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Lots of muttering on food blogs around town that dim sum is becoming the same old thing week after week, but we may have lucked into the secret to a wider range of options – many of which were new to us and delicious.
We discovered that arriving (relatively) early at Lu Lu Seafood, like 11 o'clock on Saturday or Sunday, brings all sorts of new delights to accompany the usual standbys. A cart full of cold dishes like seaweed salad and edamame also carries lightly pickled cucumbers, sweet-hot and garlicky, along with tofu and mushrooms, Shanghai style. The tofu is in strands, and the rich, meaty mushrooms give lots of flavor and more texture. Not a great color, sort of brown-purple, but extremely worthwhile. Plate-size items, like pot stickers with dipping sauce, and salt-and-pepper shrimp, are favorites, and while we like the pot stickers, which arrive surprisingly hot in their slightly crisp, tender skin, it's the shrimp (below left), with their light veil of batter, that enchant. They're cooked and served with their shells on and meant to be eaten that way; the carapace is as crisp as the coating, and the heads provide a burst of creamy flavor.
Steamer carts bring a shrimp dumpling and one that combines shrimp and scallops, more aggressively seasoned with a hit of pepper, and what a server called pork belly. It's not belly, but more like rib tips, lots of cartilage, the beloved texture, braised with black beans and peanuts, the latter soft enough to remind us that they, too, are legumes like the beans.
One cart carries nothing but items from the fryer, some familiar like the shaggy-coated taro fritters, some less familiar, like scallion pancakes (above right), and others totally new, for instance what could be called shrimp fingers. Chopped shrimp are in a very thin, shatteringly crisp wrapper about the size of an index finger. The Old China Hand liked duck sauce with it; we preferred it solo. A large rimmed pan held pan-fried dumplings, larger than pot stickers, with a thicker dough. The pork inside sings with ginger, but the skin is too dense for our palate. Thin, curly egg noodles arrive with strips of white and green onion, the noodles warmed in the wok that cooked the onions, very simple but satisfying in the midst of complicated and crunchy dishes. And speaking of intense carbohydrates, the packets of lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice chosen by Mrs. O C Hand seemed particularly fragrant, the rice studded with things like mushroom and egg. It's a long-time favorite of ours, as is the barbecued pork, just a dish of sliced red-cooked pork, sweet and slightly chewy.
And now there's a dessert cart, with pastel colors and even little paper umbrellas looking like poolside at a Miami Beach resort, tooling between the tables. Almond pudding crowned with diced fruit, a pour of condensed milk optional, sits next to dishes of mango mousse and several kinds of buns. But we have to check the custard tarts anywhere we have dim sum. They're a surprisingly European dish for this very Asian tradition. Apparently they got to the cuisine of Hong Kong via Macao, which was a colony of Portugal until the very end of the 20th century. Portuguese desserts are known to be very sweet and with a lavish use of egg yolks, which brings us to the custard tarts. Crusts should be crisp and slightly crumbly. These are. The filling should be smooth, not rubbery. These are. In fact, their filling is extremely creamy, and rich with those egg yolks. Fabulous, among the best we've eaten, good enough to demand a second order.
One more dessert, new to us and new to LuLu: layered gelatin, apparently Japanese in is origin. One layer is lavender, made with the Asian purple yam. The next is white from coconut. The third is a tawny gold from Japanese pumpkin, which we know as kabocha squash.
There's a great deal more on all the carts but even veteran eaters can only do so much. We thought it was one of the largest dim sum selections we'd seen locally. Oddly. someone who ate there later the same day remarked on the lack of variety; we'd say get there early, which may offer the opportunity for the best selection and the widest choice.
LuLu Seafood 8224 Olive University City 314-997-3108 luluseafood com Lunch & Dinner daily, Dim sum on carts, Sat.-Sun
Photos by Kevin A. Roberts
by Joe and Ann Pollack