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Anyone who loves Asian food can happily eat to glorious satisfaction in New York. Without even leaving the island of Manhattan, there are almost too many choices, and we're told that the other boroughs, primarily Queens, offer tender, tasty competition. Arguments over which dim sum restaurant is best can rage for days; one that we like a lot for flavor and authenticity is Jing Fong, on a narrow street in Chinatown, long a favorite area for walking and shopping, where $5 knock-off scarves and a proliferation of equally spurious handbags populate street corners, to say nothing of the abundance of Asian grocery stores.
Jing Fong's sign gives no hint that its second-floor dining room, with easy access by escalator, runs through the block, seating more than 400 people (see right), like similar establishments we've tried in Hong Kong and Vancouver. In addition to carts that cruise almost continuously through wide aisles and past large round tables, there's a buffet line along one wall. All this means that dim sum at Jing Fong is not just a weekend treat. It's a daily occurrence, and at a bargain price, too.
The selection goes well beyond what we find in St. Louis, which adds to the fun. Barbecued pork, for instance, is enclosed in puff pastry instead of the slightly doughy, white buns known as char siu bao. The pastry adds a new texture to a first-rate pork rendition. The puffy white buns here contain turkey.
Another dumpling, a thin rice-flour wrap, holds chicken, mushrooms and ham, each flavor distinct. Several fish dumplings roll by, one with green onion and a nice spicy bite (at left), another a small patty, much like a fish cake with heavy notes of ginger. Splendid short ribs in a black pepper sauce are peppery-sweet, and cross-cut to make for easier nibbling. Asian noodles with shrimp are another winner. Tender, slightly gelatinous chicken feet go back to Joe's childhood, although Grandma's soup wasn't seasoned like these fellows.
Lots of vegetables are available, led by baby carrots, are surrounded by sesame-seasoned rice flour dough and deep-fried, tiny green stems peeking out (below left). Bok choy and spinach are plentiful, as are snow peas.
Many desserts, too. A cart makes the rounds, the server spooning up soft, warm and exquisitely fresh tofu served with a light syrup (above right). Gelatin with tropical-fruit flavor wears sweet red beans, a common dessert component in Asian cuisines.
The buffet table selection varies, but we've enjoyed stir-fried pea shoots, braised squid, tender clams in rich black bean sauce, spicy beef with black mushrooms. We always check the table, but we have found that most of our meal comes from the carts. By the way, carry the same ticket the cart-drivers stamp with your charges and give them to the buffet aides.
There are no small tables at Jing Fong. On weekdays, it's common to be seated alone, but on weekends, expect to share. And expect to wait; there are no reservations, and lines are common. But the people-watching and the eavesdropping, at least on those guests who speak English, are good entertainment. And more than one patient diner reads the newspaper while in line; don't be afraid to emulate.
We're told it's open until after midnight.
Jing Fong 20 Elizabeth St New York City 212-964-5256 jingfongny.com Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily