Dragon House's small bites big on taste

August 26, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

I don't know if it was an organized campaign or not, but suddenly I was hearing it from all sides: The Dragon House in Owings Mills has fabulous dim sum. The dim sum chef, a master, had been brought from Hong Kong; but if dim sum business didn't pick up soon, they would have to let him go. "Please try to find time to review this undiscovered treasure," one reader wrote, "So that we may continue to enjoy it."

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure yet, dim sum are Chinese dumplings, finger foods and pastries traditionally served tea parlors. Here they've become popular as an alternative to brunch.

Over the years, Chinese restaurants in the area have offered dim sum with varying degrees of success. I don't remember any as elaborate as you'll find at the Dragon House.

If you know what you're doing, you can order from the separate dim sum menu of 38 items. But on the weekend, the dim sum are wheeled around on carts so you can point to whatever looks interesting. (Supposedly there are even more than 38 choices Saturday and Sunday.)

The readers who wrote and called were right: The Dragon House has dim sum to please the most discriminating and knowledgeable diner. What the restaurant needs to do now is offer a dim sum for novices. An introductory course.

Too bad the Dragon House doesn't have a suggestion for a typical dim sum "menu." (The meal's charm, of course, lies in the fact that you order just what nibbles you feel like having with tea, but if you've never had dim sum before, a little guidance is helpful.) And someone needs to explain that you don't, say, eat the eight treasure sticky rice in lotus leaves whole. You pull out the toothpick, open up the leaf, and eat the flavored rice inside.

As soon as you're seated, the waitress arrives with her cart and starts asking you if you'd like this (shell-shaped shrimp dumplings) or this (stuffed ducks webs) or this (sticky rice in lotus leaves). If you've never had dim sum before, you may not realize that a serving is one of the little aluminum pots, which might contain four dumplings or two rice noodle crepes. And don't over-order from this cart, because a second cart will come along later with a whole different set of choices.

In lieu of any more professional guidance, here are my suggestions:

* Crystal shrimp rolls. These crisp little rolls with a delicate tempura-like batter are solid with shrimp. The steamed shrimp dumplings run a close second.

* Beef rice noodle crepes. The noodles are tender enough to make a grown man weep, the ground beef filling is delicious and the thin, soy-based sauce complements it perfectly.

* Steamed chicken buns. The faintly sweet dough tastes something like a Western-style boiled dumpling. They're filled with tender chicken and mushrooms.

* Coconut buns. The closest thing you'll find to a breakfast pastry, plump with a sweet coconut paste. Think of it as the Chinese version of almond danish.

You can supplement these with more traditional appetizers, such as spare ribs and crispy fried squid, or go for something a little more unusual, such as shark's fin dumplings or a pan-fried turnip cake.

And to drink? A pot of tea is brought around automatically, but if you're feeling really adventuresome, order Chinese chrysanthemum tea. It comes with rock sugar, and to my mind tastes about the way you'd expect tea made from chrysanthemums to taste. But you may love it.

Dragon House

Where: 10349 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills

Hours: Dim sum, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., except Wednesdays

Credit cards accepted: Major

Features: Chinese dumplings, pastries and finger foods

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 363-0744

Prices: $2-$3.25

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