Every time I scan a menu in anticipation of ordering Chinese food, the possibilities seem endless. Hundreds of choices ranging from familiar to exotic, broken down into categories, somehow always ready in 10 minutes no matter how much you order.
And what do I end up with? Steamed pork dumplings and sesame chicken. Almost every time. Sure I’ve had lo mein, fried rice, egg rolls, wonton soup and most of the common dishes that are the staples of Chinese American cuisine. But no matter how long I stare, my eyes drift back to my go-tos.
When the idea of checking out Golden Palace for November’s Under the Radar was presented to me, I jumped all over it for two reasons. One, I’m always in the mood for pork dumplings and sesame chicken. Two, I haven’t needed much of an excuse to head out to Uncasville since I turned 21.
It’s no secret that Mohegan Sun has a number of great restaurants to choose from, but just one exit away is a truly authentic Chinese food experience.
Before heading east I checked the Golden Palace website and noticed they offered “dim sum” daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I had always assumed dim sum was just a dish I had yet to order. A quick internet search corrected my faulty thinking. Dim sum is a style of Chinese cuisine consisting of small, bite-size portions. Perfect for experimenting. The dumplings and chicken would have to wait.
Immediately upon taking our seats, a piping hot pot of green tea was placed on the table (green, jasmine or chrysanthemum tea are the options for the traditional dim sum brunch beverage) along with a paper menu and a pencil. For those familiar with Bartaco, the ordering style is almost identical. Mark each item you want on the menu and before you know it plates are being delivered.
We picked nine for the two of us, mostly because my research led me to believe these were “small, bite-size portions.” That was not the case, at least at Golden Palace. The portions were generous, especially for the price (eight of the nine dishes were under $4). And because the food arrives sporadically, we were absolutely stuffed before the last three plates even made it out of the kitchen.
Our first mistake was ordering too much. Our second mistake was ordering three variations (cilantro, minced fish, fatty spare ribs) of steamed rice rolls. The minced fish arrived first and was excellent. Those with texture issues may want to shy away, however, as the rice roll is thick, wide and bordering on gelatinous. The cilantro was also very good but the fatty spare rib was regrettable. I guess some people like fat wrapped around a bone perched atop gelatinous noodles, but I’m not one of them. Also, at $6.75 it was the most expensive item we ordered.
We knew the roast pork croissant and roast pork bun (three of each come with an order) were can’t-miss choices. The pork is secondary in both, but the croissant is flaky and light and the bun is doughy and delightful.
Golden fried dough played the part of both palate cleanser and dessert, although there are also four dessert options we did not try — a fried sticky rice flour ball, sponge cake and two Jell-O cakes. The scallion pancake was perfection, and my only complaint about the beef meatballs with bean curd sheet was that it was one of the last dishes to come out. I know it was tasty, but I also know it’s not something you dive into when you’re already full.
The most interesting item, aside from the aforementioned bone and fat casserole, was sticky rice wrapped in steamed lotus leaves with sausage, pork, chicken, bamboo shoots, mushroom and egg. This really hammered home the idea that we were eating authentic Chinese food, and not the Americanized version that’s available in almost every town. It was unique, due in large part to the presentation and the flavor gleaned from the lotus leaves. Each bite tasted a little bit different than the last, but the biggest mystery was why it was only $3.75.
For some, trying new foods, particularly from other cultures, can be daunting and intimidating. But the reward outweighs the risk when you discover something new that you really like. And if you find you’ve ordered something you really don’t like, may you have eight other plates to choose from.