Best Dim Sum St. Louis 2012 - Mandarin House
When scouting the city's best dim sum, it seemed wise to inquire where the Chinese artists, crew and staff of the Missouri Botanical Garden's Lantern Festival held their closing brunch. At Mandarin House, of course. Don't be fooled by the underwhelming strip-mall location, which provides cover for an elegant 430-seat dining room (complete with mini pagoda and fountain). One hallmark of great dim sum is a high-quality rice wrapper used for the dumplings: not too thin, not gooey, but with enough give to accommodate its precious cargo of seafood, meat or vegetable. At Mandarin House, one bite of xia jiao (a pleated shrimp dumpling, a.k.a. har gow) and you know you've come to the right place. The more delicate and glutinous zhu chang fen — or cheung fun, floppy, oblong rice noodle rolls named for the pig intestines they resemble — are another telltale sign. So is the tender Chinese broccoli, and the delectable bean curd, and the mouthwatering turnip cakes, and everything else that comes wheeling by on steaming carts. Service, too, is impressive; in a setting where non-Asians often find themselves feeling all too foreign, this crew is unfailingly warm and patient, happy to run and fetch an item that a diner may have missed on its go-around through the dining room. That's key in a meal designed for grazing and in a restaurant that gets so many of the dishes spot-on.