Don't be put off by the busy parking lot in front of Mandarin House on a Sunday morning. Busy is always good when it comes to dim sum. (It's served on Saturday, too, but I can't attest to the crowds.) They're located at Page and Woodson, in Overland Plaza, on the west side of the parking lot, impossible to see from the street. Persevere; it pays off.
Dim sum regulars always have their favorites. I'm a sucker for char siu bao, those fluffy white balls filled with barbecued pork, for instance. But I suspect most regulars also are always watching for something new. Mandarin House mostly hits the sweet spot with both.
I say "mostly" because the char siu bao seemed listless, raggedy and sort of an afterthought. They came from a cart that contained many of the more usual offerings. The shrimp dumplings, though, were exemplary, juicy and not overcooked, and the pork shu mai caused considerable comment at table with the Old China Hand and Mrs. Hand. Not only was it, too, juicy, but the flavor, with a little more note of shiitake mushroom than usual, was a delight.
A server asked if we'd like scallion pancakes. The answer was yes, of course, the crispy, flat, lightly oniony dough being irresistible when it's freshly cooked, and this arrived from the kitchen, not a cart, clearly cooked to order. Definitely worthwhile for all but the onion-phobic. Even the wide rice noodles wrapped around shrimp seemed lighter, thinner and more tender. And spicy cucumbers were zippier than some others around town.
New things? Why, yes. Duck wings, the flap section, or middle, ends trimmed neatly, were stacked like logs after they'd been marinated in a sweet soy preparation, very chewy indeed, and rested on a nest of piquant pickled vegetables. A sort of fritter made of a piece of pumpkin and some egg yolk in a crispy breading charmed, slightly sweet and very un-greasy. And finally, a light, almost fluffy sort of shrimp ball skewered on a stick of sugar cane was the sort of thing that made one keep eating even after thinking, "Oh, that's enough. I'm done." (Pictured below.)
And that's pretty much where we were with the sweets. A bite of one sesame ball filled with red bean paste - for those who haven't had these, it's rice flour, sticky and dense, wrapped around the sweet bean paste, found in much of Asia, then rolled in sesame seeds and deep-fried. There's a faint taste of peanut butter from the sesame seeds, and the sweetness from the bean paste leads a few of us into thoughts of peanut butter and jelly. Egg custard tarts were particularly flaky, another dish that's a personal don't-miss for me at any dim sum spot.
Servers move like they were shot out of cannons, there's a spot where it's easy to pick up go-containers if you become impatient, although that's not apt to happen, and most of the folks with the carts have pretty good to excellent English. Pay as you leave, beyond the large fish pond and the small fish tank across from it.
9150 Overland Plaza (Page & Woodson), Overland
Dim sum Sat.-Sun lunch
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good