I admit it: I’d never eaten dim sum. I know. Get over yourself.
But when some friends of mine suggested we bring our families to Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, I was in. When I pulled up to this south suburban strip mall at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, and couldn’t find a minivan, I was intrigued.
When I saw the line of people filling the sidewalk on this 70-degree March day, I knew I was in the right place. And when we got inside, I saw two tables of my friends from the Asian American Journalists Association. Another good sign.
If you, like me, are a dim sum virgin, think of an indoor food truck rally. Servers navigate the jam-packed Mandarin dining room pushing carts stocked with freshly prepared small plates. (This blog post mentions food trucks and small plates—the top two overused phrases in food writing right now! I win!)
At Mandarin Kitchen, the dim sum menu has 70 different items on it, so you can ask for whatever you want. Each plate is meant for sharing, so order the scallops dumpling (can’t miss, pictured above) and you’ll pay $4.15 for four of them. Order pan-fried taro cake and you’ll pay $2.95 for two of them. (Though probably don’t order the taro cake, it kind of tasted like fried Thanksgiving stuffing.)
Most people don’t order anything, you just watch the carts come by, look at the food, and take a plate of this and a plate of that. Most things are between $3-$4.15, although there are some house specials (like the cold chicken claw, the seaweed, and the roast duck) for $5.95 each.
The duck was heavenly—a moist, flavorful meat with an herbal note, maybe hint of anise in the glaze. My six-year-old wouldn’t stop eating the shrimp and the scallops. And my four-year-old loved the sticky rice in the lotus leaf and the egg rolls.
The fried crab claw was incredible, and the flaky crusts on the little fruit tarts and custard desserts were perfect.
A few caveats: It’s super crowded and extremely loud. My wife was overwhelmed by all the activity going on. You will wait, unless you arrive at 10 a.m. or call ahead to get a space on the list. And the service is… well, it’s the service you might expect in a really crowded restaurant.
We gave our server some money early on, knowing that we had four kids, four adults, and might need a little extra attention with napkins and water refills. It paid off—he was great.
A strategy tip: Don’t eat everything that comes at you right away. Be patient. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. And don’t be afraid to try some crazy new things. It’s only a couple bucks a plate.
Those couple bucks add up, of course. For the eight of us, the total bill was $125 (tip + tax included), so about $60 a family. We probably took two or three plates more than we needed.
Ultimately, this won’t be the last time I have dim sum. I can’t wait to bring the family back to Mandarin Kitchen again, happily parking in the lot across the street, waiting outside, and celebrating when I bite into that first bite of a yet to be discovered taste.
8766 S. Lyndale Ave., Mpls.