Craft cocktails and dim sum don’t usually go together. Yet there I was, drinking an Imperial Mai Tai while enjoying delicate steamed soup dumplings on a recent evening in Williamsburg.
Yes, I was eating dim sum at night. And drinking alcohol. At the same time.
Kings County Imperial opened in 2015 in a compact space just around the corner from Union Pool. Blink, and you’ll miss it. But that would be a real shame for anyone with a passion for Chinese food. The restaurant serves classic Chinese dishes made from high quality ingredients. King’s County Imperial is to most Chinese delivery places as the burger at Diner is to a greasy spoon cheeseburger–the same dishes, but made distinctive by care and quality. The owners, who also operate the neighborhood restaurant Stone Park Cafe in Park Slope, opened Kings County with press-ready selling points like the soy sauce on tap, as well as many cocktails, including that Mai Tai, and Chinese vegetables and herbs grown in the backyard for use in the kitchen.
That brought the press in; the food kept them–and many more–coming back.
The creativity at King’s County Imperial is wide ranging, so it wasn’t surprising when owners Tracy Jane Young and chef Josh Grinker announced recently they would begin serving dim sum at dinnertime.
“Dim sum is a tradition unto itself,” Grinker said in an email. “Easy, informal, totally satisfying … and well-priced.”
The menu, $15 per person (you pick a variety of dishes, based on the number of diners in your party), includes dumplings, small plates, vegetables and noodles, and it differs greatly from traditional dim sum. There are potstickers, taro cakes and other dumplings, but don’t come expecting chicken feet, spare ribs or rice cakes. And there are no women pushing carts. (This is a compact restaurant, remember?) And I don’t know of another dim sum spot where you can feast on (very, very spicy) dan dan noodles with your dumplings.
The long dumplings, with Berkshire pork, garlic and black vinegar, are the most popular dim sum item, Grinker said, and it’s also his favorite menu item.
To my mind, the mock eel has been the highlight of each meal I’ve eaten at Kings County Imperial, and it’s available for dim sum dinner, too. Shiitake mushrooms are cut into foot-long tendrils and served under a healthy dose of the house soy and a scattering of scallions. It’s magic: the texture is similar to eel, the flavor savory and deep. Grinker credits the dish to his “Chinese food mentor” Steve Bogart, with whom he and Young worked at the now-closed Barre, Vermont restaurant A Single Pebble. (New owners now run the restaurant in Burlington, Vermont.)
“The Buddhist tradition of vegetarian food is a cuisine in its own right,” Grinker said. “[We] vowed to resurrect this recipe, so this is our version of it.”
The dim sum at Kings County has its place in the pantheon of dim sum palaces in NYC. Mostly because it’s offered at a different time, yes, but also because the restaurant is putting a unique spin on a traditional experience. Check it.
Dim Sum Supper is available Monday through Friday from 5:30-7pm, at least through the winter season.