Immediately after being seated at Nom Wah Tea Parlor’s vintage delicatessen counter (after kicking out two straggler girls that weren’t eating), I was fully on board. Nom Wah underwent major renovations in 2010, making it paradoxically New York City’s oldest yet most contemporary — in a retro-modern way, of course — dim sum house.
And boy does that show! Everything in the kitchen counter-cum-eating area screams vintage modern. There’s chrome everywhere. The oven seems like it was designed in a style twice out of date, twice back in fashion, and now (thrice?) in vogue. I’m not sure it functions. But no matter! Nom Wah hits all of the right notes of making me — a relatively young resident to the city — feel authentically old New York cuteness. Looking at myself in a mirror nearby, I half expect to see everything in black and white.
But how was the food?
Well first of all we obviously made the mistake of ordering way too much food. Maybe it’s because we’re used to infrequent carts, or maybe we expected smaller portions. More likely it was the ticket ordering system, wherein you place your full order at one time, that did us in. A to-go box was going to be necessary.
The pork dumplings and soup dumplings were good but not great. The fried egg roll was flavorful but large and maybe overly oily. Actually, that’s how I’d describe most things: too much oil, maybe slightly underseasoned. The shrimp noodles were notably bland. Were we meant to season everything ourselves? I’m not used to that in Chinese cuisine. Was the food skewed toward tourists and less seasoned (pun intended) New Yorkers?
Nom Wah Tea Parlor gets a lot of things right, and it even excels when compared to its shall we say…unsavory Chinatown brethren. It’s very clean, the service is very swift, most of the menu is very cheap, and as I gushed initially, the interior is beyond charming. But is it good dim sum? I left feeling unimpressed, but I won’t go so far as to say it was unsatisfying. Nom Wah is a great choice for a dim sum newbie or house guest, worth a try for an adventurous New Yorker, but shouldn’t be high on any dim sum maven’s list.