My sweet little dumpling
New Canton Restaurant2523 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818
As a dim-sum slut, I bask in the warm afterglow. Had I not ditched cigarettes at 11:47 a.m., January 25, 2003, I would smoke afterward.
This is the post-New Canton groove, to date the gold standard for dumplings in Sacramento. I’ve teed up Tea Cup Cafe on 21st Street. Chowed down at the venerable King’s of West Sacramento and spent decades of quality time at Capital Tea Garden on T Street.
None measure up to New Canton.
First, New Canton has pushcarts. There are purists who argue that if there ain’t carts, it ain’t legit dim sum. That’s balderdash, but there is something uniquely wonderful on a Sunday morning at any dim-sum place along Stockton Street in San Francisco watching the carts, heaped with delectable dumplings, thread their way through a tangle of tables—toward you.
That’s how it is at New Canton.
In fairness, the meal is enhanced by sharing it with Nancy Miller, a big-deal Sacramento lawyer, all-around babetician and member of Mrs. Lucas’ tightest circle of friends.
We engage in a fairly lengthy cataloging of Warren Buffett’s virtues. Gracefully, we segue to tripe, failing to recall which chambers of a cow stomach comprise it, whether the intestines are involved and the precise number of chambers.
“I just call it awful,” Nancy says. “O-F-F-A-L.” Ba-da-bing. Ba-da-boom.
(Subsequent Internet research yields the following: Usually it’s the first three chambers: the rumen, the reticulum and the omasum. There are four chambers in all.)
Walking into New Canton is a little spooky. The downstairs dining room is empty except for a crab-and-lobster death row of tanks. None of the crustaceans are real frisky. Of course, what condemned crustacean would jump for joy knowing they’re about to go on the Long Scuttle.
Upstairs is where the action is.
Besides the dim sum being lighter and less greasy than the competition, New Canton has more varieties—62 choices counting all the tarts, cakes and dessert buns. Had we seen the menu beforehand, art could have imitated life: Beef tripe with ginger and scallions, $3.15. Instead, we revel in a robust stack of Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce with a sweet but not cloying taste.
Another $6 item is duck, which is pretty fatty, as duck tends to be. Nancy abandons chopsticks for utensils to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were.
When it’s time for desert, these are the only plates with anything left on them: the broccoli because there is too much, the duck because there is too little. Nancy waves off the jellyfish and urges me to try some chicken feet. I demur. My chicken-feet biorhythms are low.
The siu mai, a dim-sum staple with ground-pork stuffing, is hot and, in a nice touch, flavored with a hint of ginger. The har gow, scallop-shaped shrimp dumplings, are stellar.
We rave about the cheung fun. Tea Cup lost heavy style points when the waitress said I wouldn’t be able to have any fun. Cheung fun—rectangular sheets made of rice flour and stuffed with shrimp, pork or beef—gets doused with soy sauce and sesame oil when served. Whatever New Canton adds to or subtracts from the mix, it tastes superior to the Tea Garden’s cheung fun, the closest rival.
The shrimp-and-chive dumplings are cold and would have been better with steam rising from them. Tasting a lot like char sui bao, the popular barbecue pork buns, are sweet D battery-sized, pork- or shrimp-stuffed thingamabobs—to use a Sorbonne-coined dim sum culinary term of art. The thingamabobs are a first for both us, with no menu listing appearing to correspond to them, except perhaps Steamed BBQ Pork Bun with oyster sauce. Whatever they are, they enter the dim-sum pantheon. That’s the beauty of the carts: When a name is elusive, just point and say, “Yes, please.”
Nancy insists on a dessert of sweet sesame rice balls, which are greener than the Emerald City. Nancy’s description: “A glutinous mass covering a very interesting peanut butterish thing.” The peanut butterish thing is sesame paste. Two green balls remain when we exit.
Despite the lunchtime bustle, service is prompt and smartly efficient. On the dim-sum righteousness spectrum: Authoritative.