Friday, March 19, 2010

Ping Pang Pong Restaurant in The Gold Coast Hotel & Casino

It's hard to believe, but the best dim sum in Las Vegas is NOT found in our burgeoning (and otherwise excellent) China Town district stretching along Spring Mountain Road. Instead, truly "world-class" dim sum is to be found in the Ping Pang Pong Restaurant in the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino.


From your basic steamed buns & fried rice to more esoteric fare like chicken feet & jellyfish, Ping Pang Pong serves it all.

If you don't want to believe me, listen to the esteemed John Curtas when he took food writer Steven A. Shaw (author of Asian Dining Rules) there and had this to say about it in a piece that appeared on both his website and on KNPR. (The "world-class" quote above comes from Mr. Shaw via Mr. Curtas.)

Situated in the back of the western half of the Gold Coast, it nevertheless has built a reputation for authentic, tasty dim sum, so the lunch crowd is uniformly large. I recommend coming here when you have at least an hour to spend on your midday meal. Dim Sum may be Chinese fast food, but the price of Ping Pang Pong's excellence is crowds.

A note on the authenticity of Ping Pang Pong's cuisine: On several visits, I have been the most caucasian customer seated, and I'm half-filipino. Which brings me to another point: none of the waitstaff here seems to have a firm handle on English, so, although the service has always been excellent, ordering always seems to involve lots of gestures and nodding.

I have a kind of method to my own dim sum madness: I sit down, order some tea (or a beer), and wait for the carts to roll by. And, even if the dessert cart comes first, I start pointing to things that look good. One of my favorite desserts-as-appetizers are sesame balls filled with red bean paste. Another favorite appetizer: a steamed bun filled with a single, spicy Cantonese sausage. But I'm not finicky about what comes first. The point of a dim sum lunch is to enjoy as many different tastes as you can before you're completely topped off. Before long, I typically have as many as a dozen different dishes crowded onto my table.

As the helpful cart-pushers place each dish on your table, they mark your check with a stamp or a pen, indicating how many dishes you ordered & what "class" those dishes belong to. As far as I've been able to determine, the least expensive dishes run about 2 dollars while the most expensive run about 5 dollars. Because I am such a pig (ordering not only my favorites, but also anything I've never seen before), my bill is usually about 30 bucks, but you can have a nice, filling lunch for half of that.

The aforementioned jellyfish is light & vinegary, a little crunchy & slightly fishy, perfectly complemented with a splash of chili sauce, and I use it as a palette cleanser between courses. They also do a wonderful little bowl of sausage & egg fried rice. (One of the few dishes -- like the perfectly-fried chicken wings -- that my diehard midwestern Princess feels brave enough to eat.) Unlike most westerners, I am comfortable with the texture of gelatinous food, and Ping Pang Pong offers an incredible serving of spicy beef tendon, slow-cooked with onions and sprinkled with chili flakes.

Other highlights include:

* The rice-noodle rolls, where the gooey white noodles are wrapped around a filling like beef or a crunchy pastry and the whole thing gets bathed in a brothy sauce. The overall texture of the dish is a flavorful jelly filled with bits of chewiness -- again, not a combination one finds in the average American eatery.

* The steamed-chicken & glutinous rice wrapped in a leaf, where the wrap (a lotus leaf? a banana leaf?) effectively stews the mixture of chicken & rice into soupy goodness that's best addressed with a spoon.

* Char-siu ribs, the red spare-ribs that are sweet & chewy awesomeness. I go at these with my bare hands and generally leave the restaurant with a fair amount of the meat still stuck between my teeth.

* Steamed meatballs, either ground beef or pork, mixed with some bits of veggie and wrapped with a thin skin of egg, these are stick-to-your-ribs meaty & delicately spongy, and they absolutely scream for generous dollops of chili sauce.

I could go on, but you get the point. In a city that built the lowbrow end of its culinary reputation on the all-you-can-eat buffet, the dim sum lunch at Ping Pang Pong Restaurant offers a sublime alternative: a cornucopia of flavors at a very reasonable price. And the buffet rolls past your table, instead of you having to get up and walk to it. Talk about convenience.

Anytime you feel like braving the wilds of the Gold Coast to get to dim sum heaven, I'd be happy to meet you there.

Lunch featuring Dim Sum 10am-3pm

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