Lunar New Year, which marks the beginning of the lunar calendar as observed in many Asian cultures, begins Sunday, Jan. 22. So let’s visit 818 Best Dim Sum to get in the holiday mood.
The restaurant, which opened in October, is in an outparcel in front of Mall at Millenia in a space that was previously The King Crab Shack Cajun Seafood. It’s a big place, brightly lit, with many large tables for families or groups.
Each Lunar New Year is denoted by a rotating roster of animals, including ox, snake and horse, among others. Coming up is the year of the rabbit, which last appeared in 2011 (as measured by the Gregorian calendar). I thought it would be clever of 818 to feature rabbit on its menu but there was none.
Or maybe it was there and I didn’t see it. The menu is busy and confusing. Make that menus, because when my dinner guests and I were seated we were each given bound menus plus an extra laminated one. At first glimpse they looked the same, but we saw on closer examination they were not. I called the server over to explain.
The bound menus, we were told, were the regular menu; the unbound laminated version had the dim sum items. He handed me a felt tip pen and further explained that we were to indicate which dim sum items we wanted by marking the quantity of each directly on the menu.
Got it. But there was still a bit of puzzlement with the menu. Most items are pictured and names are listed in Chinese characters as well as English. Each listing also had a code of some sort, such as 特点XL, but no pricing. It took a bit of sleuthing to solve the mystery: There is a key on the front of the menus that has the various codes and the associated cost. So an item with 特点XL next to it was $8.95.
But knowing all of that didn’t make it any easier to make our selections. There are so many dishes that it just seemed daunting, so we just dove it and marked a few on the dim sum menu and gave our verbal orders from the regular carte.
The is what we had in the order of our mutual preference.
The House Special Golden Egg Fried Rice was hands down the best thing we had. It was a big mound of fluffy rice wokked with scallions and onions, big chunks of egg whites and infused with flavorful oil. Delicious.
Second favorite was the Salt & Chili Pepper Squid from the dim sum menu. It featured substantial chunks of tender-firm squid, breaded and deep fried, topped with a seasoning that included the salt and pepper. If you could manage to get a big bite of squid with some of the seasoning it was perfect.
Next, deep-fried lobster balls, plentiful pieces of sweet lobster meat molded into golf ball size orbs and breaded with shredded wonton. Hot out of the oil but not greasy.
Sticky rice with chicken, wrapped and steamed in a lotus leaf, also had hunks of sausage and a lovely aroma. On most days sticky rice would be at the top of my list – it’s one of the things I look for when I’m strolling through Chinatown in New York – but this one was just so-so.
But better than the steamed pork buns, which had a coarse, dry texture, though the shredded pork filling was sweet and tasty.
Service was friendly and helpful when asked. And food came out of the kitchen quick as a rabbit.
Happy New Year.
818 Best Dim Sum is at 4192 Conroy Road, Orlando (map). It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-379-9228.