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Winsor Dim Sum Café

Dim sum all day and night
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 6, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars

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BEST IN SHOW: Lobster with ginger and scallion is one of the winners at Winsor Dim Sum

Winsor Dim Sum Café | 617.338.1688 | 10 Tyler Street, Boston | Open daily, 9 am–10 pm | VI, MA | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Access up 14 steps from sidewalk level
When dining out, comedian Henny Youngman always asked for a table near a waiter. At most of Boston’s dim-sum palaces, my strategy has always been to sit near the kitchen door, to get the little plates off the cart when they’re hottest. Winsor Dim Sum has introduced two exciting reforms: dim sum made to order, and dim sum — classically served as brunch or tea snacks — available all day. The former makes seating arrangements less necessary, but still a good idea.

Of course, no Chinese restaurant bets the mortgage on any single theme, so the menu also includes a considerable assortment of Hong Kong seafood, a sprinkling of Szechwan dishes, plus congee, bubble teas, and even sandwiches.

Various kinds of Chinese restaurants have been housed in this space, yet it remains a simple upstairs dining room. There are two Chinese pictures on the wall, and a third of a waterfall with a cheesy flickering-water effect. At night the room resolves into three very large tables and some smaller ones, with all the big tables our night occupied by a single family birthday party. The partiers were eating Cantonese dinner food, and we wanted what they were having. So we had dim sum for appetizers, and then tucked into the Cantonese menu with relish.

Off the dim-sum list, we started with “pork and shrimp dumpling” ($2.75), which produced four piping-hot barrel-shaped double bites of exquisite, juicy freshness. These were like the original shumai, before Japanese restaurants got a hold of them and began making them smaller and more tightly wrapped. I thought “crabmeat dumpling with soup inside” ($2.95) might be one of those Taiwanese type, where you use a straw to get the broth out of the dumpling before you try to eat it. In fact, we got one triple-size Peking ravioli floating in a bowl of “superior stock,” the pork/chicken broth that is the basis of much of Cantonese cooking. With a few mushrooms flavoring the shredded shrimp, it was an excellent snack.

Crab Rangoons ($5.95), while not traditionally included in dim sum, were obviously house-made, with perfectly dry-fried wonton skins and a cream cheese filling that came to the table hot and melty. So that, too, was an endorsement for the concept of dim sum made to order. An order of spicy salted squid ($5.95; $9.95/dinner portion) was very salty, very peppery, and very crisp. So was a dinner order of spicy salted shrimp with shells ($5.95/$10.95), with the additional virtue of a sprinkle of mentholated Sichuan pepper on top.

Our most exiting dish was lobster with ginger and scallion (seasonal, recently $13.95), fresh and sweet tasting, hacked into easily de-shelled pieces with a very light dusting of flour to hold the ginger and scallion flavors. I also liked it with a sweet, red vinegar dip, though that may have belonged to one of the fried seafood platters

Sautéed Chinese yu choy ($7.95) — they were out of the peapod stems that I wanted — makes a terrific green vegetable, like fatter, sweeter broccoli rabe in a simple white sauce. Yu choy are the flowering greens of the rapeseed plant, sort of an uncle to canola oil. Don’t miss them.

As the nights get colder, my thoughts go to hot pots. Winsor has them, though served in ordinary bowls. The braised-beef-brisket-with-turnip kind ($10.95) was a fine assortment of beef, from the meaty to nearly pure gristle (very desirable to Chinese gourmets), all flavored with five-spice powder and producing a thick gravy, which benefits the bland chunks of white Chinese radish. Chicken with green peppers in black-bean sauce ($8.95) is the kind of simple, tasty stir-fry that belongs on chow-foon noodles. It’s just chicken breast, green bell peppers, and onions, but the bits of fermented black bean and the quick rush from wok to table make it special.

Most of Winsor’s desserts involve beans in syrup poured onto shaved ice. But mango and coconut milk with tapioca ($2.95) will appeal to any moderate sweet tooth, being more milky than coconut, with bits of mango among the tapioca.

Service is everything at a restaurant like this, and though there are gaps, when something is ready, it gets raced out of the kitchen as fast as in any Chinatown restaurant. That means dishes come out in whatever order they’re done, so some “appetizers” appear after some “entrées.” Despite a shortage of tables at peak hours, the servers will not hurry anyone. The old idea of dim sum as tea house snacks for lingering conversations lives on here.

While there is a detailed bilingual menu (and a sushi-palace-style checklist), there are whiteboard specials in Chinese only, and it pays to ask about them. The rooms, though small, don’t seem crowded. One reason is that waiters maintain a clear aisle for carrying out your food.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com.

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