Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fun Playing With Lions and Dim Sum at Li Wah

It was my own darn fault that Chinese New Year began Monday January 26 and I had not gathered a group and made arrangements to participate in a Lion Dance. I was too pre-occupied with my trip to Florida, and had simply neglected to track down the local options until after the holiday had already started. C&Y Restaurant, the venue for our CNY celebration last year, closed several months ago. Lion dances at smaller venues were already sold out. And it was Thursday, January 29. What to do?

My friend Stuart came to the rescue with this blog post about Chinese New Year in Cleveland. The links took me to Cleveland Magazine's Blog (which I didn't know existed) and this story about the Kwan family, which is the last remaining martial arts troop performing Lion Dance in Cleveland. Turned out that Li Wah Restaurant would be having a Lion Dance today at 11am! Though it was too late to round up any dining companions, we decided to head to Li Wah this morning.

We arrived at Asia Plaza a little after 10am. I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't been there in a very long time. After Tink Holl Grocery moved out and C&Y re-opened - I just hadn't had the opportunity or need to go to Asia Plaza. And since Wonton Gourmet opened right around the time that C&Y closed - I still hadn't made it my business to check out the Plaza. Honestly, the quality of the food at Li Wah had seemed in decline the last few times I had eaten there, so it wasn't at the the top of my list anymore.

We arrived a little after 10am - the restaurant was still fairly empty, so we walked around a little before entering the restaurant. Asia Plaza has been expanded to connect with Park to Shop Grocery; there is a lot of empty space for rent. Li Wah, however, had extra tables and chairs outside the restaurant to accommodate the New Year's crowd. The Kwans would do a second Lion Dance in the Plaza at their end, after finishing the performance inside the restaurant proper.

Today's Dim Sum was an extremely pleasant and delicious surprise. Li Wah is back to the top of its Dim Sum game, and I am delighted.

New Year's Altar at the Restaurant Entrance

Located to the Right of the Entrance - What An Introduction!

The BBQ meat stand is where the fish tanks used to be. It really has been too long since I've been to Li Wah!

We were seated at a deuce very near to the kitchen. This is the ideal location for a dim sum lover to be seated!

These condiment holders were new (to me). A pleasure to have hot chile oil right on the table!

The Lettuce Awaits The Festivities

Service was still in its early stages, which was fine with us. We were in no hurry - it is almost a cruelty for two people to go to Dim Sum and to have no one else to share the dishes with! Every dish we were served was piping hot and delicious.

Shrimp Stuffed Bean Curd Roll

Even this big piece of shrimp did not suffer from chemically tastes - well done!

Pork and 1000 Year Old Egg Congee

I actually took this shot after we had put some in our bowls and tasted - we were that hungry! This was very good, especially with a little shot of chile oil.

Steam BBQ Pork Buns


Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf

We very much enjoyed these, and they were expertly prepared. My only complaint was the filling - there was one piece each of BBQ pork and lap cheong (Chinese Sausage), and no duck or quail egg. Had we been eating with a group and divided each dumpling up - no one would have gotten a bite of both BBQ pork and lap cheong.

Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant

Again, sitting near the kitchen has its advantages! We snagged these from a tray before it even got to a cart. Piping hot, the shrimpy part of the filling was crispy and the eggplant creamy - a perfectly balanced dumpling. I've eaten this many times, and I think this version rated as the best.


The server who came around with these was thrilled that we "enjoy the good Dim Sums" and that we were willing to try these even though we had no idea what they were. Phonetically, she explained that they are called tieng bien. Substantively, think Fun Gwoh dough on steriods.

I would have liked to break this up and show you the middle - but the fabulously gloppy noodle would have none of it! As I nibbled in, I determined that there was an extremely gentle kiss of orange and/or orange zest at the center of the dumpling. If anyone can correct my spelling of this item, and/or give me a proper translation of it, I'd greatly appreciate it. Sigh - feed me gloppy noodles any day and I am a happy girl.

Vegetable Dumpling

This of course is the wheat starch-tapioca starch wrapper used for Fun Gwoh. It becomes a bit translucent when steamed.

I loved these dumplings, though I thought the filling was a little skimpy.

Stuffed Taro Dumpling

By the time a spied this plate on a cart - we were really too full to eat. But we had already decided to have our leftovers for breakfast tomorrow, together with an order of the BBQ meats we had seen at the entrance, but which we were way to full to consider eating.

We split one Taro Dumpling between us - and it was fresh, hot, crispy and creamy.

Roast Pork With Crispy Skin

Bob was done - he just looked helplessly at the plate.

I managed to taste one bite of skin (heavenly!) and one of meat with the dipping sauce. I was surprised that this was a cold dish (the better for us to eat as a leftover tomorrow); it was fabulous, right down to the slightly sweet dipping sauce.

By now, the show was gearing up - and the head of lettuce fell down! Bob wanted to recommend Duct Tape - but the manager managed to get it back where it belonged:

Gong Xi! Gong Xi!

Feeding Lucky Money Envelopes to the Lion for Good Luck!

The Lion Wags His Tail in Appreciation

Oh well - we were on the correct side to get dishes right out of the kitchen

The Lion Minces the Lettuce and Rains Prosperity on Us All for the Coming Year

I took a few more food photos as we waited for our check.

Stir Fry Cart

Though I really don't care for mussels - this smelled awfully good!

Fry Cart

Turnip Cake, Taro Cake and Fried Rice Noodles. Sorry, I am spoiled by Wonton Gourmet's turnip cake. But I would have taken an order of "Turtles" if they'd had them - the round Fun Gwoh dumpling stuffed with chives.

This was on the soup cart, which had four containers. Even though we took the Jook, the cart lady started to lift the lid on this, then stopped and I didn't think I cared because any one item from the soup cart is more than enough for two people. So - what is this??

My best guess is beef tendon soup with hardcooked eggs - but if anyone knows, I'd like to know. I think I will try this next time we visit Li Wah.

I promise that I will not wait nearly so long to return to Li Wah for Dim Sum. I am so pleased that we here in Cleveland still have a first class Dim Sum house, and I had great fun playing with my food and sucking up some of that Lion Dance good luck!

And in this New Year - don't forget to lequ wannong yong shiwu (play with your food)!


  1. If I wasn't about to stuff myself at L'Albatross, I would SO be making the journey over to Li Wah. I'm looking forward to trying this now. Yum!

  2. I agree Li Wah has the best Dim Sum in Cleveland, but am not that impressed with their other menu dishes. I LOVE the Taro Root dumplings and the Roast Pork as well, they are so delicious!