3381 Sheridan Dr., Amherst NY 14226
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Amherst Chinese Dim Sum
"Despite fairly significant peaks and valleys, Gin Gin's dim sum would rank number two overall in Buffalo and its suburbs, due substantially to a lack of local competition."
When we reviewed Gin Gin Chinese Restaurant back in April, we were generally impressed: this wasn't just another takeout-quality Chinese place, but rather a real dining room with a menu that went beyond the confines of Americanized sorta-Chinese food. Obviously, restaurants evolve over time, and Gin Gin's an example: some months ago, it started to serve dim sum - small dishes meant to be ordered en masse and shared - but only on weekends, and then, during a three-hour window from 12:00 noon to 3:00pm. This quick review serves as a companion to a substantial photo gallery we previously posted on our Facebook page, as well as our earlier review of Gin Gin.
A Brief Primer on Dim Sum and Pricing. Unless you're Chinese, dim sum definitely isn't your granddaddy's Chinese food. At the typical dim sum restaurant, each person typically orders three or four plates that range in price from $3 to $5, with steamed dumplings, miniature pies, and crispy fried snacks competing for space in your stomach. Seafood, pork, and sweet fillings like custard and sesame paste are amongst the most common ingredients, each typically prized for freshness and not sparing in quantity; many places also offer roasted or steamed duck and chicken, as well. Complementary dishes, such as thick rice-based soups, deep fried noodle nests, and other standard menu items are also offered as larger, more filling options, generally at higher prices. It's fun to sample a range of different picks - one reason that dim sum is a very popular brunch with Chinese families in other cities - though less adventurous diners can stick to familiar favorites, instead.
Gin Gin's A Little Different. Gin Gin started to offer dim sum in mid-August, 2009, but didn't promote the menu much. The unusually long, nearly 60-item list actually is roughly half dim sum, and half those other traditional complementary items, such as soups, special roasted poultry dishes, and noodles. Strawberry Jello even shows up on the list for some odd reason. This menu's per plate pricing is always under $10, with most dishes in the $5 or under category.
Small, Medium, and Large plates are offered at prices of $3.75, $4.25, or $4.95, respectively - a little higher than we've seen at some other dim sum places. But the large plates are big, like the Crispy Squid in Salt & Pepper plate shown here, comprised of plenty of substantial slices of very fresh squid meat that were chopped, battered, deep fried, and heavily coated in salt and pepper. That's a big dish for $5.
The Verdict, With Perspective. Overall, we'd describe Gin Gin's dim sum offerings as decent - some are decidedly better than others. We've posted a substantial photo gallery on our Facebook page for those who want the details, but in sum, there are a couple of core issues that detract from what would otherwise be an exciting experience. They're both typified in the two items shown in this article's first photograph, which depicts two classic dim sum menu items - Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (har gow), and Chicken Feet.
Most of the items on Gin Gin's menu are like the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings: bite-sized snack items you may or may not have tried before, but are unlikely to be intimidated by in concept or in taste. Try them here for the first time and you'll find them to be interesting and quite good: you'll be impressed by the crystalline dumpling shells, the big balls of shrimp inside, and the lightness of the steamed preparation. But if you've had them elsewhere, you'll know straight away that these versions aren't the best around; fans will quickly note the omission of chili dipping sauce, the doughiness of the wrappers, and the atypically high prices: three shrimp dumplings go for $4.25 here, versus four better ones elsewhere for $3. Other items, like the same-priced Chicken Feet, are a truly acquired taste under the best conditions, and Gin Gin's versions won't win any new fans. The one chicken feet connoisseur in our group of testers was displeased that they didn't have much flavor, despite the fact that they were loaded with soft, steamed tube-shaped meat.
But there are other items that vary from extraordinarily good - great, even - to send-it-back bad. The single best item we sampled was the Curry Squid ($4.95), which literally transcended any other version we've had elsewhere. Each piece was a full small or medium-sized squid, as tender as we've ever tasted squid meat, in a bowl of fragrant Chinese-style curry sauce. And a dish of Steamed Spare Ribs in Black Bean Sauce ($4.25) were far more typical of dim sum spare ribs - not the long, greasy barbecued ones that were popular a decade or three ago in the U.S. - but plenty meaty and cooked properly. Another really good option was Stuffed Eggplants ($4.25), a hit with everyone who tried them: delicately broiled eggplant slices with a moist bread stuffing inside. Every bite was a little crispy but otherwise soft and surprisingly natural rather than salty in flavor.
The only item on the terrible list was the Tripe in Ginger Sauce ($3.75) - beef stomach, which despite any misgivings you might have is actually quite excellent at many dim sum restaurants. Yet it was awful at Gin Gin, arriving brown and tasting literally rotten, so we had to send it back, something that we've never had happen before with the typically light, fresh-tasting meat. By contrast, an order of Steamed Juicy Pork Buns ($4.25, not shown) merely tasted old and overcooked, with none of the characteristic soup-like juice inside.
Despite fairly significant peaks and valleys - a characteristic of the regular menu, as well - Gin Gin's dim sum would rank number two overall in Buffalo and its suburbs, due substantially to a lack of local competition. No one here matches the combined variety and quality of Cantonese House in Rochester, though Amherst's cramped Uncle John's No. 1 comes as close as a take-out place could hope for. By comparison with Uncle John's, Gin Gin offers a wider variety of options in a much nicer, larger dining room, with better overall quality than Williamsville's charmless Golden Duck, though there might be an item or two where one place or the other excels. You'll do better at any of these places than at Tonawanda's Peking Garden, which served quite possibly the worst dim sum we've ever had, here or elsewhere.