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The first time I went to the gigantic new Kim Son restaurant at Bellaire and Wilcrest, it was Sunday around noon, and there was a 20-minute wait for a table in the dim sum hall. So while we were waiting, I walked around and peeked into some of the carts to see what kinds of delicacies I wanted to order.
The Kim Son in Stafford is my favorite place for dim sum. Their Hong Kong-trained chef puts out the biggest variety and the most intricately decorated dim sum dishes in the city. So I was eager to see what it would be like at Kim Son's lavish new showplace in the Bellaire Chinatown neighborhood a few blocks from Hong Kong City Mall.
Walking around the dining room, I spotted some spiral-shelled purple conch in Chinese brown sauce that I had never had before and was eager to try. There were also some crab dishes that looked great. But by the time we were seated, the purple conch was long gone. And so, it seemed, was just about everything else.
Houston, TX 77003
Region: East End
12750 SW Freeway
Stafford, TX 77477
Region: Outside Houston
10603 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072
Region: Outer Loop - SW
Bellaire Lunch buffet: $7.95
Dinner buffet: $12.95
Friday night and weekend buffet: $14.95
For the 45 minutes we sat there, I begged every cart pusher I saw for the round pork and shrimp dumplings called xiu mai. And I never did get any. I never saw any ha cao, the tender white shrimp dumplings, either. Which is weird.
According to my dim sum guru, Houston Chinese cooking authority Dorothy Huang, xiu mai and ha cao are the two most popular items at dim sum restaurants the world over -- they practically define the genre. I have been to dim sum restaurants that seemed to serve almost nothing else. But I have never been to a dim sum restaurant where I couldn't get either one of them.
I made do with some excellent seafood congee, which is rice porridge with chopped shrimp and squid, or at least I think that's what it was. It tasted like a sort of cross between fish soup and cream of rice cereal. I also had some decent, though lukewarm, potstickers. But the layout of the restaurant seemed to encourage the dim sum carts to skip our section of the restaurant.
Where you sit in a dim sum restaurant is critical to your enjoyment of the food. While the tables next to the kitchen door are usually the ones you want to avoid in a regular dining room, they are prime territory when you are eating dim sum. As the dim sum carts roll out of the kitchen, those sitting next to the door get the first shot. That means a better selection and hotter food.
We were given a table in the farthest corner of the dining room from the kitchen door, and since there was a long wait for tables, we could either take it or go to the end of the line. We were too far from the kitchen to get anything hot, and we had no chance at anything exotic. To complicate things, Kim Son gives their busboys carts too, so the usual dim sum cart navigation lanes are constantly getting blocked by these garbage scows on wheels.
We ate everything we could get our hands on, but after a while, all we saw were the same carts loaded with congee, rice noodles, potstickers and chicken feet going around in circles. So I got up and walked to the back of the restaurant where you can get dishes from an impromptu buffet line of chafing dishes. There I snagged some Chinese broccoli, mussels with black bean sauce and a big dish of egg noodles cooked with pork and vegetables.
I also gave up on the idea of getting our water glasses refilled. The guys serving beverages were in the weeds. They were running all over the place while people yelled at them. I spotted a cart near the front door where the plastic pitchers containing ice water were kept. So I walked over and snatched one. It was that or expire from thirst.
Compared to the Stafford location, it was a bush league dim sum brunch. Strange to say it, but Kim Son now seems to be simultaneously running the best and the worst of Houston's dim sum operations. As we left, I saw a sign indicating the restaurant served dim sum every day. Maybe on a weekday with a smaller crowd, I'd have a better chance of getting some purple conch.
The exterior architecture of the new shopping center at Bellaire and Wilcrest where Kim Son is located has that English-Chinese sort of aesthetic. With its white columns and big central clock, it looks like it ought to be in Hong Kong.
The new Kim Son is a 35,000-square-foot dining palace located on the center's second story. You get to the restaurant by scaling an elegantly decorated grand staircase. At the top of the stairs, you go to the left for the dim sum or to the right for the seafood buffet.
A few weeks ago, my brother Dave was in town. He lives in San Antonio and works as a salesman for restaurant purveyor Ben E. Keith. He is always up for Asian food when he's in Houston, so I suggested we try Kim Son's weekday dim sum for lunch.