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Disappointed at Dim Sum King

Whenever there are discussions about dim sum in Houston, I inevitably hear references to Dim Sum King, the tiny little restaurant tucked way in the hard-to-find corner behind a police station on Bellaire and Ranchester. I love eating dim sum, and while I've been to many other restaurants for dim sum -- Fung's Kitchen, Ocean Palace, Kim Son, HK Dim Sum -- Dim Sum King was either always closed or too busy whenever I tried to eat there.

What I'd heard about Dim Sum King gave me high expectations. They serve dim sum all day. The prices are extremely affordable. Asians love to eat there, and it's always packed. So when I finally found myself there after at least a year's worth of failed attempts, I had high hopes for a satisfying dim sum experience.

Dim Sum King doesn't do the traditional push-cart dim sum, but rather, you order by marking a paper menu, which is split up into different size categories by different prices. The prices were definitely cheaper than elsewhere, with small dishes at $2.08, medium for $3.28, and $4.18 for large.

I ordered everything I would typically order - xiu mai dumplings, har gow shrimp dumplings, Chinese broccoli, shrimp gee cheong fun, turnip cakes, stuffed bean curd sheets, and pork spareribs. The meal started auspiciously enough. Service seemed fast and efficient, and before long we had our tea and our water, our order was taken, and I sat back to watch the servers whiz back and forth carrying trays of steaming hot food, waiting expectantly for mine. The dining room was fairly full but not packed with mostly Asian patrons.

We received our xiu mai dumplings and spareribs first. The xiu mai -- my favorite of all the dumplings, were a plain cardboard paper-color, small and dry, the flavors just okay. Less than remarkable. The spareribs were flavored well but very greasy. Not a great start, but I still had hope. Next came the Chinese broccoli, which turned out to be the best dish of the afternoon. They were obviously very fresh and perfectly rendered with a good al dente bite in the stalk, just the way I like them. Our pan-fried turnip cake was less impressive, the cake batter too mushy, and the outside sear, which is supposed to give it almost a crispy shell, not quite there.

The shrimp har gow, the signature dim sum dish at pretty much every dim sum restaurant, was the biggest disappointment. I could tell before eating it that it was overcooked from the way it looked, and biting into it confirmed it. The dumpling wrapper had no texture and broke apart immediately, and the filling was loosely packed, the shrimp bits falling out of the dumpling and overcooked as well.

I looked at my dining companion, and he just shook his head in disappointment. "This is just poor quality stuff," he said in an an almost disgusted tone. I looked at him apologetically, embarrassed. "Sorry...I had no idea it would be this bad," I said.

The stuffed bean curd wrappers, my companion's favorite dish, were also poorly done. Again, the filling was loosely packed, the flavors not quite there, the freshness suspect. It tasted like reheated, microwaved dim sum. And my favorite dim sum dish, the shrimp gee cheong fun, was no better. As with the har gow, the wrapper, which is supposed to have a slightly chewy glutinous texture, broke apart from being overcooked, while the shrimp inside were small and tasted like they had been frozen, too.

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All in all, it was one of the most disappointing dim sum experiences I've ever had, period. And before you ask, I've had dim sum in San Francisco, LA, Orange County, NYC, Vancouver and Hong Kong, among other places. While the meal was fairly inexpensive, ringing in at less than $30 for two, this is obviously one of those places where people overlook the quality in favor of price, because the quality was simply not there.

If you want good dim sum served daily, the HK Dim Sum a few blocks down in the Dun Huang center is far superior, and the other places I mentioned in Houston are better as well. For cheap dim sum, another option is the to-go section at the Welcome Supermarket just a few doors down in the same shopping center. It's sad to say, but true: the dim sum dumplings at the supermarket to-go counter are just $1.85 and taste better microwaved than the ones I had from the Dim Sum King kitchen.

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