Point Me to the Highlands, Dim Sum at Tea Palace
Dim sum, the Asian equivalent of dining à la carte.
"C'mon," I said nudging my husband as the hour grew closer to noon. "Let's go get dim sum!"
"You mean, fifty ways to eat shrimp?" my dozing husband laughed and rolled over.
The true translation of dim sum is to "point heart." That being said, your stomach should point you towards Renton's Tea Palace.
Tea Palace, situated in an enormous lot behind the Highland's Viet Wah, is a staggeringly large restaurant, aimed to have banquets of up to 800, and is one of the largest Asian halls in the Northwest. The day after Christmas, the chandeliers glistened and several stages were set for live entertainment the night before. This is a place built for a serious party.
I envied the large tables with families, set around Lazy Susans filled with various dishes. It's hard to do dim sum justice with only two or three people, even though it can make for splendid leftovers. I've laughed at another dim sum joint as a small Asian woman claimed the entire offering of shrimp and chive dumplings, then proceeded to break out her Tupperware.
While Tea Palace may not have Tupperware-toting Gow Choi Gau, it does have cordial service, a wagon train of carts and a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere. And excellent jasmine-infused tea, as a tea palace should. Servers are friendly, and willing to answer questions, even if it requires sending over a translator.
The congee was a comforting start, especially after a night of revelry. Along with strands of chicken, fried tofu skin and minced scallions, Tea Palace's congee also holds the surprise of Pi dan, blueish preserved 'century eggs' at the bottom of the bowl. A treasured dish, a first for me, and an acquired taste I believe.
Stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts and onions were quietly comforting, the fu Pi Kuen, or bean curd skin rolls were devoured quickly along with their hidden layer of minced pork & shrimp. The shu mei were up to snuff, although we agreed that it may have been our fault for ordering greedily, the dishes could have been warmer. The steamed Gai Lan, Chinese broccoli, is apparently made to order as we never saw it on a cart but on many a table, and was served hot, oyster sauce on the side. Just the way I like it and a great way to round out a meal of tasty fried dishes.
However, the standout was the crisply golden fried shrimp balls, oval-shaped and graced with a strip of nori which gave them an artistic touch. And the surprise favorite for me? Wolf berry and longan "pudding." This is knox blox on tropical steroids. A jewel-like quivering cube of encased wolf berries and floral longan strips, artistically topped with a cool layer of condensed coconut milk. Not too sweet, but a refreshing finish.
If one is to judge the caliber of dim sum on the pleats of the har gao, I didn't count. I will say they stuck to the paper which is a dim sum faux pas. But would I rather eat here than head to madness of the International District after a major holiday? Dang ran, of course.
Our meal of over ten dishes barely pushed $50 with lots of leftovers. And as I spooned chili sauce into the side of my to-go box, I felt pretty merry for the day after Christmas.
Tea Palace Asian Restaurant & Banquet
2828 Sunset Lane NE, Renton, WA, 98056
Monday - Friday : 10:00am - 3:00pm Lunch
5:00pm - 10:00pm Dinner
Saturday - Sunday : 10:00am - 10:00pm