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Dim sum is back at Chi's Chinese — now Chi Dim Sum and Bistro — but the new owners (members of the Chi family) are a little shy about it.
The revamped menu (in a revamped setting) broadcasts the new name on its cover, but the tapas-style dishes don't appear inside. You've got to ask. When you do, you'll get a manageable list of 40 items, not including desserts, on a modest sheet of paper on which you'll check off the dumplings you want. With choices such as beef tripe with ginger and onions and steamed pork ribs in rice powder, you should be prepared to take a plunge
That's what we did when we went for the chicken feet. Though perhaps no more counterintuitive than chicken wings — in texture, the meat is largely the same — they are considerably more bony and give you less meat to chomp on. (Plus, they look exactly like what they are, which is sure to unsettle some people.) They came with chu hou sauce, which was mild and slightly sweet. Although two members of our party merely picked at them, the other indulged — though he did so more for the new experience than out of a love for the dish. Given another opportunity to order it, he would probably pass.
Items from the dim sum menu that sounded more familiar also diverged from the ordinary in actual fact. The steamed Chinese BBQ pork buns, for example, consisted of pork wrapped in what was essentially a doughy roll. The steamed rice noodle with cilantro and vegetable was startlingly bland, at least until we drenched it in what appeared to be a hoisin sauce that came with it. The stuffed eggplant with black bean sauce was a pleasant surprise. It was slimy in texture but pleasant to the taste.
Even the dumplings were different from the thick, often fried balls we're accustomed to getting at Chinese restaurants. The outer shell was a thin rice noodle; the stuffing was the main feature. The jade steamed shrimp dumplings were the most popular dish among the members of our party.
Lovers of what we've come to view as ‘traditional' (i.e., westernized) Chinese fare need not fear — Chi still has an enormous menu of familiar dishes. The selection is intimidatingly large, in fact, with plenty of appetizers, soups and lunch specials. The restaurant gives these dishes top billing over the dim sum, no doubt, because they're the ones that will account for most of its revenue. (There's a reason you don't find shark fin dumplings or lotus sea paste on many menus around town.) From that menu, we sampled the crab rangoon — fried balls stuffed with cream cheese. They were too gooey and sweet for this reviewer, but went over well with the other diners.
The desserts we tried, though not made on the premises, were excellent. The pina colada apple pie a la mode and the fried ice cream were large and as indulgent as you might image desserts with such names would be — though the pie lacked any memorable coconut taste.
The dim sum menu doesn't list prices, but cost for the meal was surprisingly reasonable. Six dim sum dishes, the crab rangoon, the desserts, and three beers ran us just over $60, tip included. The dim sum portion of that — enough to serve three people — was a mere $20.
The only real problem we had with Chi was getting there. The restaurant occupies a visible location at the corner of Shackleford and Markham, but you have to negotiate a confusing loop to get to the parking lot.
A couple beside us was apparently displeased with the service — they stormed out after having been made to sit too long on a slow weekday night — but we were waited upon in a timely fashion.
Bottom line: Chi's dumplings are cheap and rewarding to the culinarily adventurous.
Chi Dim Sum
6 Shackleford Drive
Don't miss the jade steamed shrimp dumplings. Try the chicken feet if you're feeling experimental.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Dim sum items are reasonable; price range of most entrees from the regular menu is $9 to $13.