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The Feng Shui of Dim Sum

Stay close to the kitchen if you want the best food at Kim Son.

The yellow dragon rears back on his hind legs and opens his jaws wide while an ominous drumroll thunders through the room. The monster leaps into the air, trying to grab a bunch of lettuce hanging from the doorway. When he catches it, pandemonium ensues -- cymbals crash, flashbulbs pop, and a crowd of more than a hundred roars in applause. My daughters are jumping around the table trying to get their pictures taken with the dragon, and it's everything I can do to keep the teacups and dumpling dishes from being upended. It's the first Sunday after the Chinese New Year, and the dim sum brunch at Kim Son's Stafford location is a wild party. But the truth is that this enormous outpost in the local Vietnamese chain hosts a pretty wild dim sum party every Sunday morning.

A few months ago I wrote a review in which I called Ai Hoa the best dim sum restaurant in town (see "The Best Dim Sum in Guangzhouston," November 2, 2000). A few days after that review appeared, several Asian acquaintances approached me and said that I had made a mistake. Ai Hoa used to make the best dim sum in town, they said. But their magical chef had been wooed away to the Kim Son in Stafford. That's where everybody goes now, they said.

Kim Son is a Vietnamese restaurant. Why would it specialize in Chinese dim sum? I wondered. So I led a couple of expeditions down the Southwest Freeway to find out.

The dim sum carts at Kim Son's Stafford location: They'll get your ch'i moving in the right direction.
Laura Chiles
The dim sum carts at Kim Son's Stafford location: They'll get your ch'i moving in the right direction.

Location Info

Map

Kim Son Restaurant

2001 Jefferson
Houston, TX 77003

Category: Restaurant > Dim Sum

Region: East End

Kim Son

12750 SW Freeway
Stafford, TX 77477

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Outside Houston

Kim Son

10603 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Outer Loop - SW

Details

Dim sum is served on carts from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and from the menu between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday

(281)242-3500

Small plates $1.95
Medium plates $3.25
Large plates $3.85
Special plates $4.95
Bottomless pot of tea $1.25
(50 cents for each extra cup)

12750 Southwest Freeway (in Stafford)

On the Sunday after the Chinese New Year, the restaurant was packed at 11 a.m. We were offered a table in the otherwise empty bar after five minutes of waiting. I declined it. After ten minutes of waiting, we were offered a table in a tight section to the side of the hostess stand. I turned that one down, too, much to the consternation of my girlfriend and my hungry daughters. After 15 minutes, we were rewarded for our patience with a round table at the intersection of two aisles in the huge front dining room, next to the fish tank and close to the kitchen -- a very lucky location.

It's clear that Kim Son is designed around Buddhist feng shui principles. Water, according to feng shui practitioners, is thought to channel a positive ch'i, which in turn channels customers with money to your business. Hence, there are ponds in front of Kim Son's building, as well as a fountain at the front door and a giant aquarium. I have always thought of feng shui's sometimes dogmatic, sometimes delightful aesthetic principles as a combination of common sense, Buddhist spirituality and funny superstitions.

When it comes to picking a table at a dim sum restaurant, I have developed my own version of feng shui. The fun of dim sum, as you know, is selecting steaming delicacies from passing carts. The first time I tried it was 20 years ago at a famous dim sum palace in San Francisco's Chinatown. My companion and I grabbed an empty table right next to a window with a fabulous view of the city. But we never got any food. The table was up a couple of steps from the dining room, and the cart drivers couldn't get there. Eventually we gave up and went to find another table. But first I took a few minutes to observe the scene.

As each cart rolled out of the kitchen, it was stopped immediately for inspection by the people at the tables closest to the kitchen door. This was where the serious connoisseur sat. Then the cart reached the larger round tables located on the edges of the main cart thoroughfares. The selection looked pretty good there, too. But around the fringes of the room, people were craning their necks and waving their arms, trying to get a cart driver's attention before all the dumplings got cold.

So here's my advice: Forget everything you know about picking a table. Forget about the quiet little nook by the window. Forget about intimacy. Think like a cart driver. Stay away from tight corners, steps and inclines. Go for a table in the middle of the highest traffic area. If you sit at the intersection of two aisles you will double your luck. And don't get too far away from the chef. The closer you are to the kitchen door, the hotter your dumplings will be.

It may sound greedy now, but wait until you've had a couple of these dumplings and crave a couple more -- suddenly the location of your table will mean everything. On our Chinese New Year's visit, we were in a perfect spot. Not only was the dragon dancing right beside us, but also we could see every cart go by. I let the girls each pick an item to get things rolling.

My daughter brought a friend along who had never eaten dim sum before, so we got her a menu. Kim Son has a handy version illustrated with four pages of color pictures. On the weekends, the carts carry a lot of specials, which aren't on the menu, but it's a start anyway. The menu's also a great way to learn the names of your favorite items.

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