Brooklyn has changed a lot since I grew up there. Back then it seemed that the borough was dominated by a few different ethnic groups – African-American, Caribbean-American, Irish-American, Italian-American and Latin-American with additional groups less well represented, but still present. While those demographic groups remain to varying degrees, additional ones have streamed in and brought their cultures with them. Chinese immigrants are one such group who have done so, while they too have begun the process of becoming Chinese-Americans. In an area of Bay Ridge that was in my younger Brooklyn days mostly Italian-American and the home of 2001 Odyssey, the disco immortalized in the movie Saturday Night Fever, the business landscape is now dominated by Chinese and other Asian entities. Restaurants happen to be a big part of that landscape and have garnered a fine reputation.
I happened to be in that area of Bay Ridge recently and being a dim sum lover, I took advantage and visited a restaurant that I had heard some good things about – Park Asia. It didn't hurt that it was within easy walking distance of the reason I was in the area in the first place and that that place afforded me parking, since that proved to be a scarce commodity on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon.
The building's exterior is somewhat shabby and not particularly inspiring. For a dim sum "palace", Park Asia is not large. In fact, it is fairly small and oddly shaped with the dining room in an L-like configuration. The dining room is not particularly noteworthy, other than shortly after noon it was full and very busy with just about everyone but my wife, my son and I, being of Asian heritage. As is the case in most dim sum restaurants, we were seated at a communal table. Our table mates were several young Chinese-Americans, some of whom lived in the area and others of whom came from elsewhere in the City to eat there.. One of the group appeared to be quite familiar with the restaurant and told us that the restaurant was planning a vertical expansion, that would alleviate the L-shaped dining room configuration and provide more space. Presumably, it wouldn't do anything about the parking shortage.
Like most weekend dim sum restaurants, food was brought around on carts. This had a wide selection of items including many I had never seen before as well as most of the standards. In addition to the carts, many items simply seemed to appear in the area. One problem I always seem to have when ordering dim sum is to get too much too soon as I am hungry and everything looks so good and interesting. I managed to hold back here and ordered things not all at once, but spacing them out a little.
The food was uniformly excellent, probably the best dim sum I have had since I visited Koi Palace in Daly City, CA several years ago. The wheat starch skin wrappers of the har gau were thin, delicate and translucent. The siu mai were full of flavor and perfectly balanced. The delicate rice noodle rolls, cheung fun, wrapped around French style bread created great textural contrast and excellent flavor. The chicken feet or fung zao were delicious with enough "meat" to make them a more than worthwhile nibble. We had fried pork dumplings that were simply lovely. The Chinese broccoli and egg tarts were superb as well. My son ordered the noodles with black mushrooms and Chinese vegetables in soup from the menu. This was a rich, delicious chicken broth based soup with a generous portion of umami-rich, succulent black mushrooms and well made noodles. The only item I ordered that didn't really do it for us was the steamed chopped pork with black beans and peppers. Unlike the chicken feet, there really wasn't enough meat on those bones to make the gnawing worthwhile. It wasn't that the dish was bad. It just wasn't worth the effort or gastric space.
The most interesting dish, to me, was the last that we ordered from the carts. It was a plate of liulan soo or durian cream pastries. It was the first time that I had ever tasted that notorious fruit in any guise. Our Chinese-American table-mates were not at all interested in trying it, but the three of us did. While the flavor was different than anything I had eaten before, it was not the least bit unpleasant nor was it sweetened into oblivion. Actually, it was quite good. While I'm not at that point, I can see how someone might come to even crave it. The texture of the custard within the pastry shell was that of a pastry cream. The shell itself was light and flaky, reminiscent of an Italian sfogliatella. In the end, the only thing I found the least bit off-putting about it was the unnatural green color of the pastry crust.
I don't get back to Brooklyn very often at this point of my life. I enjoy visiting some old favorites, but it is also nice to discover new favorites and to watch the evolution of my hometown. We didn't stay long in the borough, but it was fun to visit my old neighborhood and to show my son the house I grew up in. I'm looking forward to my next Brooklyn visit, whenever that will be!