‘I came to eat dim sum’
New Happy Garden5731 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95824
Being insatiable seems an essential element of sluttiness. A slut can’t be sated or else they wouldn’t be a slut, right? Being insatiable also bespeaks a certain lack of discrimination. Therefore, as a dim-sum slut, if a new venue is discovered, it automatically must be experienced.
Previously in this space, New Canton on Broadway was celebrated as the most divine. Memo to New Canton: Feel the breath of Happy Garden on your neck.
Immortalized in 2007 by this publication as the best place in town for an Asian wedding, the monstrous restaurant, with its one upstairs and two downstairs dining rooms and an oasis of palm trees and bamboo in one distant corner, could host three weddings simultaneously within its vastness. The space seems even bigger on weekdays, when the lunch crowd is anything but and only a couple dim-sum carts ply the aisles. Weekends, however, it can be bedlam and a half.
Happy Garden is big on bigness. The dim-sum menu itself boasts close to 60 items. For the edification of diners, photos of the selections are exhibited on a large table near the front door. A small dish is $2.25, a medium one is $2.75 and a large is $3.25. All are circulated by cart on weekends and many are available by request on weekdays, when the carts tend to feature the stalwarts: char siu bao, har gow, siu mai, shark fin gow and the bowl o’ bones spareribs, offered here with the nice flourish of several jalapeño circles.
When going the weekday special-request route, direct the requests to Fiona (Duong, according to a Sacramento County food-inspection report), formerly of Vietnam, but of Chinese descent. She recounts a spectacularly hilarious “Who’s on First?” phone exchange with someone infinitely less conversant in English who wants to speak to the owner, which is what the person hears whenever Fiona replies, “No, I’m Fiona.”
She sees me slop some soy on the table and use my napkin to wipe it up. Without prompting, she delivers a stack of napkins. As a joke, she lays a stack on me at my next visit. The third visit, she recalls my penchant for yellow mustard, bringing it and plenty of napkins without being asked.
Even the dim sum is oversized at Happy Garden. Fiona says this is because Sacramento is a cow town and everything in cow towns is big. The siu mai are on steroids. The shrimp-and-chives dumpling is at least one-half size bigger than other dim-sum places. The har gow is hefty, too.
And they’re fighters. None of the har gow wants to release from the paper at the bottom of the steaming basket, causing only the stuffing of two to be eaten.
Worried my sluttiness causes me to believe the siu mai tastes superior to all others, experts are sought. While dim-sum devotees Craig Brown and Geoff Long do not qualify as dumpling sluts, they make rational and measured assessments. We speak of the California Environmental Quality Act, its use and abuse. Proof, as though any were needed, that we really know how to live.
For Craig and Geoff, the scallop gow is a newly discovered hit. Of the siu mai, they gush that it’s the best they’ve ever eaten. An additional quartet is quickly ordered. A new experience for all of us is sampling what is described by the cart pusher as “tofu skin with shrimp inside.” It is judged “good.” Of the Cantonese sausage roll, which is a pineapple-ish tasting, breakfasty sausage in an oval char siu bao bun, Geoff sniffs, “I came to eat dim sum, not pigs in a blanket.”
Craig and I are not so prickly; pigs in baos scores high. The Shanghai pork buns, one of the $3.25 dishes, are, not surprisingly, large but, surprisingly, not accompanied by the traditional ginger dipping sauce.
Dim sum happens at Happy Garden. Every day.