Ten Ten Seafood & Grill — a new Chinese restaurant in West Orlando — is not for the casual tourist. They don't care about pandering to gweilo. They don't care about being nouveau. What they do care about, though, is keeping it real and authentic.
The second of only two locations (the original is in South Florida), the Orlando Ten Ten is a promising new contender out on the Asian frontier of West Colonial Drive. Despite a name that implies an emphasis on seafood, Ten Ten Seafood & Grill is really much more comprehensive than that. Its specialty, in fact, is Cantonese cuisine, done traditionally and extensively. While seafood is prominently featured, Ten Ten is something of an all-purpose Chinese restaurant featuring dim sum and siu mei (Chinese barbecue) alongside a full dinner menu — like Ming's Bistro and Peter's Kitchen, only on a grander scale. And the authenticity comes even before the first bite.
Here, English is very much secondary. Furthermore, the clientele is almost exclusively Asian. (If you're looking for a true dive into ethnic dining, these are good signs.) Once I sat down for my first visit, the validation came in one steamed tray at a time. Ten Ten's dim sum is the primary draw at lunchtime, and the restaurant features full cart service even on weekdays. Although not all items on the extensive dim sum menu are immediately available at any given time, the roving carts offer a decent variety of the usual greatest hits like shumai, steamed pork buns, shrimp balls, sesame balls, beehive fried taro and the like — mostly between $3.85 and $4.85 per plate.
Dishes we sampled, like the stuffed bean curd skin ($4.85), pan-fried shrimp and chive dumplings ($4.85), and steamed pork spare ribs with black soybeans and jalapeño ($4.85) were all done to solid traditional standard. Not standard were the Shanghai dumplings ($4.85), an option not universally offered at other dim sum places. Though small, the four amuse-bouche–sized soup dumplings packed big punch with flavorfully seasoned pork and a nice hint of broth. Unassuming but delicious, these wonderful bites were perfect with just a dollop of the tableside chili sauce.
For dinner service, Ten Ten offers a robust Cantonese-centric menu featuring a whole spectrum of seafood, meats, noodles, soups, barbecue appetizers (though availability can be spotty) and authentic greens like snow pea leaves.
Of the fresh seafood options on hand, I chose the clams with black bean sauce ($18.95). The tender littleneck clams were classically prepared: open-shelled and tossed in a royal sauce of fermented black soybeans, whose sublime umami was punctuated with scallions and jalapeño slices.
In a day when we're all trying to eat a little less meat, ma po bean curd ($15.95) can be a marvelously spicy and satisfying option. It's both comforting and sexy; at least, it's supposed to be when it's done right. And the version at Ten Ten is, with a rich and savory brown gravy tying together airy cubes of silken tofu, peas, carrots, ground pork and a bonus accent of preserved mustard stem slices. This generous portion of ma po tofu is probably some of the best in the city.
Ten Ten's dining space is a tall-ceilinged, banquet-style hall that's a mix of flash (glitzy wall treatments, chandeliers, video wall playing Asian pop music videos) and utility (large round tables with lazy Susans, a barbecue station, fresh seafood tanks). But it's all geared toward gathering, from families on up to large parties.
One thing about the table setting that especially stood out was the pack of sanitary wipes sitting there matter-of-factly. Then I noticed they were on every table. Not elegant, perhaps. But these days? Appreciated. Also worth noting: Every member of the floor staff was masked, without exception.
Thankfully, real Asian food is no longer exotic in this city. The dining rooms of legit Asian spots in Mills 50, once the domain of Asian customers, are now reliably multi-culti. Modernist Asian cooking has even caught mainstream fire. And all of that is great. But ungentrified, traditional eateries are vital to keeping that cultural edge anchored and alive.
In that spirit, Ten Ten is a worthy new outpost of classic Chinese cuisine, one that's more reminiscent of deep hotspots in Asian-concentrated cities like Houston than the mixed dining experiences in downtown Orlando. If you know the dim sum halls of big-city Chinatowns and have been missing that here, Ten Ten will take you there.
TEN TEN SEAFOOD & GRILL, Golden Sparkling Plaza, 5600 W. Colonial Drive, 407-559-9999, $$$