Well, the summer is just rolling by, and the weather is getting as wild as some of the food adventures on which I’m embarking. Today’s post is another addition to my already extensive Far East collection of restaurant reviews, but it serves up some new dishes that I’ve never tried before. While I’ve experienced some dim sum that has been out of this world, I’m always up for trying novel places like Triple Crown in Chicago’s Old Chinatown.
I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about this location from my friends who are of Chinese/Taiwanese ancestry since some have said that they’ve sold out to Western tastes while others have conjectured that they still keep it old school with some of their menu selections. Adventure time! I went there with my girlfriend since we had a craving for dim sum, and luckily, they indulged us in the afternoon when other diners only serve the Chinese version of tapas at night. After scaling the stairs, we were greeted with a spacious dining hall that was sparsely populated, but I’m sure come dinner time it would be packed. It was tastefully decorated but unusually warm as if the air conditioning didn’t work. It didn’t help they gave us hot tea to drink upon sitting down. While living in Korea, I learned the best method for allegedly cooling down is to consume hot food and drinks in order to make it not seem as sweltering outside…it doesn’t work for me, but who knows? So we looked over the dim sum menu, and it was quite minuscule compared to the selection at other competitors. Triple Crown’s normal entree menu is quite encyclopedic though ranging from fried rice and orange chicken to more old-school dishes like tripe and duck tongues. We saved those options for another day though. After picking a smattering of dim sum plates, we waited for about 20 minutes for the first wave to emerge. We were greeted by three steamed char siu barbecue pork buns and three scallion and shrimp cakes. I started with the bbq pork buns since I love pork and savory sauces. The chewy, white exterior gave way to a blood red interior that immediately gave me a minor case of the meat sweats. The pork was tender and slathered in a semi-sweet yet tangy sauce. I still think they could have been better with a meat to bread ratio that leaned toward the former rather than the latter, but I did enjoy them from the first to the last gooey bite. As for the shrimp and scallion cakes, they were much more interesting since the delicate, translucent covering gave way to a plethora of verdant onions that provided a real pep to the chunks of plain shrimp. I like my shrimp, but the scallions were the only saving grace of this dim sum choice since the shellfish weren’t even seasoned. While we were gobbling down the first wave, the second installment invaded our table with a trio of fried sesame balls and a quartet of siu mai/shumai dumplings. I’ll start with the latter first since they have an interesting background. While many scholars contend that these uniquely shaped dumplings originated in Inner Mongolia, they quickly became associated with Cantonese cuisine in the West due to this population’s mass diaspora throughout Europe and America. In Chinese, “shumai” literally means “to buy and sell”, and while we did buy them, I wasn’t completely sold on them. The outer dough was chartreuse, but didn’t bring much to the table (pun intended) in terms of flavor. On the other hand, the interior was adequately prepared. It seemed to be a mix of pork seasoned with soy sauce and ginger that reminded me of a Swedish meatball sans sauce. Nothing really mind blowing though even with the generous helping of orange fish roe atop the meat like an ill-fitting ginger toupee. Our meal took a turn for the better with the fried sesame buns. While they did contain a hefty helping of one of my few bugbears in Far Eastern cooking, sweet red bean paste, I loved the copious amounts of savory sesame seeds that jived all meal long with the crunch exterior encasing a chewy rice cake interior. I hated eating plain rice cake or “tteok” in Korea, but the Chinese managed to find a way to make it much more palatable. I’d highly recommend these if you’re looking for a dim sum plate that has great textural and taste variety. As we were working on this penultimate round of dishes, the piece de resistance emerged: the chicken feet. While they’re more commonly known as “phoenix talons” in Chinese, these chicken feet are another one of my must-have’s when going out for dim sum. While most people, including my girlfriend, are disgusted at the sight of me chomping on the chickens’ tootsies, they’re truly missing out a delicious delicacy. The feet are boiled, deep fried, and then seasoned with a black bean sauce that is sweet with a hint of spice.
I’m not going to say that it’s for everyone since there are a lot of bones and cartilage to deal with and not a ton of meat, but what meat there is, it’s mind blowingly tender along with the slightly crispy skin. It’s a mind over matter sort of choice, but you’d be crazy not to try it.
By the end of the meal, we were stuffed and paid only 20 bucks total for two people for a ton of good food. While I’ve been spoiled by dim sum restaurants overseas or other local establishments with bigger menus, I’d still recommend Triple Crown if you’re looking for a new Chinatown eatery or even want to try dim sum for the first time.