Rob, Dari and I went to Oriental East in Silver Spring, Md., for Saturday morning dim sum. We’ll often go to China Garden in Rosslyn because it’s convenient, but we’ll trek out to Oriental East because it’s especially good (though, I have to say, not Shui Wah / Chicago good).
Beyond quality food, a successful dim sum outing (at a restaurant that serves the dim sum dishes via carts) depends on many factors, including:
1) Timing. Unless you time your arrival just right, there’s generally a long wait for seating. Oriental East opens at 11, but on the weekend the line for the first seating starts as early as 10. I’d say it’s worth the wait, though. If you arrive too late (as we’ve learned at China Garden), you may be seated quickly but the food offerings may not be as fresh or as varied.
2) Seating. Tables closest to the kitchen get the freshest dishes and the best selection. If you’re on the wrong end of the cart circuit, it’s cold, picked-over dumplings for you — unless you take the initiative to wave carts over or enlist one of the roving waiters to help you. Playing the role of demanding customer may feel a bit jerk-like, but it’s better than stewing at your table with no food.
3) Food choice. Our usual rule of thumb is to favor the steamed dumplings and vegetable dishes over the fried and bread-heavy dishes, as they’re healthier and they don’t fill you up as quickly. (Admittedly, we strayed from that a bit this visit.)
4) Economies of scale. The more people you have in your group, the more dishes you can try (and, in theory, the overall per-person price stays fairly low). And if you have a big group, they might seat you at a primo Lazy Susan table.
(Photo taken with the Andigraf app for iPhone.)