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Find a bounty of mouth-watering bites at Fortune Seafood Chinese Restaurant, a staple in the dim sum dining scene.
It was time to saddle up for another road trip. A reader had suggested I do a piece on dim sum brunch, an experience that's hard to come by in our area, unless you're willing to spend your lunch hour grazing on dumplings at the Asian wokery bar at Wegmans. (Not a bad idea, come to think of it.)
He recommended Fortune Chinese Seafood in Falls Church, where he and his wife would happily serve as our guides, he said. But a last-minute scheduling snafu meant my wife and I would be soldiering on to Northern Virginia, dim sum warriors on our own.
Still, how tough an assignment could that be, right? I mean dim sum is just Cantonese-style food served in small portions--kind of like Asian tapas--and the meal itself not unlike service at a tea room: The dishes arrive at your table on steam carts and you simply point to what you want. We're basically talking about a buffet for people who couldn't be bothered to get out of their chairs. Brilliant!
Plus, the food is authentic Chinese, just the good stuff--like dumplings, rolls and buns--with none of the fried rice, fortune cookies or duck-sauce packets of the local takeout.
But then we started doing a little research and found out that dim sum dining--which translates as going to "drink tea"--has its own protocol, from the expectation that one should first pour tea for others to the exact method of signaling that the teapot is in need of refilling. Then there's the custom of finger-tapping to show appreciation, not to mention the whole thorny matter of proper cart-chasing etiquette. Our preparations were beginning to feel like "The Dim Sum of All Fears."
However, there wasn't anything intimidating about Fortune, except for its banquet-hall size.
For dim sum service, its tables were bedecked in white linen and its waiters in full Michael Jackson quasi-military-style regalia. Our trepidation turned out to be for naught, as our server went the extra mile to ensure our satisfaction. For example, after she witnessed us gaping at the "special lobster" cart, she scurried after it with alacrity.
She started us out with tea, and with soy sauce and chili oil for dipping. Then, like floats in a parade, came a never-ending march of carts, each one more delightful than the last. We chose to try dumplings (shark's fin, shrimp and pork); sugar-cane shrimp; pork puff-pastry turnovers; steamed bok choy; pan-fried turnip cake; beef with flat noodles; and of course, the $12 (no, that's not a misprint!) special whole crisp-fried lobster. Our tabletop was soon filled with food and a brief while later, alas, we were, too.
At the table next to ours sat a family, the Hicks--husband Steve, 63, wife Nadyne and college-age daughter Bethany--eating a totally different assortment of dishes, including their favorites, sticky rice with lotus leaves, steamed pork buns and sweet rice balls with red-bean paste, respectively, and doing so in an assured yet altogether leisurely way. Turns out the Hicks have been going to Fortune for dim sum about once a month for more than 20 years.
What I gleaned from the paterfamilias--what I like to think of as the "Tao of Steve"--was fivefold:
1. Go with a large group, so you can sample lots of dishes.
2. Avoid sitting at the end of the table, food doesn't always make it down that far.
3. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
4. Have a good time, but remember to pace yourself.
5. Stay in your comfort zone, but don't be squeamish about trying a new item or two. "It's all about the textures."
Who knew that Chinese brunch could be so much greater than the sum of its carts?
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000
Dim sum: $2.75-$7.50 per dish (with a few exceptions)The Scoop: Family-friendly, attentive service, good and plentiful food, great selection, parking
Beer and mixed drinks availablePayment: Major credit cards accepted