Pacificana

Aww, Sunset Park. You’re so fucking far away, I keep referring to you inaccurately as Bay Ridge too. I saw exactly one gay dude (with his mom no less) while I was there. But I can’t stay mad at you. No, I definitely can’t, because your dim sum is way too amazing! We’d been meaning to try the dim sum down south (south of the good part of Brooklyn, I mean) for quite some time.

When another couple of foodies were in town, we decided to give it a try. Much like Ocean Jewels in Flushing, Queens, it’s an odd feeling to spend an hour on the subway on a Sunday afternoon heading away from Manhattan, only to emerge in a fantastically be-China Town’d setting, seemingly out of no where. But of course we weren’t no where; we were in one of the many Chinese enclaves peppering the city.

We chose Pacificana because of the name recognition and because we thought we’d be able to get a seat rather easily. I was immediately struck by the lower than usual ratio of white to non-white people, which is usually a good indication of quality. The “B” sanitary rating was either a terrible or promising sign, depending on how you look at dim sum.

Eventually, we were brought to our table, and it was apparent that Pacificana doesn’t receive too many English-only speaking customers. I think “share table” was shouted at us at least four times. Yes, we understand, the table will be shared! I can understand why things like this may be off-putting to some, but I actually sort of appreciate it. They’re not saying, “ugh, well if you have to eat here with the rest of us, I suppose you can have half of this table over there.” Instead I think the message is, “we will accommodate you, but you must know that certain things are different here, for example the sharing of tables.” I think they just want to be clear about it.

Immediately upon sitting down, a fistful of forks and tiny water cups were thrown in front of us. It’s at this point that someone in the group usually scoffs at the water, but not this bunch; we’re not too proud to acknowledge that it’s OK to have a little cold water with your often too hot tea. Actually, this tea was especially hot — almost boiling. The forks have still not yet fallen into the appreciable gesture category, for me at least. Technically, you should be able to use chop sticks for every dish. However, eventually there comes a dumpling where sharing is impossible without a metal utensil to separate it.

But that’s being a little too picky. How was the food? Well as usual, it’s difficult to remember every dish and every flavor, but here are a few that stuck out.

Shark Fin Dumplings: possibly illegal, altogether sort of forgettable, but still an interesting thing to try

Chive Dumplings: continue to be delicious additions to any dim sum meal, not great for sharing, one of the few things without meat (I think…Update: nope, shrimps)

Pork Buns: heavenly fluffy clouds of meat and juiciness, these were especially flavorful somehow

Shrimp Noodles, Beef Noodles, even Pork Noodles: possibly my favorite dim sum dish in general, sort of unusual to see a pork noodle, can’t get enough noodles!

Turnip Cakes: nothing really to report, not my favorite dish, but these were still pretty excellent

Custard Buns: arrived pretty late in the meal so were difficult to enjoy fully, still also one of my favorites, this variety had a crunchy and barely sweet flaky crust

In general, nearly everything was excellent and definitely up there compared to other dim sum we’ve had in the city. Despite sitting in a corner of the giant room, the service was actually excellent. We kept looking over at the section of the restaurant nearest the kitchen, imagining how much quicker our options would have presented themselves had we sat over there, but honestly I didn’t mind the speed we were receiving. I thought the dishes were served to us consistently hot, and I never really got the sense that something had been steeping or steaming for an hour before it reached us. Although, let’s be honest: that’s probably what was happening. The point is I didn’t notice.

The restaurant itself is spacious without feeling over the top, and the layout and decor felt inviting and much cleaner than I would have expected. I wouldn’t usually comment on the cleanliness of a restaurant (despite the B rating, that is), but in the case of dim sum you just expect to be a little grossed out by the physical space. That this one felt cleaner than usual was a nice bonus.

Oh, and the share table people? Well of course they spoke very little to each other, the little boy was playing with a Nintendo DS  the whole time, and the father didn’t show up until 30 minutes into the meal. Naturally, they ordered approximately 30% of the amount of dishes we did, despite having the same number of people. Near the end, they ordered what looked like translucent circular soaps with indeterminate black matter inside. I strained to take a picture, and finally one of my friends asked the mother what it was. She said something in Mandarin and gestured to her daughter, who was not paying attention. Pausing for a second, she expertly doled out: “Oh…I have no idea.” When a tiny hair appeared in someone’s chive dumplings we decided to cut our losses and head home. Even with like 15 dishes, the total came to just over $50 for 4 people. Not bad at all.

On the way to the subway we stopped at several street vendors along 8th Avenue. One was making tiny sweet dough balls with an interesting-looking mold. I tried to snap a picture from an awkward angle. Another was crafting what turned out to be white flat white noodles, but she did so with this unusual machine that I can describe only as a combination steam oven/dresser drawers. We stood around her for a good 5 minutes waiting to see what she was making.

And lastly, we stopped to check out a street-side seafood market, which was displaying among other things, a freshly slaughtered turtle. Lovely! And right next to a man selling tiny baby pet turtles. That’s not confusing to children. Not at all. I’ll spare you the details, but check out these two links for videos of customers happily scooping up living lung fish and crustaceans. If anyone can tell me what either of these two species are, I’ll send you a cookie.

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