Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pacificana

Assorted Dim Sum at Pacificana in Sunset Park, Brooklyn
I may have found my favorite dumpling. I was just settling in at Pacificana, a gigantic dim sum palace in Sunset Park, when a waitress rolled up with a cart and handed me a plate of chive dumplings. They were soft and doughy on the outside, offering a slight tug as I bit one apart, and the underside was given a crisp brown sear. Inside, the dumpling was incredibly juicy, with an aromatic flavor of chives and whole baby shrimp. I could have had a big bowl of them and a cup of tea for lunch.

Chive Dumplings
I've decided that if you want to experience New York's best Chinese cuisine, you have to visit the city's "other" Chinatowns. Although we think of "Chinatown" as the Manhattan neighborhood centered around Canal Street, in fact the neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Flushing -- in Brooklyn and Queens respectively -- now each boast a greater number of Chinese residents. And they have the food to match.

As a consequence, Sunset Park and Flushing have become two of my favorite culinary day trips. With almost no tourists to please, the culinary establishments in these neighborhoods come off to me even more authentic; the Szechuan food just a little spicier, the flavors of the soups and dim sum just a little more rich and complex. Looking around the dining room at Pacificana, my wife and I appeared to be among the only ones attempting to speak English to the waitstaff.

Bean Curd Skins and Har Gao
Pacificana is one of the few restaurants in Sunset Park to enjoy a city-wide reputation. The spacious interior resembles that of a banquet hall, with a high arched ceiling and gold chandeliers - a far cry from the grungy (albeit delicious) dim sum palaces in Manhattan. The main wall features elegant wood paneling with gold dragons on a red velvet backdrop. The atmosphere is a little more calm, spacious and orderly than at the likes of Ping's and Oriental Garden. The staff wheeling carts of dim sum are more polite and less aggressive, making for a more pleasant dining experience.

And some of the offerings are better. In particular, thin sheets of bean curd skin rolled up like soft spring rolls and filled with bamboo shoots and tender pieces of chicken and shrimp. The combination was soft, juicy and mild. Har gao (crystal shrimp dumplings) were delicate with perfectly ridged skins and whole shrimp inside. My usual favorite - shrimp rolled in a large rice noodle and topped with sweet soy sauce - was on par with that of its Manhattan counterparts.

Soup Dumplings
A cart arrived bearing steamer baskets full of soup dumplings, the first time I had seen them at a dim sum place. Employing the technique I learned years ago at Joe's Shanghai (still the gold standard for soup dumplings in New York), I placed one carefully in my spoon and nibbled at the edges, sipping out the hot soup. Then I topped it with julienned ginger and black vinegar before biting into it. The dumplings were plump and filled with pork and crab, the texture of which for me was slightly off. But the soup inside had a nice deep flavor with seafood notes.

To be fair, it was my second attempt to have lunch at Pacificana. The wait was long on my first attempt and I decided to pass, instead snagging a prime spot at a communal table at Lucky Eight up the block (where I enjoyed some excellent noodles and complimentary house soup). But that is just to say that there are many great ways to satisfy your appetite in Sunset Park, New York's largest Chinatown.

Pacificana
813 55th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 871-2880

Lucky Eight
5204 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 851-8862

Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell Street, New York, NY 10013
212-233-8888

Recommended Dishes: Chive dumplings, bean curd skins, har gao, any other dim sum.

Make Dim Sum:




View Pacificana and Lucky Eight, Sunset Park in a larger map

Pacificana on Urbanspoon Lucky eight on Urbanspoon Joe's Shanghai on Urbanspoon

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