Traditional Dim Sum in Monmouth County

Wanted to post this separate from the House of Chong thread and also encourage discussion of places that serve traditional Dim Sum in Monmouth County. I know West Lake does it, and possibly Crown Palace.

From today:

The dough was delicate. One wrong move or slip of the chopstick, and it was going to be all over. I somehow navigated it onto the spoon and take a tiny nibble to release a burning-hot liquid. One slurp later, and I lifted it into my mouth to experience something I managed to miss in all of my food travels. The item was an authentic Xiao Long Bao , which is a Chinese soup dumpling. The place was a familiar one: Middletown’s House of Chong. As previously reported, the restaurant now in its 50th anniversary year is in a transition phase from father to son in terms of ownership. The “new” owner, Danny Chong, was kind enough to invite me to see some of the changes he has planned. The first to be unveiled is a menu of traditional dim sum, which contains the above mentioned soup dumplings along with Har Gao (shrimp dumplings), Shu Mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), and Char Sui Bao (roast pork bun).

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While waiting for the food to hit the table, Danny chatted with Justin and I. The conversation ranged from his own family history to the history and evolution of Chinese food in general. As someone who has traveled the world (and even lived in South Africa for more than a decade), Danny was proud to note the influence of the Chinese people in terms of their contribution to food around the world. “Chinese food is everywhere because there are Chinese people everywhere. Go to a town in the middle of nowhere in Africa, and you will find a Chinese restaurant.” There is no shortage of such restaurants in our part of Monmouth County, but not many of them are churning out food of this quality and magnitude. Even less than that have a full-service bar offering classic cocktails such as the Mai Tai.

House of Chong first opened in Brick in 1969, and had a run which lasted until 2007. The Chong family opened up a second restaurant which ran simultaneously with the first, in Middletown in 1976, before moving to their present location (still Middletown but with a Red Bank address) in 1991. Much of the staff, both in the front of the house and back, have worked with this business for decades. Some trace their start to the original Brick location.

The changes coming to House of Chong are going to be gradual and minor, such as these menu additions. Danny told us that he is not afraid to bring old stuff back while interjecting new ideas to keep the legacy of his parents intact. After all, they have been successful restaurateurs for five decades—they know what they are doing. What they have here is something special. There’s that stuck-in-time feel, no doubt, but now there appears to be a bit of an edge developing. Danny is bringing something to this area that is extremely hard to find: traditional dim sum. There are not many places in Monmouth County where you can get it done right. We are talking dumplings handcrafted with care, one by one, not frozen and shipped out in mass amounts. But where did this idea come from?

Mr. and Mrs. Chong happened to be eating at a food court stand in Edison a few weeks ago when they ate some of these miraculous dim sum. They brought some home for their son to try. He was blown away, “I was eating them cold out of the fridge and they were the best dim sum I’d ever had”. He had a conversation with his father about bringing in the chef. Three days later, they returned to the location to talk to him, and before the words even came out of their mouths, the chef said that the food court was shutting down. The Chongs jumped at the opportunity to ask, and as fortune would have it, he became available to begin cooking for House of Chong. Each piece is handmade, and the quality is apparent both by sight and flavor.

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Danny went into the kitchen to retrieve the four steamers. He set them down and then explained a little bit of their history as well as how to properly eat a soup dumpling (they are literally filled with broth in addition to their meaty contents). We tried this one first—I could see Anthony Bourdain on one of his adventures trying to do it correctly. The dough was paper-thin. It is no joke that if you are not careful, the skin would break and the soup would be lost before you could eat it. Next came the shrimp dumplings which were equally pleasant. They burst with a seafood flavor and the dough gave way with every bite.

The shu mai were probably the largest I had ever seen. Left open on top, they were sealed with a whole shrimp that hid the pork and mushroom contents below it. At this point, it was hard to say what I enjoyed more, but then I tried the last item remaining on the table, which was the roast pork bun. Within one bite, we had a winner. The dough was like a pillow. It was soft and melted away in my mouth to reveal a slightly sweet and savory roasted pork filling. Having had pork buns in the past, these were quite different: the almost bread-like dough did not get stuck to the roof of my mouth, it literally melted away. The inside was soft, chewy, salty, and sweet, which is all you could ask for. Justin and I agreed that while we enjoyed everything, these were the best. We loved them so much, that we were given a second order!

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Danny asked what we thought, already knowing the answer based on our reactions. I responded, “The less I talk, the more I like it”, before adding, “I really don’t know what to say besides this is some of the best Chinese food I have ever eaten.” There was practically silence at the table as I took in the flavors, aromas, and textures. The items are a semi-secret right now, having been launched only yesterday. I am hoping that will change with this post. You can also check out the prices on the picture of the menu. They are a deal for food of this caliber.

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This restaurant already makes their own noodles and sauces, and will now be bringing in this dim sum. If it takes off, the new menu will be expanded to include more offerings. There have not been many changes here over the last 50 years, but with something as traditional as this making its way onto the menu, I cannot think of a better way for Danny and his family to enter into a “new era”.

He told us how important the restaurant is, saying how it means the world to him and mentioned some of the special moments to occur there for him, his family, and friends over the years. His passion and knowledge gushes with each sentence. Danny also has a fondness for their location, telling us toward the end, “We’re very lucky to have established ourselves in Middletown. I love the people. I love interacting with the customers on a daily basis.” I hope the community will turn out to see this new menu in action. I told him before we left that what I will have to say about the dim sum is no exaggeration—it was that good. They will be available in limited quantities for now, and all I can say is you better get there before they run out!

Originally posted here on my food blog.

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this both looks and sounds awesome. Love the idea of well executed traditional as well as some new high end touches; plus booze!!!

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I forgot to say in my article that he wants to introduce Happy Hour specials at the bar. I responded by saying that if he lined up Mai Tai’s and those pork buns in front of me all night, they’d have to close the restaurant down around me.

I’ve never actually seen anyone eating/drinking at the bar, but he said its more of a locals watering hole. I can see it given that its hidden away and off the beaten path. I’d love to hideout there one night and get wasted on umbrella cocktails! :smiley:

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I also want to add that when I arrived with my leather-bound notebook and pen sticking out of my ear, that Danny was surprised. When he contacted me for feedback, he didn’t know I was going to be writing about it. He said, “I didn’t know this was going to be so formal! I just wanted your feedback because you guys are good customers. But if you’re going to blog about it, that would be great too!”

Such a nice guy. Whole staff is. The waiters have been with his family since the 70’s. The one (Lee or Li) gave us a hug on our way out!

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Greg, had I known you needed a lesson in how to eat Xiao Long Bao, I gladly would’ve provided one for you! I’ve taught all of my nieces and nephews and my friends kids over the years! :grin:

This sounds terrific—thanks for the detailed report!

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I knew from watching Anthony Bourdain, but it was a nice refresher.

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Well, West Lake and Crown Palace(s) have a complete dim sum menu served on weekend mornings, while Shanghai Bun and Sichuan Cottage have more limited offerings but serve them at any time. It sounds as though House of Chong has only a few items for now–is this correct?

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For now, yes. If it takes off, he wants to expand to a full menu.

I have been to the Crown Palace Dim Sum on Sunday’s and Holidays many times. Comparable to many of the Dim Sum houses in Chinatown. The big difference is that at Crown Palace everything is served from the traditional rolling carts. Some is cooked on a rolling cart (dumplings, fish cakes, and shrimp stuff peppers) and others just walked around fresh from the kitchen. The assortment is extensive and includes traditional Chinese dishes (chicken feet) and more ‘Americanized’ dishes as well.

The experience of picking the dishes in their steamers right out of the cart and pilling them on the table for all to share adds a layer of excitement beyond just the food itself. I almost becomes a game to snag one of the specialties as they walk them around.

One classic at the Crown Palace is the Char Siu buns in three varieties – steamed, baked in a bun, and baked in a pastry shell. Outstanding… Two of those varieties in the picture:

and a closeup of the pastry shell version

A different style from House of Chong (but I can’t wait to try theirs) and worth a try – if you do, optimum time is 1130. That gives them time to ramp up and have the full assortment available and is just before the huge 1200 onslaught (which they are prepping for) gets there.

That said, for a spectacular dinner, I still think the Hunan Taste in Denville is top dog… but that is another thread (with a gazillion pictures :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Looks delicious!

Ha! I had dinner at Hunan Taste last weekend to celebrate my friend’s mom’s 90th, and commented that in 25+ years, they’re STILL doing it all as right as can be. My go-to for Chinese food is generally Szechuan, but everything (including the kids’ beef chow fun) was perfectly executed there.

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Exactly – I have hosted two huge corporate dinners there. Spectacular - they not only were incredibly cost effective/competitive for both large groups (40 - 60); the food was amazing; a perfect balance of seafood; beef; chicken, vegetarian, and pork. Once they gave us the entire back room private area and once the entire front of the house. Service was impeccable as well. And they did it with 10 entrees to match the 10 people per ‘lazy susan’ table so everyone got a taste of every main dish plus a multi appetizer plate and huge bowls of fresh fruit and Sorbet/ice creams family style.

If folks want, I will dig up some pictures of the food. One of the best presentations and taste and ,

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Are those prices a typo or a joke? 7 bucks for 4 dumplings??

BTW, I highly recommend you try an alternate method for soup dumplings - first you wait a minute or two for the dumps to cool. Put a little bit of the provided ginger and vinegar on your spoon, set the dumpling on it, and then the whole thing goes in your mouth at once. Someone took the time to put the broth inside, I want that tasty meat juice to explode in my mouth, not leak into the spoon!

As for other dim sum spots, Crown and West Lake are both good. I personally prefer West Lake a little bit more but not by a big margin.

Sunny Palace also has dim sum but I haven’t been, and there was a place that @ycf04 really liked somewhere that doesn’t have cart service but I recall he said it was really great.

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Oh, and one more thing to add - soup dumplings are typically not a “traditional” Dim Sum item, as Dim Sum is a Cantonese thing and soup dumps are Shanghainese. None of the Dim Sum cart places in our area have it as far as I know.

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The one i used to like is The Oriental on Route 9 North Marlboro/Manalapan… the restaurant is still there but sadly they no longer do any Dim Sum.

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Alas, I have the same problem here that I have with sushi rolls–my mouth is too small to put the whole thing in at once. Literally–I had to have four permanent (non-wisdom) teeth pulled before they put my braces on because there just wasn’t enough room for them.

The result is that I have to eat dumplings, sushi rolls, et.c, in two bites. For soup dumplings, I put the dumpling and ginger and vinegar on the spoon, puncture the dumpling and then pour all the liquid into my mouth while biting off half the dumpling. (This may be why I tend to prefer smaller dumplings like har gow rather than the bigger ones.)

I had forgotten Sunny Palace–we haven’t been there in years.

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I haven’t been there in a few years, just checked out their menu and it looks like they turned into one of those weird generic pan-Asian places.

I’m sorry to hear about your small mouth struggles. I think we need a HOdown where we order a bunch of mouth-sized food items and just watch you eat them! :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

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re: Sunny Palace… i haven’t been for a while but from they have changed management or ownership a few times. At one point, it was selling Pho but still do Dim Sum on the weekend. Currently, one of the past owner took over again and it is back to a Chinese restaurant.
(This is solely second hand information from a friend that eat there regularly.)

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I also liked their Dim Sum. They told me they would lose money some weeks because they would prepare stuff and not enough would get ordered. One of the problems of Dim Sum without carts. If you have carts you keep sending the stuff you have extra of around.

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