I was at a party, chatting with a fascinating woman who had lived all over Asia. We could have talked about a million different things but the conversation immediately went to food…naturally.
She regaled me with stories of street food and chili crab and I sat there, slack jawed in awe of her culinary adventures. Eventually the dialogue moved to food here in New York and we found ourselves discussing a certain Chinese restaurant. Then, in almost perfect unison we found ourselves saying something along the lines of, “It seems touristy, it looks unauthentic, but dammit I love this place”. We were talking about Nom Wah Tea Parlor.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which opened in 1920, is touted as being New York City’s first dim sum restaurant. You almost feel transported back to that time when you’re walking down the narrow, alley like road where it resides.
The thing that sets Nom Wah apart from other popular dim sum joints is the made to order aspect. Most traditional dim sum restaurants are a three ring circus of sorts. An enormous room is packed to the gills will boisterous diners. Carts overflowing with food spin around the room in a noisy, fragrant dance. And if you aren’t paying close attention there’s a good chance you’ll miss one of the dishes you were wanting because once that cart passes you by, good luck bringing it back around.
Nom Wah on the other hand has no carts. They’re serving the same small plates of delicious dim sum delights, only they’re bringing them to you via waiters and it’s all made to order. This way you get to enjoy dim sum food without it having to be a “whole big thing” as I think I put it when we sat down for our first ever relaxing dim sum experience.
We were lucky enough to get the last available two top on a Friday evening before the wait started. The interior of Nom Wah is as far from a banquet style dim sum parlor as you can get and it was filled with its fair share of gweilos, but we sat down with an open mind and an empty stomach.
We ordered all of our favorites and a few other bites and were happy with every single dish that came our way.
The sticky rice in lotus leaf ($5.25 – one of my favorites) was great. Sticky in texture, meaty in flavor and oh so fragrant from being steamed in the lotus leaf. Two thumbs up.
The ubiquitous sui mai dumplings ($4) were tasty. Of course you have to order sui mai at basically every dim sum restaurant to compare and contrast and these were right up there. Delicate skins, flavorful stuffing, need I say more.
The salt and pepper shrimp ($9.95) were a surprising treat. Whole, unpeeled, head on shrimp are deep fried whole and meant to be eaten as such. They were crispy and flaky on the outside, tender on the inside and seasoned just enough so you could taste every bit of shrimp flavor backed in that little body.
The hubby and I unanimously agreed that the star of the show was the rice roll with spare ribs ($5.50). Delicate sheets of rice flour noodle are folded onto a plate and topped with bits of spare ribs in a black bean sauce. Holy moly was this delicious. I’d go back just for this dish. The texture contrast between the delicate noodles and chewy pork was perfection. The sauce coated the noodles wonderfully. Perfection on a plate.
We also ordered some dumplings and other odds and ends that were all good but perhaps not wow worthy.
The menu isn’t quite as comprehensive as many dim sum places. I saw chicken feet on the menu but didn’t see much if any tripe (so good).
Much of the menu is gluten free and there are some vegetarian options.
They serve booze although we had tea because they are a TEA PARLOR after all and their menu is pretty extensive.
They fill up quickly so be prepared to wait a bit.