternoon tea - except it typically takes place during the "brunch" hours. At traditional dim sum restaurants, you'll find waitresses rolling large silver carts with stacks of bamboo steamers, each one filled with food. If the tab is split among several people, it'll be a fairly cheap meal for each person. Each dish costs between $4-6 at the Golden Unicorn, depending on the size. What's also great about dim sum is that many of the dishes are authentic Cantonese food - you won't find the chicken & broccoli or General Tso's chicken here. At the same time, many of the dim sum restaurants have added extra items to their menus to cater to a wider demographic, so you will find spring rolls here and there ;)

The traditional places to eat dim sum in NYC's Chinatown are: Nom Wah Tea Parlor (the oldest establishment in NYC), Jin Fong (slightly less expensive than Golden Unicorn), and of course, Golden Unicorn (the most well known and named one of the best restaurants in NYC by Food and Wine Magazine).

I have been to Jin Fong before, and I didn't find the food to be that satisfying - they had the typical dishes and a variety of Americanized Chinese dishes, but I didn't think that the food met my expectations nor was there enough variety. Yesterday, at the Golden Unicorn, I was surprised to even find a dessert cart full of jellos and custards being pushed around, so I believe that the Golden Unicorn has a wider variety and has better tasting food albeit the prices are slightly higher. At the same time, however, I've noticed in both places that there aren't a lot of steamed buns (or at least I didn't see as many as I would expect to compared to my childhood memories), which I would consider staple food items in dim sum. Maybe it's because many of these buns can be easily bought from any Asian grocery store and the restaurants don't find it as high in demand to sell them?

In addition to the food, environment is key. Both restaurants that I've been to are loud and noisy, full of workers shouting, dishes clanging, and people talking, so don't expect some high-class, Parisian dining here ;) If possible, aim to secure a table farther from the kitchen and doorways for a more "peaceful" experience; we sat next to the kitchen yesterday, and we were constantly surrounded by loud workers yelling, carts being bussed in and out, and hostesses hovering over our table to punch in off-the-menu orders on the nearby machine! Also be prepared to wait on line to get into the restaurant (arriving before 10:30 should allow you to be seated without having to wait at all), but the wait shouldn't take long at all!
肠粉, rice noodles with beef or shrimp inside (get my vegan/gluten-free recipe here)

鳯爪, braised chicken feet (no, I've never tried this)

鹹水角, deep-fried salty pork dumpling
萝卜糕, turnip cake (get my vegan & gluten-free recipe here) 
鲜竹卷, twice cooked (fried and then boiled) bean curd stuffed with meat

芋頭糕, taro cake (similar to the turnip cake!)

马来糕, Malay steamed cake (it's not a Malaysian dish though! - still a Chinese dish)

排骨, steamed ribs (this one is unique - it's also cooked with kabocha, also known as Japanese pumpkin)

鱼蛋, fish balls

 乾炒牛河, Beef chow fun (this was ordered off of a menu, and we asked for chicken instead! According to one of the hosts, this is one of Golden Unicorn's signature dishes)

There were plenty more dishes that we didn't eat, but that's the fun in dim sum - you get to pick what you want and there's always the opportunity to try something new. 

xoxo, han

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