Friday, May 09, 2008

Travel Dish: Beijing (Honolulu)

The Capital for Dim Sum in Honolulu
2301 Kalakaua Ave., 3rd Floor
Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, Waikiki
PH: 808.971.8833
Open for lunch and dinner
Major credit cards, reservations accepted
Web site

When making the rounds of dim sum spots while visiting my mom in Honolulu, one of the more luxurious places for this tea lunch is the Beijing Chinese Seafood Restaurant in the heart of Waikiki.

This elegant fine-dining establishment has a certain Hong Kong air to its approach to service. You can tell from the time you sit down and they hand you a moist hand towel to wipe your hands before lunch.

Beijing, which is the same name of the capital of China, is on the third floor of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. The center itself is going through a transformation as many of the stores have closed to make way for new renovated digs. When I was there, the first phase was already open on the opposite end of Beijing with several new stores, many of them names I regularly see at San Francisco’s Union Square. (I’m talking stores like L’Occitane, Juicy Couture and Kate Spade.)

But Beijing has been around for a few years. While it serves primarily the tourist crowds, it still attracts some locals who are enticed by its pretty environment. It’s not a dim sum place people go to often, mostly because the menu is limited to just 20 dim sum selections and the prices are on the high end at around $3.50 per plate.

My mom used to live in Waikiki so she often visited Beijing for lunch. So when we went for dim sum this week, virtually every server knew her and she would catch up with each one who came by the table. (This is probably why some of my shots were a bit off as I had to snap them quickly so as not to embarrass my mom in front of her friends.)

The dim sum are ordered with your waiter and then brought to your table instead of the circling carts or trays at other restaurants. Along with the dim sum selection, Beijing also offers soup noodles and specialty dishes for lunch.

My mom had a hankering for soup noodles, so I suggested my favorite rice noodle soup with shredded duck meat and preserved cabbage. They had a similar item on the menu but with beef. So my mom asked them to sub the beef with duck. The single order of this rice noodle soup was pretty large. I spooned out about five individual bowls of the soup.

The soup itself was really tasty and light, and the rice noodle was perfectly al dente. But I thought the duck meat could have been shredded more thinly and the cabbage looked like it was more fresh cabbage as opposed to the preserved Northern style of cabbage that has that unique pickled savory flavor. Still, my mom says she liked it enough that she might order it again when she comes without me in the future.

For the dim sum, we tried a few dishes that my mom gave me the OK to order. Some of the items I wanted to order she vetoed because she said they were just OK but not great. That included basics like siu mai, which she says was just a big clump of pork meat.

So what we did order included the pot stickers, which I enjoyed even though it wasn’t perfect. The skin was nicely pan-fried but I felt a bit thick. But I fell in love with the filling, which was tender and soft, making me feel like I was eating plumped little dumplings.

Speaking of dumplings, Beijing makes one of the best versions of Shanghai soup dumplings, or xiu lung bao, in Honolulu. These little pockets of meat and soup just burst in your mouth with flavor and taste. Just be sure to let it cool a bit instead of biting into it right away (yes, I speak from experience).

We also got one of my standards, the pan-fried turnip cakes. The turnip cakes were perfectly pan-fried with a light crispy skin, but I thought the pieces were a bit on the thin side compared to what I’ve eaten at other restaurants. The texture of the gel-like turnip concoction was smooth and good.

My mom ordered her favorite called ham shui gok, which is a deep-fried glutinous ball filled with salted pork. I didn’t try this because it was deep-fried and I feel the sticky texture makes you feel weighted down afterwards. But it looked nicely crisp.

I sometimes feel like I’m such a hypocrite because I just talked about not eating sticky stuff, but here you see the traditional sticky rice with chicken. This is probably the only glutinous rice dish I’d eat because of the unique flavor of the filling of chicken, herbs and salted duck in the center of the sticky rice, which is all steamed in lotus leaves for that nice flavor. Beijing’s version is a nice tender packet of flavor.

When eating in Beijing, especially during the weekdays, you feel like you’re escaping the crowds of Waikiki and being treated like an emperor (and you can see your throne in a window just outside the restaurant). It can get a bit hectic on the weekends, but it’s still a place on the dim sum circuit for solid offerings in a regal setting.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (It's quality, not quantity)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

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