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East Asia Garden: The Plot Thickens Promisingly

Just got back from lunch at East Asia Garden with pal C; full post to come, but for now, suffice it to say that the take-out menu is not the whole story. (Click to enlarge.)

EAGmenu3
EAGmenu1
EAGmenu2
It’s not that you can’t find the “real” regional stuff amid the Americanized glop at many a local Chinese joint; it’s that I didn’t expect to find it here, on S. Broadway, far from the likelier corners, in a space most recently occupied by an only nominally Thai joint. Hell, hairtail? I thought it might be a bad translation, but it might in fact be this.

Stay tuned.

First Look at East Asia Garden Menu: Huh!

Here’s hoping the successor to Thai Green Chile at 1156 S. Broadway isn’t just another Hunan beef hut like most of the Asian take-outeries this side of I-25.

Long as the menu is (nearly 200 dishes), it certainly offers all those sticky red-lantern-golden-dragon throwbacks—pineapple chicken, moo goo gai pan, sweet & sour pork—but it also lists 6 types each of bao & jiaozi, mostly combo pork with vegetables (cabbage, celery, green pepper, pickle). Its specialty, meanwhile, is guo qiao mi xian, aka Cross Bridge Rice Noodles, or “mysterious homemade noodle soup (spicy or none spicy).” I do like a nice steaming bowl of mystery.

And the surprises don’t end there: I’m excited to see a small selection of cold dishes—hot & spicy potato silk & tofu skin among them—as well as mango sticky rice & mini-sugar doughnuts for dessert.

I’ll report back anon.

Luxe Redux: Chopsticks China Bistro

Since I last gave it up for Chopsticks, the joint’s gone all (well, relatively) swanky on me, relocating to lacquered & sleek new digs in suburbia. So far as memory of its predecessor serves, the menu’s been dumbed down a little for the golden key party set, but only a little, & execution remains solid if slightly less exciting.

For instance, the Sichuan-style red chili oil wontons with pork & shrimp are without a doubt among the best in town, along with those of Lao Wang Noodle House;

Chopstickswontons
beautifully gift-wrapped, almost impossibly delicate, they nonetheless held their own in the oil—fiery but not merely fiery, with softer sour notes that had me sipping it from the spoon long after the wontons were gone.

I wasn’t quite as enamored with the “egg crabmeat juicy pork dumplings”;

Chopsticksdumplings

perfectly adequate as they were, & as unfair as my verdict is since they weren’t identified as soup dumplings per se, they suffered a bit from comparison with Lao Wang’s extraordinary perfumed xiao long bao. (Unless, of course, they were supposed to be soup dumplings, in which case they suffered a lot from comparison, containing no broth whatsoever.)

Taiwanese rice noodles fried with pork, egg, peppers, onions & scallions amounted to pure, shovel-it-in comfort food—just greasy & texturally varied but flavorwise simple enough for cheerfully mindless grubbing.

Chopsticksricenoodles

“Fish”—white & light, halibut or cod or something—braised in hot bean sauce with a daikon rose was well cooked, firm & flaky, though not as distinctive as I’d remembered it;

Chopsticksfish

by contrast, lamb, onions, peppers & scallions with strong & tangy sah cha sauce—a variant of satay according to this Chowhound thread—was a memorable new one on me; it can be ordered with beef as well, but our sassy young waiter (I’ve sadly forgotten his name, though I asked for it, but you’ll know him, & like him, by the goofy jokes he cracks) was adamant about lamb.

Chopstickslambsahcha
I wonder whether China Jade does traditional Sichuan kung pao (here starring tofu) with peppercorns; Chopsticks doesn’t, but at least it doesn’t go full-on gloppy either, keeping the heat.

Chopstickskungpaotofu

I couldn’t help but notice that smaller, less lively parties got oranges with the check while my boisterous group was treated to orange layer cake (from a local bakery)—really good, fresh, moist & bright-flavored.

Chopsticksorangecake

Word to the wise, then: banter with the waitstaff pays in spades.

Whether the haul down to Greenwood Village is worth it in the 1st place is harder to say. For all the high gloss on the new space, the cooking seemed to have lost a touch of its former luster, sacrificing an ounce of oomph for a dash of caution. A return might be in order to see if the same is true of staunchly un-American dishes like simmered beef tendon or jellyfish salad; in short, Chopsticks is still good, but the verdict is out as to whether it’s still special.

Chopsticks on Urbanspoon

When in Rome: Lesson Learned at China Jade

Make that “when in a Sichuan restaurant in Aurora.” China Jade draws regular raves—including, just days ago, Westword’s Best Chinese Restaurant award—for the uncompromising quality of its downhome regional cookery. Thus—as is the case at any place specializing in dishes unfamiliar to the average American—the golden rule is to forego what you know (your lo mein this & egg drop that) & do as the Romans (of whatever ethnicity) around you are doing.

It’s one I myself usually follow. But as I noted in my recent review of Star Kitchen, I was on a dumpling-seeking mission of late that continued through my visit to this bare-bones strip mall joint. And while dumplings have their place at the Sichuan table just as they do in most Chinese cuisines, I wouldn’t call them China Jade’s forte.

For instance, though the wontons are served Sichuan style with red chili oil,

CJwontons

they were surprisingly bland, their wrappers flavorless, especially compared to those at Lao Wang Noodle House & Chopsticks (more on which in a future post). Ditto the clumsily thick, soup-free knockoff of xiao long bao.

CJdumplings

Likewise, it’s Beijing that’s best known for duck, & though crispy duck is listed as a house specialty at China Jade, I found the breading too heavy & greasy & the sauce too syrupy.

CJduck

By contrast, the traditional vegetable (not, note, necessarily vegetarian) dishes we ordered were killer in every sense of the word. Take the green beans dry-fried with chilies & finely minced pork,

CJgreenbeans
beautifully blistered & blistering in turn, & just a touch nutty from peanut or sesame oil (if not both). Or the highlight of our meal, eggplant in hot garlic sauce.

CJeggplant

Combining violet, velvety chunks of oil-slicked eggplant with chopped pork, onion & cilantro in 1 of the region’s definitive sauces—typically a blend of soy, garlic, ginger, chilies, sugar, cornstarch & sesame oil—it is, IMO, the epitome, along with pad Thai, naeng myun, báhn mì & etc., of the Asian predilection for incorporating all the taste elements into 1 dish: spicy, sour, salty, sweet, umami.

Ma po tofu, which translates considerably less appetizingly as “pockmarked old lady’s tofu,” is another Sichuan classic at which the kitchen excels.

CJmapotofu

Wikipedia’s description is striking: “True Mapo doufu is powerfully spicy, with both conventional ‘heat’ spiciness & the characteristic ‘mala’ (numbing spiciness) flavor of Sichuan cuisine. The feel of the particular dish is often described by cooks using 7 specific Chinese adjectives: 麻 (numbing), 辣 (spicy hot), 烫 (hot temperature), 鲜 (fresh), 嫩 (tender & soft), 香 (aromatic), & 酥 (flaky).” Which is a cool way of saying “Holy crap! My mouth is burning but I can’t stop eating this much awesome!”

Still, as I watched those around us devouring pork shoulder in casserole & other family-style lookers, I got the distinct, depressing sense that there is indeed such a thing as ordering wrong & that, despite our better instincts, my companions & I had allowed ourselves, at least to some extent, to do just that. Next time—& there will be a next time—I’ll follow the Roman rule to the letter.

China Jade on Urbanspoon

The Absolute Magnitude of Star Kitchen

Lest you slept through Astronomy 101, absolute magnitude is the measure of a star’s intrinsic brightness, in contrast to apparent magnitude, which measures a star’s brightness as seen by an earthling.

As seen by a Denverite, Star Kitchen doesn’t look like much—which is, of course, neither here nor there; decor is no more reliable a way to gauge quality than visible shine is for gauging actual luminosity, especially below a certain price point. Decor, however, isn’t quite the same thing as ambiance, which goes beyond layout & furniture & lighting & such, even beyond the visible.

And sure enough, Star Kitchen has got ambiance in abundance, at least by my standards. Consider that:

1. The 1st time I went in, I was the lone gwailo (gwaila?) of about 20 customers; the 2nd time, I was 1 of only 4 in a roomful of roughly 50. Though demographics are also not total guarantees of quality—bad taste is hardly exclusive to white America—they’re a start; without introducing the vexed notion of authenticity, we can certainly say in general that those who grew up with cuisine X are more likely to know better where to go for cuisine X and what to order there than are those raised on cuisine Y, especially when there are language obstacles to negotiate.

2. The 2nd time I was there, the TV in the corner was airing a Chinese-language soap opera, complete with wacky gumball-colored ads; the speakers were blaring a Cantonese cover of Jefferson Starship’s god-awful Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now so awesomely bad it put the original to shame; & my sake came in a makeshift bain-marie.

SKsake
So far, so shiny happy. But with ambiance ultimately a matter of apparent magnitude, the only true measure of Star Kitchen’s absolute magnitude can, of course, be the food. That & the size of my belly after a couple of take-out blowouts,* itself now absolutely magnitudinous.

So, having sampled a fair number (if not a broad array**) of dishes, I can promise you that if this Hong Kongese/Cantonese joint isn’t quite a Cygnus OB2-12, it’s at least an Eta Carinae. In short, it’s pretty brilliant. (**For work purposes, I stuck mainly with dumplings & buns—& have deliberately left out a couple of my favorites here in order to profile them elsewhere later. Keep your eyes peeled.)

Lightness of touch is a hallmark of the kitchen; yeast doughs are light & fluffy, wrappers thin.

SKscallopdumplings SKshrimpdumpling

Honestly, I’m not quite clear as to whether the scallop dumplings (on the left) should be wrapped more tightly or whether this is simply a lesser-known style—though I’ve seen open, end-pinched envelopes a few times before, acquaintances in the know suggest it’s a no-no. That said, I personally don’t care, so long as they hold together, & these did; above all, they were luscious, with thick slices of sea scallop & a sprinkle of tobiko topping a mound of chopped shrimp, carrots & scallions. The shrimp dumplings, meanwhile, were little engineering wonders—note the high number of pleats & the stuffed-to-bursting plumpness.

And though char siu bao, baked or (as below) steamed, is the standard-bearer,

SKsteamedbuns
I actually preferred SK’s chicken filling (below left) to the barbecued pork, whose moderate gumminess had me imagining there was grape or strawberry jelly in the sauce. The chicken, meanwhile, chopped with mushrooms & (probably) cabbage, made for a fresher savory contrast to the very slightly sweet bun.

SKchickenbun SKporkbun

Firm, cabbage-&-onion-juicy baked pork-vegetable bao appear below left; better still, on the right, are deep-fried, twist-tied pouch–shaped, wonton-like dumplings such as I’d never seen before. Shatteringly crunchy on the outside, each contained an entire fat shrimp, perfectly cooked. They came with mayo, which they hardly needed, but which I can hardly pretend I didn’t use—although I also dunked them, like doughnuts in coffee, into the broth for the wonton soup.

SKpanfriedporkbun SKfriedshrimpdumplings

No need, I presume, for a photo of the broth, which I actually didn’t care for in & of itself—too starchy—but the array of goodies to drop therein (below left) was lovely: not only squirting pork-&-shrimp wontons but whole shrimp, slices of barbecued pork (much better without the aforementioned sauce), chunks of steamed chicken, straw mushrooms, carrots & still-snappy sugar snap peas.

As for the “sizzling” beef rib with eggplant in black pepper sauce (right)—

SKwontons SKrib

of course it was no longer sizzling by the time I got to it, but I fear the sauce would’ve been on the gloppy, off-seasoned side (too much salt & sugar, not enough pepper) in any case; the rib, meanwhile, was rather chewy, but there was plenty of it, both on & off the bone, & the eggplant spears were just as I like them—glistening & silken.

And the best may be yet to come; the sweet-&-sour swills & blahs with blahcoli that dominate more compromising, Americanized repertoires are very few & far between on Star Kitchen’s menu, which instead features hot pots, clay pot rice casseroles, & major faves like salt & pepper shrimp in the shell & salty fish & chicken fried rice, making no bones along the way about its use of frog’s legs, duck’s tongue, tripe, lotus leaves, bamboo pith, bitter melon, sea cucumber & so on—as well it shouldn’t (though I do wish eel were an option). And who knows what secrets the “special late-dinner menu” may contain—but rest assured I’ll return soon to find out, hopefully to the tune of Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me.”

*Take-out again, you ask, with a justifiable air of skepticism? Aren’t you distorting the dining experience, not to mention short-shrifting the food—risking its degradation over time & distance? Truthfully, yes. But even I couldn’t eat all that by myself, & the Director had films to screen here at home. No excuse, just a fact of our dinner-&-a-movie lifestyle.

Star Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Pow! Bang! Zowie! The Superheroes of Lao Wang Noodle House

Certainly the mom & pop proprietors of this miniature version of a restaurant, 20 seats on a good day & apparently Taiwanese despite the menu’s Szechuan/Shanghainese bent, are my new heroes. Middle-aged if you squint, English-speaking if you hallucinate, these senior sweethearts are unstoppable, cooking up a storm & serving up a rainbow complete with pot o’ gold.

Make that bamboo steamer o’ xiao long bao.

LWNHsoupdumplings
Like bagels, martinis, espresso, hot dogs & so on, soup dumplings are one of those things that drive connoisseurs to distraction as they debate & dissect every detail right down to terminologyproper methods of ingestion. To be sure, XLB (to use the popular English abbreviation) are as tricky to eat as they are deceptively simple to deconstruct. Inside these sleek, soft little dough purses are a bite of pork & a single sip of broth (attained by adding aspic to the filling that melts in the heat); the subtle aroma of star anise mesmerizes with each bursting mouthful.

Along with the XLB, the signature potstickers—last week’s Dish of the Week—are an absolute must-order for any 1st-timer. And every timer after that. My encore order was even crisper, gooier & porkier than its predecessor.

LWNHpotstickers2

To round out the options for pastry-wrapped ground pig, the steamed wontons in spicy peanut sauce are wickedly savory bonbons too.

LWNHwontons
Though not quite soup, that spoon is in the bowl for a reason—these extremely slippery & delicate little series of liquid-holding folds are a bitch to pick up with chopsticks, liable to rip to shreds.

LWNHwontons2

Better to just scoop them up with lots of that wonderful sauce—not the sweet melted peanut butter of your average Thai parlor but a brothy, sesame-smeared concoction with lots of chopped peanuts & a chili kick.

A similar blend brings the dandan noodles—pictured pre-stir—to glorious life.

LWNHdandan
Mixed up with the reddish, chilified sauce beneath & the chopped peanuts, ground pork & pickled veggies on top, these chow mein–style wheat noodles are a life-affirming scramble of crunch & slurp, soothe & snap-to. As special as the XLB & potstickers are, it’s this that’s gonna bring me back weekly. (What’s gonna drive me in next, however, are the cold noodles with peanut sauce, sesame dressing & shredded eggs. Can’t freaking wait.)

The menu, it should be noted (& as should come as no surprise), isn’t large or wide-ranging. These folks specialize in noodles (dry or in soup) & dumplings (& their ilk), period. Vegetables per se are limited to sliced cukes marinated in spicy oil,

LWNHcukes2

fettuccine-like seaweed marinated in mild sesame oil (which benefited from liberal splashes of black vinegar),

LWNHseaweed

& cabbage (on the right) marinated in brutally spicy, vinegar-based something or other. Looks so vulnerable in its overexposed plainness, I know, but it’s throat-searing.

LWNHbeefandcabbage

All are good, but their role is secondary, serving as palate cleansers, no more, no less. (There is one noodle soup that’s supposedly vegetarian, but the onus would be on you to ask some probing questions about the broth.)

On the left is what’s simply labeled “spiced beef,” belying its complexity. Served cold, it’s got a fascinating texture—firmly chewy rather than tender (which is not to say tough)—& a confident 5-spice touch. I thought it might be pressed & roasted, but delving further, I learned it’s probably beef shank, simmered & cooled.

Despite the narrow repertoire, there’s still so much more I’m dying to try, including tofu jerky, zha jiang mian, & the celebrated beef noodle soup. Untie thyself from the railroad tracks laid by those Kung-Pao villains engineering the glop train. It’s Pow Bang Superhero Noodle House to the rescue.

Lao Wang Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Potstickers, Lao Wang Noodle House

Why wait ’til Sunday to spread the good word? Nothing I knock back in the next 2 days could possibly touch these potstickers.

LWNHpotstickers
Though I’m a Chowhound forever, I gotta high-five the Yelpers here for giving Lao Wang Noodle House all the love it so deeply deserves, reserving special kudos for these babies. They’re all about their incredible wrappers: really, the pork is just there to slosh juice across the inside of the smooth, chewy dough, flavorful in & of itself with its darkly crunchy flat-bottom. Dipped into the killer house chili sauce, they slide down so easy the phrase “go like hotcakes” should officially be changed to “go like Lao Wang potstickers.” I hereby move that it be so.

Everything else pal K & I tried was equally winning, as ye shall see in the full review.

Back-to-back meh: Blue Moon & Twin Dragon

***
“One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail…one beats and beats for that which one believes,” says Wallace Stevens in “The Man on the Dump.” But sometimes one beats too hard, too fast, causing pain for herself & others. I wrote a blogpost the other day that (lest you arrived here in search of it) I have since taken down for that reason.

Enough said, besides I’m truly sorry to those I hurt.
***

What with the new kitty, I’m less inclined to budge from the couch than ever, so the Director & I have been ordering in a lot lately, including once from (make that “in a”) Blue Moon Asian Cuisine & Sushi. In keeping with the space it’s made in—that low-rent chalet on S. Colorado—the food’s pretty utilitarian. By the same token, of course, it’s also a sight cheaper than most (with a majority of items costing less than, for instance, their Sushi Den counterparts by a buck or more).

The Dynamite was Dynamite. Which isn’t the same as being dynamite. ‘Twas what ’twas.

BlueMoondynamite


By & large the maki was quite all right. Keep in mind that, while I know a thing or two about about a fish or 2, I’m no aficionado—not like Chowhound regular cgfan, whose fascinating thread (which links to photos & videos) on a day in the kitchen with his favorite itamae can be found here.


Therefore, I’m all too glad to snarf the stuff the snobs (sympathetically enough, really) sniff at. Hey, we all have our issues, as both the aforelinked & this Chow thread attest; mine just happens to be with bastardized Italian rather than Japanese. Besides, I ordered uni too, but the hostess called back to say the kitchen was out (a claim of which I’m slightly suspicious. Not to be a snob myself, but are Blue Moon habitués really that into echinoderms? Acquired tastes like [at least here in the US] sea urchin tend to develop only with investments of time & money—the very things places like Blue Moon aim to help you save.)


So I was happily stuck with my tricked-out rolls. Ignoring the Director’s basic nigiri from 12 to 2 o’clock (see, time really is of the essence at Blue Moon!), going clockwise from about 3, we got unagi (eel w/ avo) maki; east maki w/ shrimp, egg & avo; salmon skin maki; & spicy scallop maki. At the center top is sunshine maki stuffed with salmon, avo & pickled burdock & covered with tuna & tobiko; below that is Manhattan maki filled with spicy crab (maybe actual crab, since it’s one of the pricier rolls & since the menu specifies kani elsewhere?) & layered with tuna, salmon & avo. Nothing wrong with a one; all was just fine—the scallop being especially fine, bursting with meat & not especially gloppy, while the sunshine roll’s heavy dusting of flying fish roe was nice & messy.


BlueMoonsushi


The takeout menu for Twin Dragon boasted its past Best Ofs; though none were recent, a leaf-through pointed to a curio or two—5-flavor pork loin, honey roast pork, creamy walnut chicken (shrimp being the more usual version). And these

TDwrappedchicken TDwrappedchicken2

paper- {sic] wrapped chicken.<
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They were basically chicken meatballs, boomerang-shaped, scallion-spiked &, I’d swear, lightly egg-dipped, then browned to a turn.


The rest of the order, though, took a turn for the worse. I knew I was taking the name “crispy, tangy pork” too literally, but I couldn’t help but hope against hope that it wasn’t actually just a euphemism for “doughy, sweet & sour pork.” It was. Still, the addition of what I guess was some sort of seaweed, almost mushroomy in flavor, was a nice touch.


TDcrispypork


Similarly, “sesame egg noodle salad” was just overcooked sesame noodles with undercooked veggies & none of the advertised citrus-soy dressing.


TDnoodlesalad


Plan on moving an inch again any moment now, so more reports on the big bad world of eats out there soon.

Blue Moon Asian Cuisine & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Twin Dragon on Urbanspoon

Heaven Star: the best dim sum you can get from a place not named Super Dragon!

Really, of all the combinations from the names Super Star & Heaven Dragon the owners of them two dim sum palaces could possibly have come up with for a joint venture, why would they go with Heaven Star over Super Dragon? Especially given the golden karma they’d have reaped for sharing a moniker with

01

this guy,

versus the sorta louche aura surrounding what instead sounds like

Supergroup

some disco-era supergroup?

Nevertheless, ’twas Heaven Star that The Boulder Weekly’s Clay Fong invited me, Joey Porcelli & Culinary Colorado’s Claire Walter (whose writeup’s here) et al. to a dim-sum showdown at, so ’twas Heaven Star for which the Director & I skeptically reached—Broomfield certainly feels as far away as the night sky from Platt Park—wishing our small army were raiding King’s Land instead, preferring it to Super Star as we both do.

But I’ve gotta admit, once we got there, it seemed like Heaven Star might have beaten us to the invasion—looks like the King’s gonna have to cede some turf. What with Clay, who knows his dim-sum shit, ordering up a storm for the whole gang, everything I stuck in my mouth was either a) a revelation b) a treasure or c) both. So speechlessly grubby was I before it all that, true to the experience, I’ll leave the commentary to a minimum & mostly let the photos speak for themselves:

HSBBQpork

Crispy BBQ pork: the porcine equivalent of Neapolitan ice cream, replacing chocolate, vanilla & strawberry with crackling skin, rich pink meat & pure, glistening belly fat;

HScalamari

Fried squid: hypercrispy—if the emphasis was on the frying technique & seasoning rather than the cephalopodic flesh (as it is in, say,

Atrani_ Amalfi Coast_ Italy

Atrani—heavy sigh), it was no less exquisite for that;

HSchickenfeet

Chicken feet: Having tried them once before only to find myself spitting up bits of gelatin & bone shards for far longer than their size would have suggested, the 2nd time was a charm. They’re basically just intricate drumsticks, i.e. dark meat; per Sir Fong, the difference between my two experiences was a mere matter of freshness;

HSfishchickenfriedrice

Salty fish & chicken fried rice: If it were chicken & fried rice salty fish, i.e. emphasis on the pungent latter, I’d have loved it above all, but as it was it was still gobbledy-good comfort stuff;

HSleekshrimpchixdumpling

Pork, shrimp & leek dumplings: What rich, silky & juicy little bundles were these!

HSclams

Steamed clams: A special order off the dinner menu, this slew of bivalves was gingerrific & garlicky to boot.

HScrepe

BBQ pork–stuffed rice crepe, its filling unexpectedly complex.

HSeggplant2

Shrimp-stuffed eggplant: Pure lusciousness—batter-dipped hunks of edible velvet. Not to mix metaphors or wax overwrought.

HSnoodles

House pan-fried noodles: The small bite I took was piping & snappy; what more can you demand from simple noodles?

HSscallopdumplings

Scallop dumplings: Exquisite, really, these delicate little peekaboo packages sprinkled with flying fish roe.

HSshortribs

Short ribs in black pepper sauce: Another fave, what with the meat melting in your mouth—a hateful but in this case exactly apt phrase—straight from its hot oil–based bath.

HSsiumai2

Pork siu mai done right, with palpable care.

HSspareribs2

Spare ribs with black bean sauce: Steamed, they may look a little slippery & wan, but bless ’em, they’re all stout heart on the inside.

HSstuffedlotus

Chicken & dried scallop sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves: If a little light on the meat (not that there should be gobs, but neither do mere flecks suffice), the rice was just right, aromatic & cohesive but not gluey.

HSporkbun

BBQ pork buns: The more I get to know dim sum, the less loathe I am to confess that steamed char siu bao just aren’t my thing—too close to, like, the malfatti of all white bread for comfort. But even preferring them baked, I know a proper steamed bun when I see it, like this one.

And if all that wasn’t just the beginning, it was far from the end: shrimp dumplings, steamed gailan, pan-fried turnip cake with sausage—none of which I had room for—& roasted BBQ duck, which I’d have slit my gut & pulled something out to make room for, also made appearances at various points, as did classic egg custard tarts, the centers of which looked the way I felt by meal’s end, kind of gooey & green yellow.

But not so much so that talk of an imminent return for dinner didn’t perk me right back up into fine plump & rosy form.

Heaven Star on Urbanspoon

Stellar eclipse: Super Star v. King’s Land

Of the few groups a flag-flying misfit like me finds herself belonging to, aesthetic minorities make up the majority. I’m oddly far fonder of lesser prizes—of modestly showcased semiprecious gems rather than their spotlit, velvet-swathed precious counterparts, speaking both literally

Pakistan-peridot3 >  Diamond-ring

& figuratively; for instance, I’ll take Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later over either of his more celebrated smashes, Trainspotting Slumdog Millionaire—neither of which boasts zombies going from zero to 60 in hilariously terrifying, gore-splattered seconds—or the extended remix of “Rain” over not only all the rest of Madonna’s A-sides combined but also, say, Radiohead’s entire oeuvre (how’s that for waving the contrarian banner?).

Likewise, I realize I’m among a select local lot (joined, I might add, by the Director &, I hear, Boulder Weekly dining critic Clay Fong) who officially if incrementally prefers King’s Land to Super Star.

Mind you, it’s partly a matter of vibe; in my experience, to contradict the above remark about gems (very well, then, I contradict, containing multitudes for better or worse, especially post–dot hearts), dim sum’s the stuff of gaudy, echoing faux-temples where the cartpushers have room to swoop around Busby Berkeley–style

28dvd.2.300

Warner Bros., in case they care

rather than holes in walls where what should be hustling & bustling is bumping & grinding. Thus bumped & ground on a recent trip to Super Star (kindly invited by CulinaryColorado’s Claire Walter, who rates the rivals roughly equally; to cast judgment once & for all, I propose a tiebreaking double-header—back-to-back, cross-parking-lot dim sum. Who’s with me?), I myself had less room to swoon over the best of the bunch—including the jiaozi (steamed pouchlike dumplings), their pork filling visibly juicy;

Porkdumplings

Dumplingfilling

these pan-fried, shrimp-filled chive dumplings (as they were identified for me in this Chowhound thread, much to my eventual acceptance but initial surprise, since the chive dumplings I was most familiar with & keen on, from Boston Thai fixture Brown Sugar, were only & entirely filled with minced chives, whereas the green shreds in these were relatively large—suggestive of the leek version that is listed on Super Star’s menu rather than of any chive version that isn’t; perhaps it’s a question of translation &/or semantics?);

Greenshrimpdumplings

this special order (scored by Claire’s other guests & new pals—fellow bloggers & “world residents,” in her words, Dimitri & Audre) of snails sauteed with green peppers, celery & onions—each poked-out gastropod pure umami on a toothpick;

Snails

these clams, essentially snails redux;

Clams

this eggplant dish, full stop. Though logicosyntactially I should really keep this sentence going until I’ve covered all my faves, aestheticoemotionally (to use the least aesthetic, indeed most annoying word I may ever have lazily coined) I must here pause to opine, as an above-all-else Italophile, that no one does eggplant like the Chinese (well, except maybe the Japanese, Turks, Indians &, as long as I’m at it, the Italians). Here thick slices were pan-fried & fitted with an oval of what, according to the menu, was shrimp. If it wasn’t in fact minced whitefish of some sort, I’ll eat my hat, & probably insist afterward it tasted like whitefish. But either way it was moist & flaky & crumb-coated atop world’s sweetest nightshade, seeping oil from every fleshy pore. What more could you ask for, besides a ream of blotting paper?;

Stuffedeggplant

this Goldilocksian congee—the 1 dish I’d deem hands-down superior to King’s Land’s, being just right—neither too thin nor too thick, recognizably ricey rather than generically glutinous, & clam-dappled;

Congee

this super-chunky seafood noodle soup with firm-fleshed whitefish, gailan & red peppers in your typical (but therefore fine-by-me) egg-drop-type broth;

Noodles

& this perfectly fried rice bedecked with bits of egg, peanuts & greens.

Friedrice

Less best were the char siu bao—

Porkbuns1

like some sort of freak hybrid between barbecued pork buns & jelly donuts due to overly sweetened filling;

Porkbun2

these whole fried shrimp, greasier & heavier than King’s Land’s;

Shrimp

yet more shrimp dumplings, also made with a somewhat heavy hand;

Shrimpdumplings

this cheung fun, or steamed rice noodles wrapped around yet more shrimp—neither here nor there as oral sensations go (IMHO, that is, though I learned a thing or 2 about them I could appreciate via this other Chowhound thread);

Shrimpcheungfun

the ubiquitous fried taro cake, no better or worse than the competition’s;

Turnipcake

this ho-hum, prefrozenesque crab-stick roll

Krabroll

& really?-more-shrimp? roll;

Shrimprolls

this gailan, stir-fried nicely but sided by that offputting black pudding—practically half a bottle’s worth of oyster sauce;

Bokchoy

these underfried sesame balls;

Sesamebals

& that milquetoast of all Chinese sweets: coconut jello cubes, here studded with seemingly raw red beans (compare to these, which as cubes of milquetoast go actually look appealing).

Cocojello

At the opposite end of the gelatinous spectrum, however, I confess to getting quite a kick out of these cubes of congealed blood (to use this CulinaryColorado commenter’s term), I’m guessing from a pig; tasting like you’re simultaneously licking an aluminum pole & biting through the freshly spilled bowels of a moonlight sacrifice, they put those indescribably obscene Jello commercials in a whole new, much more fun light.

Bloodsausage

In (dim) sum—though I enjoyed & stuffed myself as silly as ever—thus far I’d rather be living off the Land than swinging on that particular Star. Take me up on the proposed rematch, though, & all bets are off (or, for that matter, on).

***Thanks to ninelives, gini, a l i c e & yumyum—Boston Chowhounds & pals all—for your assistance in itemization!