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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lilly's Dim Sum, Then Some offers some dim sum and a lot of "then some"

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 10:11 AM

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Much has been said about Lilly's Dim Sum, Then Some in the past. Regularly awarded as one of the people's choice for best Asian cuisine, a number of awards hang on their walls, heightening the expectations of all who dine there for the first time. For me, I had it on my list to sample from the first time I heard the words "dim sum." But after a rather mediocre experience at their sister-restaurant, B-Side, I feared Lilly's might not live up to my dim sum dreams. Nonetheless, I found myself at Lilly's recently after hearing a particularly glowing review of the restaurant from a friend...the dim sum couldn’t wait any longer.

However, I was rather surprised by the menu at Lilly's. This is not just your standard Chinese dim sum joint. Perhaps this is to be expected when half of the restaurants name is "Then Some.”

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Traditionally, dim sum restaurants operate through a system of wandering food carts pushed around by servers. Patrons are able to sit and watch as the generally smaller plates and steamer baskets of dim sum make their way around the room. Then customers are allowed to simply pick and choose what they would like as the dim sum cart passes by. Traditional dim sum offerings include the standard array of steamed dumplings filled with pork or shrimp, steamed buns, steamed meatballs, spare ribs, spring rolls, congee (a savory rice porridge), and pastries such as the flakey char siu, savory scallion cakes, or sweet cream buns. I’ve always found dim sum to be particularly refreshing for breakfast, but it obviously works for lunch and dinner.

Lilly’s dim sum menu offers some of the Chinese staples such as spring rolls, shrimp and pork dumplings but is not extensively Chinese in nature. Instead, it incorporates elements of Japanese and Thai cuisine into the small plates format, items such as edemame, Thai cucumber salad, yasai korokke (Japanese potato croquettes), and gyoza. This mish-mash of Asian cultures is a theme carried throughout the menu at Lilly’s as it feels fairly difficult to pin-point exactly what kind of restaurant Lilly’s aspires to be. Additionally, there are no food carts in sight, everything is ordered from a menu, no different from appetizers at any other restaurant, and I wonder if this still qualifies it as dim sum. In addition, Lilly’s offers a span of full-sized entrée dishes. Again, everything from Pad Thai to Kung Pao Shrimp to Korean Bibim Bop can be found on this rather eclectic pan-Asian menu. It’s clear, Lilly’s is not your standard Cantonese dim sum house…but is this a problem? I don’t think so. I enjoy the unique aspect of pick-and-choose dining dim sum has to offer, but if this is how Lilly wants to play the game, I’ll play along.

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Our group felt the “dim sum”/appetizer selections were the tastiest of the night. The shrimp/crab/vegetable wontons made their way to our table multiple times as they were devoured quickly each time they came. I found the honey mustard sauce drizzled over the top to be a particularly interesting choice, but most enjoyed the departure in traditional form. Cold sesame noodles with peanut dressing and scallions should not be missed, and the spring rolls arrived hot, crisp and as good as can be expected for a dish that has been so ruthlessly Americanized across the country. An order of shrimp and coconut milk soup was also a refreshing item enjoyed at our table. Garnished with lime, jalapeño, and cilantro, the broth was smooth and light and was a perfect way to start the meal.

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Moving away from the “dim sum” portions, we ventured into the entrees. Our order of “Hong Kong Chicken” was a good-sized bowl of noodles tossed in a creamy coconut-peanut sauce with garlic, scallions, bell peppers, mushrooms, bean sprouts and marinated chicken. Most at our table felt this was the best of the entrees and luckily it was large enough to circulate around the table for all to try. I think the peanut-coconut sauce could have been more flavorful with a bit more seasoning, but it was enjoyable overall. The “spicy” Thai Panang curry with fried shrimp came with a heaping pile of ramen noodles, mixed stir-fry vegetables, with a coconut curry sauce. This dish was sadly not well received among our group. The curry was bland and had hardly a hint of coconut, and can barely be considered spicy (at least by traditional Thai standards). Typically Panang is one of my favorites among Thai specialties, but this was not anywhere near the best I’ve had. Not horrible, but clearly having some room for improvement.

Lilly’s may be sending some mixed messages but it is a decent option for anyone looking for a generic “Asian” experience. Perhaps it’s a great place for a group of folks who can’t decide on or are unwilling to commit to either Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Korean. I bet they could put a cheeseburger on the menu and no one would even think twice about it. I bet it would be even better if I could choose said cheeseburger off of a circulating food cart. Now there’s an idea…

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