West Valley City » Despite the dearth of decent Sabbath-friendly eateries, there has been one gradually growing option in the state: dim sum.
The large dining room at Red Maple is dotted with tables that servers and their carts maneuver between, weaving a path of luscious scents, some familiar and some new. If you're willing to take a chance, you're likely to discover something more enlightening on the palate than, say, the popular but predictable honey walnut shrimp ($12.95).
A certain degree of chaos is involved. Usually in large, crowded dining rooms filled with a mix of Chinese-American families and Yelp-savvy Caucasian diners, the volume will be quite high. Every server is technically your server. And the food comes to you in waves: cart by clanging cart, manned by an assertive woman who you suspect speaks perfect English but feigns a lack of linguistic skills and, with a smile, leaves a plate of tangy chicken feet on the table.
They're no better or no worse than what I expected. As much as I love all manner and cuts of animal, I don't have a foot fetish. But that's the beauty of dim sum, especially at Red Maple. I choose what I want to eat, by seeing what rolls by in the tiers of metal or bamboo baskets.
For the most part, Red Maple is like any other Chinese restaurant in that it has the usual roster of familiar Chinese-American dishes, though its technique yields lighter, less greasy and more flavorful results, even in the shrimp fried rice ($5.95) we mindlessly ordered for a friend's hungry toddler. We ate most of the tender shrimp and fluffy grains of rice (no trace of old oil or dirty wok). Ordering by combo meal ($5.95 lunch; $9.95 dinner) is easy, but boring.
Red Maple really shows off its worth -- and its large menu -- when you have the good fortune to be there during dinner and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That's when dim sum is alive and well and served all around you.
Most dim sum items range in price from $3 to $5, so a party of four can eat like kings and splurge on the whole lobster or Dungeness crab sautéed with ginger and green onions for about $60, which includes endless pots of tea.
A certain degree of assertiveness and curiosity is necessary. But then again, what sort of dining venture was ever rewarding without them?
Assertiveness helps to get your teapot refilled during dim sum and weekend rushes. Requesting teas also helps to direct some of the dim sum cart traffic your way if you happen to be seated in the annex portion of the dining room to the right of the entryway. This usually happens if you arrive at noon or after.
According to one of our servers, the prime time for dim sum is 11 a.m. That's when wonderful offerings such as roasted pork with crispy crackling, succulent shrimp and chive dumplings, and barbecue pork dumplings as light and white as marshmallows are all ready, fresh and available.
Curiosity paves the way for new discoveries. For instance, what exactly is "spicy Hong Kong-Aberdeen style sauce" on the clams ($11.50)? At a recent dinner, we took a chance and found out that tender, whole clams (shells and all) are vigorously sautéed with black bean sauce, ground pork and chiles. Sounds like an odd combo, but the pork and clams were tender and the deep brown sauce (without the need for cornstarch) swaddled everything with a glossy sheen.
Pork and greens beans ($7.95) was a beautiful, simple dish with al dente vegetables, good meat and no trace of the ubiquitous, overdone viscous excuse of a sauce found on far too many Chinese restaurant dishes. Barbecue roast duck ($9.50), too, wasn't too greasy or gamy-tasting. Its lovely textures and richness was offset by the barest suggestion of sweetness from the star anise and other aromatics in the five-spice powder seasoning.
The seafood section provides many of the menu's high points. Fresh whole fish (usually sea bass) is best steamed and dressed lightly with soy and green onions. Whole lobster or crab looks vibrant and party-ready when stir-fried with ginger and green onions (all market prices), a stark contrast from the aquariums displayed right by the entrance.
Most memorable was the salt-and-pepper shrimp ($8.95). Also available and good in calamari form, the shrimp was a treat in that the quality was good and the technique was even better. The deft frying in oil renders the rice flour and the shrimp shell into a potato chip-like crispness. When it arrives, it's a matter of choosing one and biting into it while it's still hot.
Etiquette says chopsticks are the way access these shrimp. I say, whatever securely and efficiently brings the food to your mouth in the most timely manner should be your method of choice. For what's assertiveness without proper timing? No matter how popular cocktail shrimp are, cold shrimp never did me any good. So when the time comes, eat with vigor. And remember -- chopsticks are optional.
Grand in scale (dining room and menu) and cuisine, Red Maple is set apart by its dim sum choices. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, try the juicy shrimp and chive dumplings and an admirable congee; for dinner, opt for seafood, such as clams with Hong Kong Aberdeen sauce or crunchy salt-and-pepper shrimp.
Location » 3361 S. Redwood Road, West Valley City; 801-747-2888 or 801-746-8988
Hours » Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$
Liquor » Wine and beer
Corkage » $10
Reservations » Accepted
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major