After a long day of fighting the crowds at the Galleria, my dining companion and I were left tired and hungry. Katharine Shilcutt's first look at E Tao and the sheer convenience of not having to leave the mall to get what I was craving sealed the deal. I wanted Chinese food, but not just your average mall food court Chinese.
Sure, you can get your General Tao's and Sweet and Sour Chicken here, but after perusing E Tao's menu I found they also have Shanghai noodles, Char Sui, scallion pancakes, BBQ pork buns and even dim sum -- all foods I'd have to drive into the heart of Chinatown Houston to get.
A small line had formed, as the narrow dining space had filled up during the lunch hour -- I watched as the cooks formed and steamed the dumplings -- definitely a good sign. I decided to try them.
We were seated after a short wait, and service was prompt and friendly. I really wanted see how the Char Sui ($10.95), Chinese barbecued pork, stood up to its outer loop counterparts. We added a side of sauteed green vegetables in garlic sauce ($10.95) and the dim sum platter ($11.95).
The dim sum platter came out first -- presented in a metal steamer, the platter comes with two pieces each of har gow (shrimp dumplings), Siu Mai (pork dumplings), Steamed soup dumplings and Shanghai pork dumplings and sticky rice steamed in banana leaf.
The har gow and siu mai were on par with many of the dim sum places I've tried. The translucent tapioca flour wrapping was light and neither chewy nor dense. The large siu mai pieces were meaty and flavorful. The real surprise for me was the sticky rice; there were bits of ground pork cooked into the sweet rice that gave it a sweet and savory effect. The rice was soft but not mushy, and I found myself devouring it with the peanut sauce.
The char sui came out in all its glazed pork glory. The meat was sweet and had just enough fattiness to it. The flavor of five spice and the smokiness you'd find elsewhere wasn't quite there, but for where we were it was enjoyable. The sauteed vegetables, which included asparagus, Chinese broccoli and snow peas pan fried in garlic sauce, were simply done, but the vegetables were cooked just slightly to where there was still a good bite to them and made for a great complement to the pork.
As is to be expected, the prices at E Tao are higher than your average Chinatown restaurant, but you are paying for the location and the ease of not having to get into your car when you're already out shopping. It's definitely a place I'll go again when I'm not just craving the guilty pleasure of mall food court Chinese but something slightly more authentic.