I rather enjoy the fact the Boston has a reasonable good Chinatown, although like most “Chinatowns” over the last several decades it has really become more of a “Pan Asian Town” than just Chinese places, with a particularly strong Vietnamese and Korean presence as well. But it’s still the home to several well-regarded Chinese restaurants. In particular, Gourmet Dumpling House and Hei La Moon have both been on my “hit list” for a while… but they’ve both foiled my past attempts at dining, either through being intractably busy (well, it didn’t help that I didn’t check the calendar last time, and showed up the bay before Chinese New Year last time) or arriving just after they stopped serving. But I’ve been trying to get back there.
Well, two weekends ago, I finally had a good opportunity: our friend Bridget wanted to celebrate her birthday with an outing to Boston. So we all piled in two cars with a bunch of friends, and stop number one was… dim sum at Hei La Moon. Hei La Moon is easy to find, it’s about a block east of the Chinatown Gate, nestled in the bottom of a building that’s primarily a large funky parking garage (as an aside, Hei La Moon apparently validates $6 worth of parking for this garage, making it reasonable if you are just going into Chinatown for dim sum). And you can easily find the place since it almost always has a large crowd of Chinese people snaking out the door. And that’s an important thing to know: the main level is almost always crazy busy with people lined up out the door, but if you are getting dim sum, you can head right on down the stairs and get seated in the basement with much less (and often no) waiting. I’m sure there’s some reason eluding me that people will wait a lot longer for the upper level, but so far, there’s no reason to doubt the basement.
As far as the dining experience itself, Hei La Moon is your basic old school dim sum joint, with dim sum dishes brought out to you in an unending parade of steel trolleys being wheeled by your table. Ordering is mostly a matter of getting the cart to stop (which can be a bit of a challenge at times), and then simply pointing to the stuff that looks good (much like some of the other dim sum places I’ve reviewed, like New World in London).
As far as the food goes, I generally found that Hei La Moon was quite good, especially for Boston (despite having one of the older Chinatowns, I still find that San Francisco, New York, and Cleveland seem to consistently do a bit better). In particularly, most of their buns and dumplings were quite delicious. I rather enjoyed both the baked BBQ pork bun (shown here) and the steamed char siu buns (char siu bao), both having a pleasant texture and a rich pork filling. The siu mai were also excellent, and a nice example of a dumpling done well, with nice little rice flour packets that exploded in flavor as you pop them in your mouth. Finally, I was really impressed by the wu gok (fried taro dumplings), which had a pleasantly crispy fried outside and an interior with a nice mix of creamy taro and minced pork.
There were a few things that I like in dim sum that I didn’t see, the biggest being dragon claws (chicken feet) and lo bak go (mashed turnip cakes, which I always love with a good sauce), although I’m certain that they had these items, they just didn’t seem to come around to our table. And there was one dish we didn’t like: the tripe. While the tripe itself was pretty good, everyone rather disliked the sauce.
Overall, though, we thought that Hei La Moon had some enjoyable and affordable dim sum. I’ll certainly make it a point to go back and try some more interesting items as well, and see if I can track down some of the items that eluded me.