Arriving at 88 Palace in the heart of Chinatown, directly under the Manhattan Bridge, with its street bustle and crowded shops, the elevated train roared overhead. It’s not for those wishing peace and quiet, but this is as close to being in Asia as a visitor to New York City gets and the destination is worth the journey. For devotees of dim sum, 88 Palace is a temple.
Ascending the wide staircase, with a huge chandelier suspended above, a bustle of a different sort consumes the second floor restaurant. Seating up to 800 – the dining room can be divided into spaces of varying size – the room hums with patrons, servers pushing carts laden with round dim sum baskets and waiters delivering more substantial dishes. To one side of the attractive central lobby is a dim sum prep area busy with several cooks finishing the savory dumplings and filling the baskets for the carts.
Yang Chao Lu bought 88 Palace, already a Chinatown fixture, in 2002 expanding and refining the menu. Lu’s not a chef by his own statement, not even a cook, but he’s passionate about food and creativity. He frequently travels back to China and other regions on food explorations.
Like all good owners, he knows how to attract the people that will turn his ideas into dim sum. Executive Chef Fong Ming is the dim sum chef with Executive Chef Liu Son Tai in charge of entrees and other items on the a la carte menu. Manager Shi Fan Lu coordinates the bustle of activity.
At a recent press lunch for journalists of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association and the New Jersey Press Association, Yang Chao Lu presented a veritable banquet of dim sum dishes over several hours. Whether a steamed dumpling in the shape of a baby bunny or a flaky pastry baby chick, 88 Palace dim sum was light with complex savory fillings ranging from traditional pork to sea bass and sweetened bean paste. The pumpkin sesame cake dumpling was moist and would make a fascinating addition to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It is also an 88 Palace exclusive from an idea Lu picked up on his travels.
Beautiful platters arrived lavishly decorated with flower arrangements. Tofu with sea bass and asparagus was artfully encircling a large mum. Cold lobster with mango glaze shared space with an exuberant vegetable and floral arrangement. The extensive menu at 88 Palace includes entrée dishes, which receive as much attention to detail as the dim sum. A savory beef and vegetable stew was baked in a Japanese pumpkin. Its warm rich flavors along with the pumpkin were soothing on a chilly day.
Dim sum is available seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and reservations are suggested at peak lunch hour. The remainder of the menu is served until closing at 8:00 p.m. 88 Palace is more than a restaurant. Downstairs is a two-floor market with a variety of vendors selling Asian products from gold jewelry to giant dried mushrooms larger than a dinner plate. It’s a microcosm of any New York Chinatown street, fun to explore and taste.
88 Palace, 88 E. Broadway, NYC 10002 (Chinatown) 212-941-8886
Disclosure: the author was a guest of 88 Palace and Gail Gerson-Witte of www.winedineandleasuretime.com