Hong Kong Tea House & Restaurant Inc.
565 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-531-7010
Great dim sum and tea selection make this out-of-the-way restaurant worth seeking out.
Hours: T-F, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; S-Su, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Liquor: Beer & Wine
Recommended Dishes: Peking duck, deep-fried stuffed tofu, pan-fried potstickers, stuffed shrimp paste eggplant.
January 3, 2007
Dim sum stars at Hong Kong Tea House
By Lesli J. Neilson
I am always in search of great dim sum places and Hong Kong Tea House & Restaurant Inc. has long been on my list of places to check out. With thoughts of its crispy Peking duck skin still on my mind, I'll be returning for sure.
The restaurant, tastefully done in sage and brick red, has beautiful, heavy tables -- some inset with gray marble and lazy susans for larger parties. Soft Chinese music plays in the background and gracious servers, dressed in attractive vibrant fabrics, are accommodating from beginning to end.
How about that Peking duck (whole, $28.99)? Hong Kong serves it in two courses and skips the last step which traditionally uses the duck bones to make a third-course soup. First, you'll receive squares of nearly transparent mohogany skin, hoisin sauce, raw green onion matchsticks and mandarin pancakes. Spread a bit of hoisin on a pancake, add a piece of skin, garnish it with green onion, fold it in half and enjoy. You can't help but revel in the shattering sound of the duck skin. Next, the beautifully moist all-dark meat arrives, redolent of star anise.
In need of some comforting soup, we opted for the egg flower ($1.49 a cup) but were disappointed with the bland, overly thickened broth. Pushing that aside, we dove right into dim sum. Divided into small ($2.25), medium ($2.95), large ($3.50) and chef's special ($4.25) offerings, there are more than 40 selections.
Foil chicken (five for $4.25) smelled alluringly of five-spice flavor notes including cinnamon, cloves and star anise, but the sticky pieces were difficult to pry from the foil with our fingers, let alone with chopsticks.
The kitchen showed its talent best in three dishes: deep-fried stuffed tofu (four for $4.25), pan-fried potstickers (four for $3.50) and stuffed shrimp paste eggplant (three for $3.50).
Four rectangles of the soybean curd were crispy on the outside and silky on the inside -- each topped with a round, equally delicious deep-fried ground shrimp ball. As for the potstickers, the wrapper was thin and tender. Curiously, three of the four dumplings had purple cabbage added to the mix, which tinted the pork filling blue. The crunch, however, eclipsed the funky color.
Had our table not been laden already with so many plates, I would have ordered more of that eggplant, cooked until meltingly tender and filled with deep-fried shrimp paste. A delicate light brown sauce brought the earthy and sweet flavors together.
Sticky rice in lotus leaves (three for $3.50) was another successful dish. A smattering of star-anise-scented pork and Chinese mushrooms was nestled in glutinous, creamy rice -- the lot then wrapped in a green olive-colored lotus leaf and steamed. We knew before our server told us the leaf was "not meant to be eaten." Rather, it serves as a container and flavoring agent that gives this dim sum a perfumey quality besides rendering the rice a bit green.
Until I bit into them, it was nearly impossible to tell the shrimp dumplings (four for $3.50) from the scallop dumplings (three for $3.50). The tender, translucent dumplings either were filled with pieces of shrimp and bamboo shoots or nubbins of scallop and garlic, shrimp and onion. Both were steaming hot and equally delicious.
Steamed barbecue pork buns (four for $2.25) and steamed egg custard buns (three for $2.25), on the other hand, were both just OK. Just larger than a ping pong ball, the former's fluffy white exterior held too little pork filling for my taste. As for the egg custard buns, they paled in comparison to my favorite dim-sum ender of silky egg custard tarts; sadly, the kitchen has stopped making them.
But fried sesame balls (three for $2.25) and mango pudding ($2.25) hit the mark. Sesame-speckled sweetened glutinous rice, encasing lotus seed paste, married well with the nuttiness of the sesame seeds.
Mango "pudding" was a refreshing, chilled gelatinous dessert dotted with peaches. Evaporated milk drizzled over the yellow, opaque Jell-O-like concoction added a sinful sweetness.
Overall, Hong Kong Tea House's dim sum didn't leave me feeling weighted down or with any residual oiliness on my palate as have some past dim-sum visits elsewhere. Another noteworthy item: Hong Kong lists six teas ($1 per person) and four "special" teas ($3 per person) on its dim sum menu. I recommend sampling a few varieties, which arrive in tasteful terra cotta ceramic pots. I found I liked the jasmine with a hint of sweetness, while a dining companion preferred the floral notes of chrysanthemum.
Dinner on a subsequent visit was on par with most Chinese-American restaurants. That is to say, there were some good dishes in the bunch but I didn't find the offerings to be exceptional.
Egg rolls (three for $3.99) were the standard variety, minus the pork, with shredded cabbage and carrots, celery and Chinese mushrooms.
Tender pieces of Mongolian beef ($7.99) intermingled with green onions in a rich brown sauce while Peking style spareribs ($10.99), various-sized, deep-fried fairly supple pork strips, was meat heavy with some sliced onion thrown in.
Eggplant and tofu XO sauce in hot pot ($7.99) was a delicious combination of slender eggplant, green onion tips and bits of pork in an umami-rich XO sauce - that elusive fifth taste -- whose ingredients include dry scallop and ham, among others.
Sweet and sour pork ($7.99), on the other hand, was dry and gristly, but prawns with honey-glazed walnuts ($12.99), with lightly breaded, tail-off shrimp, had just the right amount of mayonnaise-based sauce.
Its out-of-the-way location may be a deterrent for some, but with plenty of street parking, a welcoming waitstaff and great dim sum, I know I'll be heading back to Hong Kong Tea House soon.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
Hong Kong Tea House & Restaurant Masters Fine Art of Dim Sum
March 14, 2003
By Nancy Hobbs
Word is spreading quickly about the newest little tea house in Salt Lake City, turning the small but steady clientele of just a few weeks ago into a full house, and then some, for weekday lunches. Even at its out-of-the-way location at 565 W. 200 South -- which almost weekly is becoming less obscure with the trendy Orbit cafe across the street and the Bridge Projects immediately east -- the Hong Kong Tea House & Restaurant is being discovered as the place to find delicious and authentic Chinese food,
dim sum in particular.
Hong Kong Tea House is the creation of Ogden landscaper David Chen and chef Wing Chip Yeung, whom Chen met on one of his frequent trips to San Francisco to dine at fine Chinese restaurants. Chen persuaded the chef of 15-plus years to become his business partner and bring his craft to Salt Lake; together they designed an attractive dining area, with boldly colored walls of sage, brick red and yellow, and red lacquered tables with Lazy Susans in the center to more easily pass plates of dim sum and pots of tea.
Visitors to Chinatowns around the country may be well versed in the art of ordering and eating dim sum. For neophytes, figuring out how and what to order, and then how to eat it once it arrives, can be intimidating. Servers at Hong Kong Tea House ease most anxiety by being helpful with suggestions and patient with timid diners, despite a bit of a language barrier.
What is quite remarkable is that, given the time servers spend at each table, even with a full house, water glasses and tea cups are constantly replenished and there is little delay in delivering the food -- obviously due to an equally efficient kitchen staff.
Dim sum is most easily compared to American appetizers or even Spanish tapas, in that the savory or sweet selections, such as Chinese dumplings or steamed buns, are typically bite-size or just a little larger, and come several to a plate for sampling and sharing. They can be ordered off a menu or chosen from a selection the kitchen has ready, brought to tables for patrons to accept or decline.
One of the advantages of ordering dim sum is that Hong Kong's "small" plates start at $2.25, with "chef's specials" at $4.25. So you can try something new on each visit and, if not pleasantly surprised, at least you won't be financially bruised by disappointment.
Quite a few curious diners have been willing to pay $2.25 for an order of steamed chicken feet, said Chen. The dish is the result of a lengthy process of blanching, then deep-frying and finally steaming, and the result is similar to eating poultry skin. As Chen said, "Once people try it, they like it."
On the other hand, the price of all those little plates of dim sum -- particularly if you can't say no to intriguing offerings paraded around the dining room -- can add up quickly. And with 50 choices of dim sum on the "lunch" menu, served from 10 or 11 in the morning until 3 p.m., it is easy to get carried away.
Loosely translated, dim sum means "touch of the heart" or "heart's delight," and we found several choices that fit that description on recent visits. Top of the list was the eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste, which is the thinner Japanese eggplant, cut into lengths and stuffed, then pan-fried and served with a delectable sauce. Also delicious were the beef wienoki rolls, with thin slices of garlicky roast beef wrapped around long, thin wienoki mushrooms.
If the steamed barbecued pork bun -- a dim sum staple -- is the gauge by which Chinese restaurants might be rated, the Hong Kong Tea House wins top honors. The rice-flour dough is spongy and slightly sweet, with spicy pork in the center. The buns also come stuffed with beef or egg custard, which is similar to a marzipan filling.
Also well known to dim sum aficionados are lotus-leaf packages filled with sticky rice. Open the packages (don't eat the leaf) and find rice steamed to perfection, imparted with the subtle taste of lotus.
Texture plays a huge role in dim sum selections, and you are likely to find a disparity -- even around your table -- as to who likes what. Some fellow diners felt the rice noodle rolls were too mushy for their liking, while others loved them. Some found the mango pudding, with a texture similar to flan, just too gelatinous, although others disagreed. But given the variety, everyone should be able to find something to like.
An abbreviated menu of dim sum is offered in the evenings, when Hong Kong Tea House turns to more upscale Chinese cuisine, with fresh flounder, lobster and crab, or even duck, quail and pigeon.
Peking duck is a house specialty, with the kitchen cooking the duck fresh for lunch and dinner service. A whole duck is $23 at dinner, but most order the half for $13.
The tea house, as the name implies, offers more than half a dozen teas with lunch or dinner. The owners have applied for a liquor license, which Chen believes will enhance the "fine dining" atmosphere he is striving for in dinner service.
"Personally, I'm pretty picky," Chen said about dining out. "I couldn't find any restaurants in Utah that suited my need." He set out to create his own, and though he is the first to say it's not quite what he aspires to yet, Hong Kong Tea House already is one of the best choices for authentic Chinese in Salt Lake.
Hong Kong Tea House
Where: 565 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City; 531-7010.
Hours: Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; weekends, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Prices: Dim sum from $2.25 to $4.25 per plate; meals from $7 to $23.
Child's Menu: No.
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes.
Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa, Discover.