Sky Dragon may not serve the greatest dim sum in the city, but it's still my favourite place to get it! The authentic Hong Kong-style cart service, bustling dining room, and fantastic staff make this Chinatown institution an experience that goes beyond just the food, as much as a meal here is enjoyable as well.
At one point in my life I was hitting up "The Sky" so frequently that my friends and I were wearing down the ball bearings on the Lazy Susans. Dim-Sundays, as we called them, were more than a hungover activity — they became a cherished tradition. The dining room has a nostalgic ambience with its wall-to-wall carpeting and a phenomenal ability to pack every crevice with a plastic-covered table. Head there between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a weekday, and the dim sum dishes (except special orders) are a steal at $2 each. Weekends are also well cheap at $2.30 a piece before 11:30 a.m. for regular items! I've eaten here well over a hundred times and don't think I've ever racked up a bill over $20 per person despite collective efforts to break that barrier.
Aside from the bowtie clad, silk-vested servers, the cheery cart ladies and their many magnificent offerings are a big draw. This is the perfect place for a food porn voyeur! While certain dishes occasionally get a bit cold at off hours, the constant rotation of different dishes allows me to experiment with new items and broaden my horizons, even after so many years. On this visit, I decided to go with as many never-before-seen steamers, soups and finger foods from the deep fryer as my friends and I could consume.
Right away (even as we were still waiting for our whole group to arrive) I snagged a fantastic looking plate of saucer-shaped shrimp wontons. The deep-fired egg wontons proved an excellent, and still relatively light starter with a perfectly crisp exterior that gave way to a mixture of shrimp and chive on the inside.
A favourite of mine are their ham sui gok. These deep fried crescent shaped balls of rice are generally stuffed with minced pork, dried shitake mushrooms and dried shrimp. Today they were lukewarm, but the texture was redeeming.
Switching to another new arrival, and something I would undoubtedly spring for again, I dived into a plate of deep fried smelt. After some research I've come to the conclusion that as a dim sum dish they're called duo luan yu "fish with many eggs." These roe-packed, salty-battered little beauties can be devoured head, tail, bones and all!
Amidst the deep-fried frenzy I always tend to order at least one "green" thing. When I don't go for the Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, I opt for steamed snow pea shoots. The emerald mound of veg can be dipped in a superb, and seriously spicy soy sauce with chilies and a drop of oyster sauce. Exercise caution when handling the chilies if you tend to be sensitive to spice.
For a journey into the meat department, we tore through a plate of sticky, sweet, honey garlic ribs and enjoyed several steamers of my single favourite dim sum dish, shu mai, which they do remarkably well when they come fresh (should be at least a few times throughout your meal. They always come on the same cart as the haar gow).
Then...back to the fried goodness! Stuffed shrimp rolls, fried taro with minced pork and crab claws — hot, comforting and hearty.
For dessert there's really only one thing on my mind today: sesame balls (though the steamed barbeque pork bun is tempting). With it, I enjoy another round of chewy, fried rice balls, enveloped in sesame seeds and spiked with a sweet, red bean paste center. Aside from the sub $15 bill, this is the best thing to finish off a well executed dim-Sunday, in my opinion.
I bid my favourite cart ladies "goodbye for now," they know I really mean it. In all likelihood, I'll be seeing them again next Sunday.