Food porn: dim sum at Cai | Bleader

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Food porn: dim sum at Cai

Posted By on 12.14.11 at 12:50 PM

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Cais baked egg tarts
From the partnership of a Hong Kong (via Toronto) chef and a suburban restaurateur, this big, bright, gaudy second-floor banquet hall is the latest of the many new and interesting Chinatown restaurants that have opened over the last year or so, rivaling only MingHin in size, if not execution or tasteful design. It has a deep Cantonese evening menu, but of primary interest is its similarly extensive dim sum selection, available only until 4 PM each day. What strikes me immediately is the quality of the sweets, in particular the baked egg tarts. For a bite so ubiquitous, this little pastry is practically inedible everywhere you find it. At Cai, however, the pastry is light and flaky, the custard warm and smooth, made with love, much like a steamed custard cake; layers of piping hot moist sponge sandwiching bits of mildly sweet papaya. That's pictured after the jump in the photo taken by the acclaimed Dr. Peter Engler, who was kind enough to share more pretty pictures.

papaya with custard cake

A well-constructed dim sum meal—with its contrasting textures of the soft and steamed, the greasy crunch of the fried, and the mitigating slipperiness of the gelatinous bits—is the refuge of the hungover. Cai's lo bak ko, or turnip cake, is the ideal combination of the three, its crispy panfried exterior girding the soft pork-studded understory.

Cais lo bak ko


Panfried bean curd crepes bundle a mix of white cloud fungus and wood-ear mushrooms.
pan fried bean curd crepes filled with mixed vegetable
  • Peter Engler
  • Panfried bean curd crepes filled with mixed vegetable

One of the more unsuccessful dishes, a big beautiful dumpling stuffed with dried scallop and shrimp, floated in an unnaturally yellow broth that looked and tasted like instant soup mix.

dried scallop with seafood dumplings in supreme broth
  • Peter Engler
  • Dried scallop with seafood dumplings in supreme broth

Cai is doing deep-fried things quite well, like superplump fried shrimp dumplings,

Cais fried jumbo shrimp dumplings

Here's a jiggling mound of steamed beef tendon in a thick curried glop that slides down your gullet and settles in your belly like a booze-sucking sponge.

Cais beef tendon with house sacue

Uncle Ben's quality rice marred pork rib nubbins in an olive sauce. Dishes like that show Cai has a ways to go if it's going to cut into the game of more established dim sum houses, such as Phoenix, Shui Wah, and MingHin.

Cais spare ribs with olive

Cai, 2100 S. Archer, 312-326-6888

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