June 20, 2011

A Day Off from Cooking

I love cooking, but there are days when I just don't feel like it.  Yesterday was one of those days.   It was my birthday, and even though it would have been a beautiful day for grilling, I just felt like taking it easy.  So, with that in mind, Juli and I went out for lunch and picked up some pizzas to warm up for dinner.   The lunch was great.  The pizza, sadly, was not so great.

For lunch we went to Kwong Tung Restaurant on Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines.  As Chinese restaurants go, Kwong Tung is generally pretty average.  Their lunch specials offer a generous amount of food for around $5.00 (give or take a bit depending on what you order), but there's nothing particularly memorable or unique about their daily offerings.   Sundays are quite another matter, though.  They offer dim sum every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm, and their dim sum is worth writing about. 

For those unfamiliar with the tradition, dim sum is a Chinese meal consisting of small portions of various sorts of food, typically served up in steamer baskets or on small plates.  In China, it is usually associated with drinking tea, but I don't recall anyone - including the Asian customers - drinking tea at Kwong Tung yesterday, unless you count iced tea. 

Dim sum restaurant fare typically offers several dozen dishes from which the customers choose.  Some are familiar Chinese restaurant fare, often served as appetizers (pot stickers, crab rangoon, fried wontons, egg rolls, spring rolls and barbecued pork, or char sui).  Other dishes typically include numerous types of dumplings, or gao, usually steamed but sometimes fried, and baked or steamed buns and rolls filled with meat, vegetables or bean paste.  As far as the dumplings, sui mai is one of the standards served at Kwong Tung.  These tasty steamed dumplings are filled with chicken, pork or shrimp.  Cha siu baau - fluffy buns filled with barbecued pork - are among the standard sorts of buns.  Fried squid, spare ribs, steamed meatballs, taro dumplings and chicken feet (fung zao) are some of the other standard dim sum dishes served at Kwong Tung. 

Dim sum also typically includes a few sweet dishes, and Kwong Tung follows this tradition by offering standard dim sum dishes such as egg tarts (pastries filled with egg custard) and sesame balls (jin deui). The latter are among Juli's favorites.  These balls of dough filled with red bean paste are rolled in sesame seeds then deep fried to make a chewy, tasty snack.  KwongTung's dim sum also includes a variety of noodle dishes, characterized by ample portions of soft- or crisp-fried noodles, vegetables (most prominently baby bok choy and mushrooms) and chunks of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp. 

At Kwong Tung, one orders Dim Sum by selecting what one wants, and how many servings, on a half-sheet of paper that lists the various dishes and their prices.   We ordered two helpings of crab rangoon, fried crescent dumplings and pan-fried potstickers, plus sar har (egg noodles) with beef, pan-fried noodles with shrimp and one order each of sesame balls and pork egg rolls.  Every single one of these dishes was excellent.  The fried crescent dumplings - little crescents of rice flour dough filled with spiced meat - and the potstickers are particular favorites of ours. 

As usual, we ordered a bit more than we could finish, because the leftovers are one of  the great things about going to Kwong Tung's dim sum, but we could have been more than stuffed even if we'd entirely skipped the noodle dishes.  All of that came to about $30, including tip, which isn't bad considering how much food we got.  Considering how good it was, that price is a bargain!

We had to do a bit of shopping, so I decided to drop by the Gateway Market on Woodland Avenue in Des Moines.  Gateway Market features organic produce, fine cheeses, excellent meat, imported pastas and a wide range of hard-to find spices, condiments, snacks and imported food items, plus an excellent cafe.  Although it is a bit pricey, Gateway Market has become one of our go-to places to shop for various odds and ends.   During previous visits, their store-made, ready-to-cook pizzas had caught my eye.  They looked delicious, and I decided my birthday was a good time to try them out.   We bought two 10-inch pizzas - one pepperoni and one margherita (soft mozzarella, tomato slices and fresh basil) at $7.49 each.

I have generally been quite pleased by my Gateway Market purchases, so I was surprised to find the pizzas pretty disappointing.  I didn't think they were terrible (though Juli really disliked the margherita one), but they weren't particularly good, either.   They struck me as the sort of pizza you get by being more concerned about healthy and organic ingredients than with flavor.  Honestly, I'd have been just as happy warming up a couple frozen Tombstone pizzas, so given the price, I didn't find Gateway Market's pizzas a very good deal at all, and I doubt we'll be buying any more of them any time soon. 

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