Monday, June 16, 2008

More Fun Playing with Cantonese Food at Wonton Gourmet

June 15 was Fathers' Day. For Bob, whose dad passed away many years ago, it was a day for gardening. My Dad is in New York, nearly 500 miles away. So, Father's Day wasn't even on my radar when I selected the date for a lunch at Wonton Gourmet. Though we started out with nearly a dozen people planning to join us - once the reality of the day set in, they started to drop out (understandably). By the time we got to the appointed day and time (Sunday at 1:30pm), our group was down to four people. But that was probably a good thing, considering that the place was packed when I arrived, and that they didn't want to reserve a big table for us because of the holiday.

Wonton Gourment has become my favorite Cleveland Asiatown restaurant. I knew it was a good sign, the first time I ventured here, that I observed Michael Hong, Chef of the wonderful Siam Cafe (3951 St. Clair Ave., Cleveland, OH, (216) 361-2323) dining at a nearby table! Wonton Gourmet is located at 3211 Payne Avenue, Cleveland (no website, (216) 875-7000).

Some of the servers remembered us from previous visits, and the owner, Thomas, stopped by every table to ask how things were; he seemed genuinely delighted that we enjoyed the food so much. We dug into the menus, and decided to order one course at a time, so that our small table wouldn't be buried in plates! We started with a selection of Dim Sum items. Though the selection is small, Wonton Gourmet does them extremely well.

Chive Pot Stickers

These fried pockets were stuffed with fresh Chinese chives, shrimp and just a little pork. They were served wok-hot and had a bit of a stiff texture from the shrimp. Yum!

Turnip Cake

I've had Dim Sum in NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, Guangsho (China), Hong Kong and Cleveland. This is, bar none, the most exquisite turnip cake I've ever experienced. As I wrote about it here, it is crispy on the outside, and incredibly creamy on the inside - more like a pudding than anything else. It does not need any condiments (turnip cake is usually served with Hoisen sauce - but Wonton Gourmet wisely serves it just as it is).

Steamed Cilantro & Scallion Rice Roll

This ubiquitous delicacy is usually presented (and is available at Wonton Gourmet) stuffed with shrimp or beef. The rice noodle is rolled around the filling and served over a slightly sweet, soy-based sauce. Something just told me we needed to try it without the filling - and that something was right. The taste of the fresh herbs and the chewy noodles was accented by the sauce - and each mouthful was a delight.

Sui Mai (Steamed Pork and Shrimp Dumpling)

Sui Mai is another of those ubiquitous Dim Sum items served by any restaurant that serves Dim Sum. I usually don't care for them - too much frozen shrimp for my palate, and not usually at the freshest. We were determined to order them - as happened last time, the server warned that they take 15-20 minutes - but we were not in a hurry!

This version was topped with a bit of roe (not sure what kind). It had a firm texture - probably from the mushrooms that seemed to replace a lot of the shrimp. I actually liked it better than most Sui Mai, despite the mushrooms, because of that firm texture, deep pork flavor, and, especially - it was so amazingly fresh!

We followed our Dim Sum with a soup course.

Chinese Chive Dumplings in Soup

The pristinely clear pork-infused broth contained little to distract - the toothsome dumplings (amazingly similar to the Chive Potstickers - it wouldn't surprise me if they were the same dumpling), Gailan (Chinese Broccoli) and scallions. A simple, brilliant dish.

We decided that two entrees would be plenty for the four of us, considering the volume of food that we had just consumed.

Wet Black Pepper Beef & Spaghetti

No kidding - the menu has a whole section of dishes "Over Rice or Spaghetti," though this dish came from a wall menu (thank you Stuart for the translations)! Stuart had warned us to expect a very wet dish over rather mushy spaghetti. But this dish was sublime! An unidentifiable, Western-seeming pasta cooked al dente, tossed with tender beef, chunks of onion, scallion, bean sprouts and coated with a brisk Hong Hong-style black pepper sauce that moistened, but did not drown the dish.

In order to get the full effect of the pepper, you really have to eat this dish the Chinese way - out of a small bowl, which concentrated the aromas and flavors, and with a fairly large bite at a time (everyone at the table finally got the pepper rush - it just took the others a little longer because they ate it from a flat plate in daintier fashion). Black Pepper Sauce is one of those Chinese foods I crave, because few places make it (or make it well).

Oil Fried (or Wok Tossed) Grouper Balls

I was expecting something more dumpling-like - but this dish did not disappoint on flavor, texture or freshness. Chunks of fresh fish were battered and deep fried, then wok-tossed with crisp vegetables, a light "velvety" sauce, and lots of garlic. This was a perfect contrast to the spicy noodle dish!

This meal delighted all four of us, and we agreed to return for more soon! It is a real treat to be able to play with authentic Hong Kong style food right here in Cleveland, in a clean and friendly restaurant.

Three of us visited Koko Bakery (3710 Payne Ave, Cleveland, OH, (216) 881-7600, link to menu here) after, since Tom and Kay had never been there before. I left my camera in the car, but wished I hadn't - the joint was rocking! Koko is a Shanghai-style bakery - to the left, a wall of traditional (and not so traditional) Chinese baked and fried buns, stuffed with everything from Char Sui pork to Ham & Eggs. Then, a cooler with steam buns, for take out. The front counter cases carried elaborate Western-looking pastries, and a few Eastern surprises (pork bread?). The menu includes a selection of rice plates, sandwiches and salads, and Taiwanese and Korean desserts. There is a large selection of Bubble Tea and Shaved Ice. I was pleased to see them so busy; Cleveland has lost a couple of Asian bakeries in the past few years, and this one is locally owned and operated. Koko deserves our support.

I picked up a package of Cranberry Cookies for after dinner and wished I could think enough about food to get something else - but Wonton Gourmet had filled me up with goodness and there was no room left, even to think about food. I'll need a return trip to play with the food at Koko's!


  1. I had my steamed pork buns last night from Koko's -- yum. I need to get some additional kinds next time we go to Wonton Gourmet.

    Excellent pictures, btw.

  2. Everything looks and sounds delish. Hopefully we can get there soon.

  3. I love chinese dumplings, your pictures are making me hungry! Next time we're in the mood for chinese we'll have to give this place a try. Great post!

  4. Trust me when I say that everything in those pictures tasted as wonderful -- and even moreso -- than your perfect pictures depict. Really marvelous. And you're right -- the turnip cakes were grand!

  5. Nice pics. I agree that place is delicious. I have only been there once so far, but I can't wait to get back!

  6. oh my, delish. also nancy, i wanted to send you a prize for CCP. could you email me a street address? (