dim sum in cleveland
The invitation to have dim sum with someone who knew what we were eating was too good to pass up. So I joined Molinari's chef Randal Johnson, along with his son, chef Kyle and daughter, Dana at Li Wah in Cleveland's Asia Plaza on Sunday morning.
It was Air Show weekend so I was surprised at the crowd, which was lining up at the door a half hour after we sat down shortly after 11 a.m.This place is open until midnight seven days a week, and serves dim sum all day.
My last dim sum was in Toronto and before that in San Francisco, both cities with much larger Chinese populations than Cleveland's, so my expectations were high. Dim sum is a meal made for sharing and predates both the Spanish tapas and small plates that have appeared on menus in recent years.
As carts laden with different dishes are loaded in the kitchen and pushed around the room, diners make their selections by pointing. The bill is tallied according to the number of dishes on the table at the end of the meal. The menu, which pictures many of the dishes is some help, and indicates with an S, M, L, or SP the prices, ranging from $2.25 to $6.95 for SP meaning Special. Each plate had 3 or 4 four servings. We all indicated we would eat with chopsticks rather than the offered tableware. Since I was dining with two chefs and Dana, who has been a foodie almost since birth, I trusted my dining companions to order and interpret.
Li Wah is inside Asia Plaza at 2999 Payne Ave., just a short distance from the Superior exit off the Innerbelt. So missing the Air Show traffic was a snap. Just inside the entry in a glass case hung beautifully glazed ducks and chickens along with a roast pork with its layer of fat cooked to a crisp.
We'd been seated just five minutes when the first of carts came by and soon our table was laden with eggplant stuffed with shrimp, bean curd buns with pork, siu mau, salt baked squid and other wonders of good eating. Condiments on the table included a chili oil and soy sauce, which my companions pooled on their plates and I followed suit. Some dishes, like the roast pork came with their own little bowls of sauce. The pork was really amazing with its outer fat layer reduced to a crunchy and flavorful crust while the meat underneath was falling apart delicious. We passed on the tripe and other innards but ordered seconds of the shrimp stuffed eggplant.
I thought we'd be there for hours, but by 12:30 we agreed we were done. The bill for all four of us was $56. The Li Wah experience proved a good one and I will be back.
We then strolled through Asia Plaza to the market, a new one since I'd last visited here. Mall shops of the herbalist and acupuncturist were closed but other shops were open although not bustling with business.
The Park to Shop Market at first looks like a standard supermarket until one begins to give the merchandise a closer look.
Kyle bought a durian, a prickly- skinned fruit that is prohibited aboard public transportation in Bangkok. I leaned over to smell it, because it is reputed to smell awful but could smell nothing. A passerby who noticed me checking it out told me the smell is released only when it is cut open. "The flesh is like custard," she said. "It is very sweet and delicious, but some people think the durian smell is bad."
I'll check in with Kyle about the durian's smell and taste later this week. Randal bought hot sauce, and Kyle also bought frozen silky chickens, an all-black fowl. "Even its bones are black," he told me, adding that the black is natural and not the result of any preserving process. Dana bought cute Hello Panda candies. I purchased herbal teas aimed at those with headaches and digestive distress.
If you are looking for live frogs, snails, fertilized eggs, duck eggs, 50 pound bags of rice or vegetarian meat, this is the place to be. The market staggers on into rooms that have cooking pans, china bowls and herbs, all imported from various Asian countries.