Marco Polo dim sum in Austin
Marco Polo’s Sunday dim sum was a surprise in more ways than one.
First the food: mostly fresh, mostly hot, mostly wonderful, especially the “mango pancake” for dessert: two egg laden crepes wrapped around a piece of mango and sour cream, a blintz really.
The service: excellent, with a crew that was happy to bring single items to our table since the carts were few and far between due to the crowded and the hard to navigate space.
A great majority of the diners were Asian, which speaks well of the place (unlike Tien Hong).
The prices: High; around a third higher than Tien Hong’s. I guess that has to do with the demand. And well worth it, I might add.
Pao's downtown location has been closed for many years now. You'll have to go to Lakeway to enjoy some of Pao's fare. It's been my understanding the dim sum they offer is not the cantonese style you may be referring to (i could be wrong, kent can you confirm?). i only ever order their "northern style dim sum" — savory dou jiang (soy milk), you tiao (fried crullers), sau bing (sesame seed cakes) with braised beef. it's very good.
T&S Chinese Restaurant is located on north Lamar, between Rundberg and Braker. I would agree it's better than Marco Polo.
oooh, T&S also serves little ready made peking duck buns during dim sum. delish!
I think Marco Polo does a fine job - I'm a regular. Things are usually hot, fresh, and close enough to what I'm used to in SF to pass. Their har gow is great - big chunky pieces of briny shrimp in a rice noodle that is neither to thin or too thick, Their siu mye is delicious...meaty and savory and the perfect size. Their cheong fan is light, slippery and savory with either char siu or shrimp. Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce comes quickly when I order it (as soon as I sit down) and you can order specific things if they don't seem to be rotating around. Their jook is great - pork and preserved egg in soupy rice that isn't gelatinous at all. Clams in black bean sauce, their amazing little tender baby squid in curry sauce, fish balls with cilatro and scallions, roast duck....all good. Jelly fish was crunchy yet compliant, chicken feet are fine (a little greasy for me), pig ears were fantastic (tasted cured?) and I'm waiting for the duck tongues to come around when I'm in a daring mood. My only complaint with Marco Polo is their custard tarts...they are weirdly tasteless, too greasy and cannot compare to what I have had at almost every dim sum place in SF. Oh well, we make due with sesame taro root balls with delicious red bean paste -hot, crunchy, gooey - perfect. Good tea, and they keep it coming. I think they stretch out in a Malaysian direction from time to time, so authentic, maybe not...but I have never had a failure of a meal there, and most have been what keeps me sane. I grew up two blocks from Clement Stree in SF...sigh...
Pao's, as far as I can tell, doesn't do dim sum the way I am used to it - dumplings and other small shareable dishes on carts with tea. I'm not familiar with northern style...when I went and asked about dim sum, they gave me a separate menu and a pencil to check off my choices. What I got was fabulous - really super great, but not what I think of as dim sum. I had tangy spicy tofu - slivers of hard tofu in a chile oil sauce...good. Dan Dan noodles were great - more peanut taste than anything else, but once you stirred the chile sauce up into them they were wonderful. The spicy wontons were amazing...slippery savory goodness in a fiery pool of red hot chile sauce.
I'm going to skip talking about T&S and Tien Hong except to say, T&S yay (except it is sooooooo far from where I live...even Pao's is closer) and Tien Hong boo....
We pretty much never stray from Marco Polo, T & S, and Pao's. All good for different reasons. I love the salt & pepper shrimp at T&S but during dim sum they only bring it without the shells (we eat it anyway but it's way better with them on). I have to say that Marco Polo has edged out T&S recently.
MP is actually less expensive (though perhaps it's because we can't be adult about the salt & pepper shrimp at T&S), and recently I had a lukewarm experience at T&S. We went later than we usually go and even though the place was still crowded, everything was cold. The selection was same old, same old, and when we left we decided to take a break from there for a while. MP always seems to have something interesting to try, and I agree that the staff is super friendly and accommodating even when we have no idea what the thing we want might be called (it's an orange round flat doughy thing that's fried and it has bean paste inside...). My severe lack of chinese menu lingo doesn't seem to bother them in the slightest. What I love there best is (i think!) called an oyster roll which has a meat & veg filling wrapped up in a tofu skin and they sit in a little bowl of light colored clingy sauce -- you see where I'm lucky I have fingers so I can just point and nod happily.
Pao's isn't the same kind of dim sum, true, but sooooo good. Really more like NY chinatown than anyplace else here. My favorite thing there is the fried bean curd - really simply fried soft tofu squares with the most delicate coating and served with a hot and gingery dipping sauce. I think checking off the menu is really fun but we always order too much. Never had a bad experience there.
re: Allison L.
"What I love there best is (i think!) called an oyster roll which has a meat & veg filling wrapped up in a tofu skin and they sit in a little bowl of light colored clingy sauce"
if you are describing what i think you are describing it is called Fu(3) Pi(2) Juan(3) in mandarin. sorry i don't know the cantonese, but they should be able to figure it out. "Fu" as in toFU, "Pi" meaning skin and "Juan" meaning roll.
Yes, Pao's is Northern style and a la carte. A la carte is fresher and you won't get anything that has been sitting out on a cart for a while but you do miss the ease of ordering from carts. The dishes are bigger, and not as many steamed items. In a vacuum, I would say that I prefer Pao's dim sum dishes to T&S's dim sum but it's true that that is not really dim sum as dim sum is strictly Cantonese.
Thanks yimay, dee lannon, and Allison L. for your detailed discussion of dim sum offered in Austin. Your posts made me hungry. And I think it’s great that avi’s original post has inspired a helpful list from you of what’s good at Marco Polo, T & S, and Pao’s.
Does anyone else have recommendations about other specific [Cantonese] dim sum dishes that you’ve tried recently?