I looked over the banister at the crowd of people waiting for dim sum at Pacificana, a vast Chinese restaurant in the heart of Brooklyn Chinatown. At noon on Sunday the place was packed, door to door, up and down the stairs leading to the restaurant’s lobby. A harried, petite woman stood in the center of the antsy crowd, simultaneously hugging a podium and holding a microphone, shouting numbers as tables became available. I jostled my way closer in order to hear the numbers, which were more often than not announced in Chinese.
Finally I heard it: “148! 148!” I frantically waved to Jim, our friends Dave and Rachel and their three-year-old son Joseph, and ran through the red-and-gold decorated dining room after the host. We settled into our small table, armed Joseph with magic markers and chopsticks, and waited for the carts of steaming dumplings, buns, and other treats to approach.
Luckily a dumpling-laden cart and its friendly female driver soon cruised by our table. After our hour-long wait, we were ravenous, and dove right into dumpling heaven: fried balls of shrimp encased in a spindly, airy crust; bacon-wrapped shrimp dumplings; sweet, soft pork buns; delicate fried dumplings filled with even more pork.
According to the Food Lover’s Companion, dim sum means “heart’s delight” in Cantonese. It’s a pretty accurate description for me, as Chinese dumplings are one of my favorite foods. But as we learned at Pacificana, dim sum dishes include more than just dumplings. I pointed wildly at the cart serving razor clams in a brown, spicy sauce in order to procure a plate of them for our table. We picked them apart as best we could with our chopsticks, and I concentrated so intently on my food that I barely noticed when Joseph threw a chopstick at my head. Neither did anyone else; Pacificana may be busy and bustling, but it’s also extremely child-friendly.
After resting for a few minutes, we started in on our second wave of food. Fried rice was passed around the table more than once, as we all ate small bites with our various dim sum. Silky, cool rice noodles in soy sauce provided a moment of peaceful comfort in the midst of our feast. We next sampled two small bowls of broth, each hosting a massive dumpling whose flavor developed with the addition of pickled ginger. Rachel and I delighted in a sweet, fried eggplant dish, while Jim and Dave ended the meal with spicy shrimp-stuffed peppers.
As we walked the three long avenues back towards the car, Joseph exclaimed, “What a fun day!” I couldn’t have agreed more. Supposedly Pacificana serves dim sum every day of the week. I’m envisioning a sick day from work pretty soon. Just don’t tell my boss.
Pacificana Restaurant, 813 55th Street (at 8th Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11220 T: 718-871-2880 (I couldn’t keep track of how much each dim sum item cost, but our entire bill came to $56. Pretty darn reasonable, if you ask me.)