For Dim Sum, Many Plates at Rochester's Cantonese House

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Cantonese House Restaurant
3159 Winton Rd S # 8, Rochester, NY 14623
Phone: 585.272.9126
Rating:    [learn more]
Pros:

A relatively strong option for a wide variety of authentic dim sum and other Chinese dishes, particularly seafood items, served predominantly in the Cantonese style. Closest Buffalo gets to real dim sum now.


Cons:

Certain items obviously had been rotating around on carts for just a little too long; in absolute terms there's better dim sum to be found in other cities. Rochester's a bit of a drive for Buffalo residents.


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"Apart from the sheer scale of places we've visited in larger cities, classic dim sum table service is done considerable justice in this truly authentic Chinese venue."


Obsessed as we are with Chinese dim sum - small $2-$3 plates of unique steamed or fried snacks, served on weekends off of special "pick what looks good" carts by roving waitresses until you're stuffed - we're hard-pressed to recommend a great local place to experience it. As noted in our review of Uncle John's No. 1, Buffalo and its suburbs no longer have any real dim sum restaurants, and the best approximation is a place with only three or four small tables. What happened? First, these unique, often Cantonese dishes are apparently just too hard for busy chefs to prepare for a handful of customers, and second, the few restauranteurs who used to serve dim sum properly never tried to publicize it. Without customers, dim sum goes away, and without dim sum, we're forced to go away to find it. That's what brought us to Rochester's Cantonese House, known more generically on its business cards and menus as "Cantonese Restaurant." Tucked into the corner of a nondescript plaza, Cantonese House does traditional dim sum service proud, offering lots of options at reasonable prices; it's worthy of the occasional hour-long drive from Buffalo.

The Story: We were first brought to Cantonese House by long-time friends from Buffalo who said that this was the best dim sum place they'd visited in Rochester, and though there are other options, we were pleased enough with our first meal here to return for a second visit. Of the 35-item dim sum menu - a solid number by the standards of most places outside of China - roughly 20 actually make their way around the sizable restaurant on three carts piloted by waitresses, while the others are available on a paper menu by request. Not listed on the menu, traditional dim sum parlor soups such as the rice-heavy Congee are also carted around. You pick the plates you want, typically four to six per person, and stop eating whenever you feel satisfied; Chinese families often stretch dim sum meals into multiple hours, but at Cantonese House, you can be in and out within 45 minutes if you desire. Note that dim sum is served only on weekends, typically starting around 10:30AM and continuing until around 3:00PM.

Prices for individual items are almost all in the $3 range, with the exception of a handful of items priced at either $4 or $7.25, the atypical latter including plates of deep-fried shrimp or squid flavored with salt and pepper. There's also a full "standard" Chinese dine-in and take-out menu, with a somewhat more seafood-heavy selection of specialties than usual, though there are plenty of non-seafood options as well. We focused mostly on dim sum during our visits, but found menu dishes such as the Chicken with Broccoli ($5.75 lunch, $10 dinner) to be very good as well.

Highs: Given how bad most of the remaining dim sum places in Buffalo are, we could set a very low threshold for Cantonese House merely by saying that it does well by just doing dim sum right. The steamed classic dishes, Har Gow shrimp dumplings ($3) and meaty wonton-esque Shu Mai pork dumplings ($3, billed here as Siu Mai), are delivered with just enough warmth and freshness to make you question whether they ever spent any time in a freezer, and the variety of other dishes - ranging from the exotic Chicken Feet ($3) to fried sweet Sesame Balls ($2.75) and Steamed Pork Buns ($2.75) - are all done to standards that we'd call above average in an absolute sense.

Those items, however, are fairly common at dim sum places - they can be had at Uncle John's No. 1, for instance - so after trying them on one visit, we tried a few familiar items that we regrettably hadn't seen in Buffalo in many moons. The triangular Baked Roast Pork Buns ($2.75) were served three to a plate, crispy sesame-coated phyllo dough on the outside and sweet Chinese barbecue pork on the inside, both warm enough that we didn't feel like we were being served reheated leftovers. We welcomed their just-right taste and texture; this is a dish we would easily order twice over but for the abundance of choices.

We also enjoyed Abalone Dumplings ($3), visually all but indistinguishable from steamed yellow wontons on the outside but for their delicate ruffled tops, and on the inside because of their slight chewiness; the taste was again right on. Another item that's common elsewhere but hard to find in Buffalo is the plate of Egg Custard Tarts ($2.75), three miniature pie crusts with sweet yellow egg custard in the center; Cantonese House's version was exactly like it should have been, lacking the watery top surface that sometimes develops from improper cooking or sitting around. While all of these items may very well have been made elsewhere for steaming or baking here, you'd never know for sure, as they were all prepared properly; delicate items such as the Abalone Dumplings, some deep-fried, ribbon-covered Shrimp Balls, and fried wrapped Crab Legs ($3.75) looked as if they came straight from this kitchen.

Lows: As much as we really like the food we've had at Cantonese House, it has to be said that by absolute standards, dim sum can be even better - even in the United States. While the variety of dishes and freshness here put Buffalo's remaining dim sum restaurants to shame, it's hard to be blown away by contrast with Toronto solo and chain venues such as Sam Woo and others, which serve so much dim sum on a daily basis that freshness and variety are all but certain.

In terms of true disappointments in our meals here, we couldn't list any major ones; the slightly soggy Beef Tripe ($3), served with a ginger and scallion sauce, was still within our parameters of "good" quality, and even common items such as Spring Rolls ($2.75) came out well. Our biggest issue was that items that might have been served hotter, fresh out of steamers or oil, were almost always just warm instead; thankfully, they always tasted good, and weren't ever dripping with water or oil.

The Verdict: Whether you've tried dim sum before or are just looking to expand your Chinese palate, Cantonese House would be the first place in the immediate area we'd recommend you visit unless a trip across the border was already in the offing; apart from the sheer scale of places we've visited in larger cities, classic dim sum table service is done considerable justice in this truly authentic Chinese venue. If it wasn't an hour away from Buffalo, we'd be here every weekend. The rest of the items on the extensive menu will impress during the weekdays and evenings when dim sum isn't served, as well as satisfying those who find these small dishes too intimidating to try.

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