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To delve into the world of dim sum can often mean delving into the world of dubious eats, but there are a few places scattered about town that do it right, even if little heed is paid to aesthetics or presentation (unlike dim sum joints in cities with larger Asian populations). In Orlando, the traditional pushcarts are being parked in favor of paper, with diners checking off desired items as they would on a sushi menu. The lists are inevitably long, and discerning sweet plates from savory ones can be a challenge, particularly if Cantonese isn’t your first language. But for the average gweilo, throwing gastronomic caution to the wind can reap a host of culinary delights.
At Trey Yuen, a blocky building off International Drive, locals and tourists have been ordering Chinese-American staples for the better part of 25 years. Discriminating diners, however, enter Trey Yuen’s doors between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. with the specific intent of sampling dim sum. First-time visitors, we took our seats at about 1 p.m. and let loose with a dozen-item order that barely fazed our seasoned waitress.
First up, congee ($5.99), that hearty gruel of boiled rice. The version served here is teeming with flavorful pork, shrimp bits and thick egg drops. “If I were sick,” my dining partner noted, “I’d want a big bowl of this stuff.” Just as comforting was the soup bowl of beef flank, vermicelli and bok choy ($7.99) – practically a meal in itself.
But dim sum without dumplings is like Tang without the dynasty. After gobbling the steamed chao chu fun gor ($2.99) with a peanut, pork, shrimp and shiitake filling, and the shark fin dumpling ($2.99) – which was really just shrimp and pork – our verdict was in favor of the fin-less bundle of meat. The eggplant stuffed with shrimp ($3.50) was another favorite, but what we really looked forward to gnawing on were some fowl feet – chicken ($2.99) and duck ($2.99). After meticulously sucking on those fleshy tootsies, we concluded that serrated chopsticks would greatly aid in handling the feet; also, that the saucy talons of the chicken were far tastier.
A few sips of oolong tea helped counter the salt and MSG, and then we dove into our final six dishes, starting with a redolent curry squid ($4.99), lustrous beef balls (2.99) and beef rice paste ($3.50), a flat rice noodle stuffed with what appeared to be … beef paste. The house hot sauce helped us to thoroughly enjoy the latter.
We capped off the feast with a duo of sweet buns – a dismally mealy and gummy lotus seed bun ($2.99), and a dull-on-the-outside/sublime-on-the-inside sesame seed ball ($2.99). The fried treat was simultaneously warm, crispy and doughy, and came filled with a sweet red-bean paste. Our waitress came around offering a tray of egg custard tarts, pineapple buns and barbecue pork buns that were fresh out of the oven, but we weren’t about to stuff a 13th dish into our overworked yaps. Chinese numerologists consider 13 an unlucky number, so we thought it best not to test our luck or the holding capacity of our stomachs.
No, we just slouched in our chairs and stared up at what’s arguably the most ornately decorated ceiling in Orlando. “It’s like a Chinese Sistine Chapel,” I slurred, before realizing that Trey Yuen’s kitchen is what really raises the roof.
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