Dim Sum Go Go Is No Go: The Search For My Birthday Dinner Begins
Peter Tatara - March 14, 2009
I was born on January 2nd, and my girlfriend was born just two days prior, on December 31st. This is just one of the many peculiar, intriguing parallels we share. Another fun example, I assassinated Abraham Lincoln, and my girlfriend shot John F. Kennedy. Anywho, back in December, with these dates coming in only a few, scant weeks, we decided we should start shopping around for a place to celebrate our birthdays -- an orgy of food, drink, friends, meth, and maybe a little sex. This is the overly-elaborate start of the unimportant story that I will in all likelihood never complete about the restaurant my girlfriend and I decided to celebrate our 2009 birthdays at with the dozen or so people on this planet we don't hate.
While picking a restaurant out of the half million that occupy the greater New York City metropolitan area for this party may seem like an easy thing that could be divined by a manner as simple as walking five feet in any direction or as abstract as pulling a name from a hat which had been previously filled with the names of every restaurant within a 20 block radius of our apartment which had been previously torn from the pages of a phone book which had been previously stolen from our neighbor in Apartment B2 as we do not currently own a phone book. Both these methods and many more were discussed but deemed convoluted and/or retarded by my girlfriend.
So, we proceeded with Plan B, talking it over like mature adults. My girlfriend wanted to go to someplace chic. I wanted to go to IHOP. While the International House of Pancakes, admittedly, is a terrible, terrible choice, because I'm conscious of this, IHOP is rendered kitschy and clever. Right? Not according to my girlfriend or, as it turns out, anyone else I polled. I didn't give up, though, and proceeded to call the whole lot racist. See, NYC's only IHOP is in Harlem. This didn't really help, nor was it entirely true -- there are a few more International Houses of Pancakes in the NYC area including one not far from Astoria. With no one wanting to eat in Queens, either, I again played the race card. It and I were again dismissed.
After a few more hours of "discussion", my girlfriend and I arrived at a consensus -- our birthday dinner would be equidistant from IHOP and chic -- dim sum.
I consulted Mr. Sevakis, a friend who I trust implicitly in all gastronomical matters, and he raved about a little dim sum spot in Flushing that's open until 2 AM. Turns out, though, that Sevakis's place isn't just the best place to get dim sum at 2 AM, it's also the only place to get dim sum at 2 AM, as with dim sum being a traditional Chinese breakfast, it's rare to find it served outside of morning. Sadly, while Sevakis's place may have been good, the idea of traveling to Flushing for food sat even less well than going out to Astoria for grub with many of my and my girlfriend's acquaintances who cling to Manhattan as if blessed with eternal life only so long as they never leave the island.
This sent me searching for other dim sum options, and after a wee bit of research, I stumbled upon a haute spot that serves dim sum morning, noon, and night buried deep within Chinatown. Dim Sum Go Go (5 East Broadway) is the collaboration of a French-American food writer and a Hong Kong chef and has received rave reviews New York Magazine and Time Out New York. It looked good on paper, so my girlfriend and I ventured over one snowy night to take a bite for ourselves.
As I just said, it was a snowy night. In fact, it was the worst snowy night of the year. Yet, as my girlfriend works right by City Hall, I figured it wouldn't be too bad getting to Chinatown from her office. More than that, I figured it would be easier to walk than catch the subway. I was very wrong on both accounts. While the trip would have been a simple matter any evening during the spring, summer, fall, or -- hell -- any other evening in the winter, my girlfriend and I meandered through the dark, wet, cold streets, groping for Confucius Plaza and the tiny stretch of East Broadway brushing it, for well over an hour. We stopped at one point and ducked into Kam Man Market for a few minutes so that my feet -- frozen all the way through -- would thaw.
Once there was a semblance of feeling in my toes again, we headed back out. My feet were frozen again after the first slushy puddle. Should we have turned back? Yeah. Did we? No. The rationale was that we were close and it made no sense to turn back now. So we soldiered on until we found it. Standing out from the ramshackle shops the size of closets specializing bootlegs, knockoffs, and counterfeits it was nestled amid, Dim Sum Go Go glowed with a bright and clean (and kitschy and garish) red and white exterior. Inside, we found the restaurant possessed a much more chic feeling. A black and white mural adorning one wall and the rest of the restaurant laid out with determinedly minimalist decor, the place looked good. And also empty.
My girlfriend and I were the only customers.
Yes, it was snowy. Yes, it was icky. Yet, all the other restaurants we passed were far from empty. Instead, the opposite. Everything from the little hole in the wall take-out kitchens to the big banquet halls were packed. Dim Sum Go Go's absolutely barren dining room didn't bode well, but we had come this far, braving darkness and frostbitten feet, so we sat down.
You'd think with us being the only customers, the service would be pretty exemplary -- or at least decent -- but I'm sad to report it was pretty, thoroughly, entirely the opposite. Despite a smartly designed space and menu (we'll get to that), the wait staff was the typical Chinese restaurant assortment of children and geriatrics for whom the English language is but a meaningless miasma produced by their annoying American patrons.
Dim Sum Go Go's entire staff spent a few minutes eyeing us before bringing us a menu and then the rest of the evening staring at us while we waited (too long) for our meal.
Let's get too that meal. The menu had a fine selection of dim sum as well as a wide breadth of both American and authentic Chinese dishes, and I loved the clearly defined vegetarian options. I didn't love, though, the prices, which were jacked up well beyond double what you paid for dim sum at any other place in Chinatown. We ordered a few dumplings and pancakes, a generous sampling of dim sum, and some comically pricey mock shark fin. We then waited.
The table was set with a menagerie of dried, salted legumes for us to pick at, which we did. Well, I did. My girlfriend didn't touch 'em and cautioned me from doing so, too, but I was hungry and finished the bowls while waiting for anything to show up. When it did, while it all looked distinct, delicious, and intricate, it was all kinda meh. The dumplings and pancakes were average, the dim sum all bland, over-steamed mush, and the mock shark fin nothing but watery scrambled eggs and bean sprouts. Huh?
We ate it all, whispering back and forth so that the staff, still staring, couldn't hear us. I couldn't really fathom what could have inspired the raves we'd seen in New York Magazine. I also couldn't imagine why we didn't get a single refill of our waters or tea. Eventually, two hot chicks came in and the staff (understandably) turned their eyes to them. With the attention off my girlfriend and myself, we spoke a bit less closetedly about our meal.
Why'd this suck so much? Is it 'cause we were the only customers? Honestly, since we were the only folks here, shouldn't the cook have been able to put his all into this? How the fuck is this supposed to be shark fin?
The check came, my eyes went wide, and I paid the over-inflated scribble on the bill. As we walked back out onto the street, my girlfriend and I were of the same mind that nothing we saw at Dim Sum Go Go made us want to celebrate our birthdays there -- or come back ever again. Actually, no. Whenever I go to someplace crappy, I immediately want to try it again, to give it another chance, to see if my terrible meal was just a fluke. My girlfriend is smarter than me, and we haven't revisited Dim Sum Go Go since.
While the joint's definitely got some good PR and sports a bright atmosphere inviting to whitie, what's inside isn't anything different or better than the average Chinatown joint. Hell, it's worse. Everything we tried was uninspired and hollow, imitations of the flavors and dishes that make Chinese food great. I've got no doubt Dim Sum Go Go has its passionate, regular customers, but I also have no doubt this clientele have never actually been to dim sum.
My girlfriend and I both knew we had to continue our birthday search and put together a short list of potential eateries on the way home, and as we left the subway, we both also knew that Dim Sum Go Go didn't fill us up at all -- so we stopped at our favorite neighborhood Chinese joint, Golden Wok (42-18 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside), to grab some lo mein.