Reviewing All the Dim Sum at Red Farm UWS (long)
As usual, full review with all the photos on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot.com/2014/01/reviewing-all-dim-sum-at-red-farm-uws.html
For the last big foodie group dinner of 2013 (our previous one was at Resto http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/919465), we decided to go to the newly opened upper west side location of Red Farm. Even though a couple of critics have gushed over the entrees, I wanted to focus on the dim sum since I was so fond of Joe Ng's work at (now closed) Chinatown Brasserie. But it wasn't enough for us to just have a meal at Red Farm, so we decided to try EVERY SINGLE PIECE of dim sum on the menu. Among those in attendance were fellow CHers cheeryvisage and plumpdumpling. The dim sum was usually 4 to an order, but they had no problem adding individual pieces at a pro-rated price.
THREE COLOR VEGETABLE DUMPLINGS (4) $12
Much like how I remembered them from Chinatown Brasserie, Joe Ng's dim sum here at Red Farm is beautiful and exquisite. The vegetables had a nice crunch but there wasn't really enough for their flavors to stand out.
KATZ'S PASTRAMI EGG ROLL $7.5
The exterior was lovely with a shattering crisp, while the pastrami tasted good without any oily mouth feel that most generic egg rolls tend to have.
CRUNCHY VEGETABLE AND PEANUT DUMPLINGS (4) $12
The addition of peanuts inside the dumplings was really interesting and enhanced the already crunchy texture of the vegetables.
SHRIMP AND MANGO FRIED WONTONS (4) $12
I'm not big on mangoes, but the sauce was good and the wontons were fried nicely. Still not a combination that I would have thought of or am particularly eager to try again, though.
SHRIMP AND SNOW PEA LEAF DUMPLINGS (4) $12
This was the closest thing to a pure har gow on the menu and the best showcase of Ng's skills. The skin was delicate and the shrimp filling had good flavor and snap to its texture. While I really liked the dim sum at Hakkasan, I found the individual pieces too big and preferred the smaller, more delicate pieces at Red Farm.
FIVE FLAVOR CHICKEN DUMPLINGS (4) $14
This was a great dish, but it wasn't really dim sum even with the presence of dumplings. In fact, I thought the dumplings were more of an afterthought as the curry sauce with onions, scallions, and vegetables was really delicious.
LOBSTER CHEESE STICKS (4) $12
There was actual lobster meat and the cheese was mild in the form of a cheese sauce. In terms of lobster in small tube form, the ones at Betony were far superior at a comparable price.
CRISPY DUCK AND CRAB DUMPLINGS (4) $14
This was an interesting combination, as the crab provided a nice sweetness to contrast the richer duck flavor. The crispy fried exterior helped bring it all together, and the presentation was excellent, with the pointy shell end of a crab claw being used as the tail of a stingray.
‘PAC MAN’ SHRIMP DUMPLINGS (4) $12.5
More shrimp dumplings in cute form, but the highlight may have been the "pac man" made of fried sweet potato stood in place by some guacamole. It was a good way to switch things up.
PAN-FRIED PORK BUNS, SPICY SAUCE (4) $12.5
I think the inside was pork belly, which did not really work in this type of bun. I would have preferred the more traditional, greasier style, with a thicker, crunchier crust. They were also really tiny.
PORK AND CRAB SOUP DUMPLINGS (4) $14
These are some of the best soup dumplings in NYC. This was the closest I've seen in NYC to the delicate thin skin at Din Tai Fung. The soup was rich in porcine flavor without being greasy, and had a noticeable crab flavor.
PORK AND SHRIMP DUMPLING SKEWERS (4) $12
These did indeed arrive on a skewer, although I don't know what purpose it served. This was the only item on the menu that were essentially shumai, and it was good version with a springy texture to the meat mixture and whole shrimp.
LAMB DUMPLING SHOOTERS, MISO TOFU-SEAWEED BROTH (4) $12
The dumpling had good lamb flavor and was pan fried well. The broth itself was a decent miso soup, but I didn't quite feel that putting them together enhanced anything.
SHRIMP-STUFFED JALAPENO POPPERS (4) $14
These were good, and my main takeaway was that jalapenos are a great pepper to use for stuffed pepper dim sum.
BBQ DUCK BREAST, GRILLED LYCHEE, LOTUS CHIPS (4) $16
This was the best bite of the night. The duck breast was tasty, and the grilled lychee provided a good foil for the richness while not being too sweet. As one whole bite, the mixture of meat and juice from the grilled lychee was perfect, enhanced by the crunch of the lotus chip.
SOFT AND CRUNCHY VEGETABLE FRIED RICE $14
Even though we ordered seconds of certain dumplings, we still needed rice to have any chance of being full. This was overall very tasty, and the assortment of textures from the vegetables was very pleasing. However, it felt more like vegetables over fried rice rather than vegetable fried rice.
CHOCOLATE PUDDING $8
The server upsold this chocolate pudding with a hard sell. While it was a good pudding, it wasn't anything special or must-have.
The dim sum here are some of the best in NYC. They are delicate and well-made, and come thoughtfully with a wide variety of sauces. However, the only feeling I got out of my meal at Red Farm was that it was expensive. Much of that feeling wasn't actually in regard to the food, although the sizing was a bit precious. It was the fact that we had to sit at a communal table and felt rushed the whole time. Servers would come around to remove plates very frequently. What's the point of having a unique sauce for each dim sum (some of which were truly excellent, such as the curry sauce with the five flavor chicken dumplings) if a server keeps rushing over to take the plate away before it's empty? I could understand it if I was in Chinatown paying half the price.
Contrast that with Hakkasan http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/913349 , a Chinese restaurant that has continually been criticized for being too expensive. The prices are actually comparable if you don't order the most expensive items, but you get to sit very comfortably in a beautiful space with excellent service. I get the idea of paying a premium for that entire experience at Hakkasan, while I find it hard to justify the Red Farm prices, even without including the server upselling us $8 pudding. So while I've rediscovered Joe Ng's excellent dim sum here, it just makes me miss Chinatown Brasserie, which was the best of both worlds, even more.
Looking back, a meal composed of dim sum is always going to be more expensive than a regular meal because you lose the family-style aspect of Chinese dining. That being said, with each dumpling pro-rated at $2-4 each, I imagine a meal with a mix of dim sum and entrees would still be prohibitively expensive at Red Farm.
I miss Chinatown Brasserie as well, I do believe that when it was "on", Joe Ng's cooking shone brightly and more so than at Red Farm. I've now tried the downtown location multiple times and the UWS location once. Every time, I leave feeling oddly discontented.
At Chinatown Brasserie, I could understand the nay-sayers, there was inconsistency and some dishes were just plain bad, yet the dishes that were solid were always able to happily give me a great dining experience. The Chinese New Year menu at Chinatown Brasserie was consistently a knockout.
Nothing at Redfarm rises to the level of the best food I had at Chinatown Brasserie. The Redfarm restaurants seem a bit gimicky, riding on the zeitgeist of culinary buzzwords and skilled PR, earning them far more praise for their food than deserved. The same critics who praised Redfarm denounce the food at Hakkasan, when Hakkasan (on the whole) has much better food.
I tried the chicken stuffed with shrimp at Redfarm because there were so many raves. The shrimp is so solid, unappealingly solid and comes apart from the chicken. The dish also feels leaden and overly greasy.
I think Joe Ng is an incredibly talented chef and I am glad for the success of Redfarm, but the reception of Redfarm vs. Hakkasan is really illogical.
Lastly the desserts at Redfarm are really subpar, contrasted with the amazing desserts at Hakkasan. The Redfarm chocolate pudding is just... ugh.
I pretty much agree with what you wrote here. The best at CB was at a higher level, and part of Redfarm's success is coasting on the "farm to table" trend.
Definitely agree the Redfarm vs. Hakkasan reception has been weird at best, best captured by the Pete Wells NYT reviews. I hate his reviews with a passion. He focuses too much on price without considering what goes into that price (including restaurant setting), and he comes off as having no appreciation for subtle flavors.
We didn't mind the Redfarm chocolate pudding in and of itself, but the $8 price tag and the hard sell were annoying.
Thanks for the review. You sure did check plenty of dishes out. For me the best dish were the soup dumplings, they were flavorful, skins weren't too think, and enough broth and filling. They were not as good as Kung Fu in Queens, their pork and crab soup dumplings were better than China Blue's though.
They Katz's pastrami eggrolls, for one thing are truly made from Katz's pastrami, but not the juicy pastrami that Katz's has. They don't skimp on the meat, you get plenty of pastrami and I like the dish. The Har Gow is just har gow,not better than other dim sum places.
I do like that they opened the downstairs, before they opened it, it was very difficult to get a seat. It is a great spot for a single diner also. It is a very loud place. Perhaps in the top 10 loudest places in NYC.
Side Note: I never thought Chinatown Brasserie was more than just decent.
EDIT: i didn't realize this was a review of UWS, Ive only been to WV. sorry
Thanks for the informative post...but to be honest, it just confirms I will not be going to Red Farm anytime soon. It's just not my idea of Dim Sum...Don't get me wrong, the items all seem wonderful and creative....just not for me and my vision of what Yum Cha(?) should be.
I totally agree that this is not what yum cha should be, but I don't think that's the intention. I have no problems with a restaurant offering dim sum on its menu without offering a yum cha experience, which is the case here.
The best analogy in Western food would be the myriad of places in NYC with good tapas/small bites but aren't modeled anywhere near a real Spanish tapas eatery experience.