Pace yourself — or they may need a cart to carry you out
Seattle Times restaurant critic
800 Fifth Ave., Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza, Suite Plaza 1, Seattle
206-264-1789 or www.oasian.net
Prices: Dim sum $2.50-$6.50; lunch specials $8.50-$12; dinner starters $4-$13; noodles/rice $9-$15; entrees $14-$28; desserts $7.
Hours: dim sum/lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; dinner 4 p.m.-midnight daily. Happy hour 4 p.m.-midnight Mondays-Fridays, all day Saturdays and Sundays.
Drinks: Full bar. Wine list long on by-the-glass options, short on Asian food-friendly choices.
Parking: Validated free parking in garage weekends, holidays and evenings after 5:30 p.m., discounted with validation before 5:30.
Sound: Great for conversation.
Who should go: Dim sum devotees, business lunchers, happy-hour seekers, large parties.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Accessibility: No obstacles.
Nancy Leson on KPLU
Catch Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants every Wednesday on KPLU (88.5 FM) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m, and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Listen to "Expensive restaurants," her latest commentary.
Oh ... another Asian joint.
Don't you dare say that about Seattle's new dim sum palace, a setting as glamorous as its dim sum is glorious. Here, in the Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza, Chinese specialties and others of the pan-Asian persuasion get high-styled treatment.
I'm wild about this swanky re-do of the former Ruth's Chris Steak House, so close and yet so far from anything you'll find in the Chinatown International District. Open since August, it's a sprawling study in black and red, where you can hang out in the lounge, settle into a cushy banquette or show up with 16 of your closest friends and sit in the catbird seats: the "O'Table" in the main dining area, where a beaded metal curtain draws all eyes center stage.
This, my friends, is a place as perfect for a quick dim sum lunch as it is for a grand evening feast, as appealing to dim sum novitiates as to those who grouse that when it comes to Chinese food, Seattle can't hold a ha gao to San Francisco and Vancouver.
To the latter I say: Get off your high horse and get over here. To the former: Come hungry.
I'm a dim sum devotee who cried when the King Café closed, loves the clattery carts and fast-paced action that is China Gate and wouldn't consider a trip to Ikea without a dim sum diversion to Imperial Garden Seafood Restaurant, and I can't think of a better place to do dim sum than right here. Not even Top Gun in Bellevue — whose owners, Janet Lau and Walter Kwan, are the visionaries (and the bucks) behind this newcomer.
A Szechwan Mary with your siu mai? Some "monkey picked" tea with your congee? These, as well as a lengthy wine list, a multitude of private dining options and free weekend and evening parking (discounted in the B of A garage with validation at lunch) are part of what makes this a great place to host a family get-together, an important business meeting or a delicious date.
By day, you'll find waitresses pushing steaming carts and bearing trays with kitchen-fresh items, stopping by to show and tell ("Fried squid! Delicious!"), lifting lids and plying patrons with savories ("Sticky rice!" "Seaweed tofu!") and sweets ("Sesame ball! Mango pudding!"). At night, a brief list of dim sum standards augments the dinner menu.
Then, you might begin with smooth kabocha squash bisque, spooned — along with plump fresh crabmeat — from a pumpkin-shaped tureen. And Seafood Bird's Nest: gently cooked shellfish, whitefish and vegetables stir-fried with curry spices and propped in a crunchy nest of fine noodles. Cheng Do Fish Pot, offered in an angular, slope-sided bowl, will have you fishing for another bite of turnip or wood-ear mushroom, in a broth bobbing (and mildly throbbing) with Szechuan peppers.
Come evening, you might wrap minced duck meat, cilantro and jicama (among other taste and textural surprises) into crisp sheaves of iceberg lettuce. Or twirl delicate hand-shaved noodles threaded with pork, egg and bok choy. One taste of the silky Kobe-style beef, seared with a fine coat of peppercorn and I'm sure you'll agree: O'Asian — bang the gong and pass the gailan — tastes even better than it looks.
As for daytime dim sum, here's a little primer for those new to the game: When the small plates/bamboo steamers/soup bowls arrive tableside, you look, you ask questions if necessary, and render a "yea" or a "nay." Say yes and the server marks an (S)mall, (M)edium, (L)arge, (C)hef's special or (D)eluxe on the tally-card on your table. Cost ranges from $2.50 to $6.50, depending, primarily, on ingredients. What you see one visit may not be there the next. Most important: Pace yourself, or you'll fill up too fast and miss out on gotta-get-it goodies yet to come.
Nervous Nellies should look for baked barbecued-pork hom bow sweetly burnished and almost boozy-tasting; pan-fried eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste; and a generous heap of honey-glazed spareriblets — the best I've ever eaten. Ditto for the crispy-creamy honey walnut prawns (yes, you'll want another plateful, but wait for the fried shrimp cake impaled on sugarcane or the carefully fried crab claw stuffed with chopped shrimp).
Attention dim sum dynamos: Have the spicy turnip cake sliced into small squares, pan-fried, tossed with sprouts, cilantro and XO sauce (whose secret ingredient is dried scallop, but you knew that) and served in an edible rice-flour "bowl." As for the chicken feet? They're more like paws: meaty and magnificent. Eat 'em and weep.
Speaking of pause, the only thing that makes me do so here is the service, which ranged from swift and solicitous by day to sweetly amateurish at night, occasionally unraveling into a Three Stooges-like display of suit-wearing managers and fumbling waiters trying and failing to bring their act up to the level of this sophisticated setting. But this place is young, and I'm forgiving. Give it a try. I'm betting you'll leave with two words on your lips: "Oh, Asian!"
Share your news or restaurant tips with Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns are available at seattletimes.com/nancyleson
Dim sum $2.50-$6.50
Kabocha and crab bisque $7
Lettuce wrap $10
Hand-shaved noodles $9.50/$12
Cheng Do Fish Pot $22
Kobe-style peppercorn beef $28
Sautéed gailan $8
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