Dim sum: It's not for brunch anymore. Not under the auspices of Ming's Bistro where the a la cart scarfing extravaganza is an all-day affair. Sure, the cart (and a few specialty items) is only available weekends before 3 p.m., but the selection is impressive and, more importantly, as authentic as any you'll find in cities with large Chinese populations. So don't come expecting to find egg-foo-this and sweet-and-sour that; bastardized Chinese fare can be had up the street at P.F. Chang's.
Like many a dim sum joint I've visited, the dining room is spacious, high-ceilinged and almost proletarian in its essence, nuanced only by a half-dozen faux-crystal chandeliers and a trio of horizontally hung Chinese watercolor prints. Dinner by the flicker of fluorescent lighting is the norm, but it fails to cast a shadow on the medley of items on the dim sum menu, most of which can be had for under $3.
Dumplings ' shrimp, pork, taro and turnip ' are dim sum staples, but a true gauge of a kitchen's worth is the quality of its chicken feet ($2.50), and this kitchen does 'em right. Textural excellence is attained by frying, boiling, marinating and then steaming the talons, the end result being nothing short of divine. There's not much flesh to chomp on, granted, but teething the delicate bones, then tearing away the fiery-hot and velvety skin is absolute magic.
Oddly named, but superbly tasty, 'fried noodle rice pasteâ?� ($2.50) ' rolls of flaky pastry wrapped in a soft, candy-white noodle and splashed with sweetened soy sauce ' could be served for dessert. The peppery zing of spicy beef tripe ($2.50) outdid that of the chicken feet, but the dish was far too chewy to devour. Best to suck the spicy juices out of the honeycomb stomach lining and discard the remnants. If you're used to meatballs of the Swedish or Italian variety, you'll likely find the trio of ashen-colored steamed beef balls ($2.50) too dense, pasty and flavorless. Dim sum dishes are often loaded with salt and MSG, so order a pot of tea (the oolong is good); if you want more tea, turn the lid over to get the waitress's attention.
If you'd rather order a la carte (not cart), there's a host of dishes from which to choose ' everything from barbecue to congee to casseroles. The house special spicy beef hot pan ($8.95) is served in a small steel wok and kept simmering by a burner underneath. The advertised spiciness in the piping-hot mix of tender beef strips, vermicelli, carrots and mushroom caps was lacking, possibly because my mouth was still feeling the burn from the chicken feet and tripe.
Vigorous slivers of ginger in the ginger scallion fish fillets ($8.95) are the sole flavoring in this simple, refreshing dish. Circular morsels of soft whitefish are accented by scallion, all held together by clear, thick sauce. Glistening stalks of bok choy highlight the tender beef and vegetable chow fun ($6.95), a decent, if entirely pedestrian, dish.
Aside from the occasional 'Are you sure you want to order that?â?� look, my waitress, one of a small army of red-vested waitresses patrolling the restaurant, was quite affable and helpful in pointing out the ingredients of the assorted dishes (menu descriptions are terse).
Ming's is a little hard to spot, tucked away a block north of the intersection of Colonial and Mills, but it's well worth seeking, and its reign as the top Orlando destination for real Chinese cuisine is sure to flourish into a dynasty.