Cai a new dim sum choice in Chinatown

November 18, 2011 (CHICAGO)

One new destination in the neighborhood is attempting to raise the bar on service and presentation.

If variety is truly the spice of life, then dim sum must be the key to living longer. Typically served with tea, it offers diners dozens of steamed, fried and baked items, simultaneously. At Cai - on the second floor of the Chinatown Square Mall - no expense was spared to create the city's most dazzling new dim sum house.

"In the morning time, people have dim sum, just like American people have breakfast," said Cai's co-owner John Wong.

Just because you see people eating chicken feet doesn't mean you have to go hard-core. Try congee, a simple rice porridge with bits of pork or egg, or something steamed, such as handmade har gow - shrimp dumplings - or shu mai, made with pork.

"Typically you'll see har gow and shu mai is traditional...everybody loves that first," Wong said.

There's also taro root and lo may gai - a lotus leaf stuffed with sticky rice embedded with bits of pork. Scallop dumplings are perfect for non-beef eaters, as is the papaya cake; yes, there are sweets for dim sum as well as savories. A firm egg custard called dahn tah, along with char shiu bao, a barbequed pork bun, give new meaning to the idea of bacon and eggs.

"My partner has almost 25 years dim sum experience and we don't buy the dim sum. We just order the parts and material from local... most the stuff is from United States. They can make the almost same taste in Hong Kong," Wong said.

You can tell these aren't novices either. The fluidity and ease with which they shape, crimp and steam their dumplings shows real skill. Wong and his partners thought that Chicago was ready for another competitor in the dim sum wars.

"We need to bring more traditional Chinese dim sum and better dim sum in Chicago," said Wong.

One of the things I love about dim sum is the variety. Whether you go to Phoenix or Triple Crown or here to Cai, there's always something on the menu to please just about anyone.

2100 S. Archer Ave.
(312) 326-6888

Other good places for dim sum in Chinatown:

Shui Wah
2162 S Archer Ave
(312) 225-8811

2131 S Archer Ave
(312) 328-0848

Triple Crown
2217 S. Wentworth Ave.

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