Ping Pong Dim Sum

Dim Sum
$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

Tom Sietsema wrote about Ping Pong Dim Sum for January 2010 First Bite column.

It's impossible to walk by Ping Pong Dim Sum in Penn Quarter without stopping to see what you're missing.

Beyond the new restaurant's glass front: a handsome curved counter backed by a handful of cooks and clouds of steam, as well as family-size round tables whose centers beam with what looks like moonlight. The fact that there are few places to experience dim sum in the city only hastens our request for seats inside this sprawling import from London, a city that's home to more than a dozen Ping Pongs. (Two more are in Brazil and Dubai.)

The greeting is gracious. Drinks come fast; vodka shot through with lemon grass and fragrant with litchi juice is particularly refreshing. And kudos to the designer who thought to put shelves beneath the wooden benches, so no one has to sit on a winter coat. The servers are engaging and attentive. Even on a busy weekend, the small plates of Chinese food arrive almost as quickly as diners can call them out.

So why do I leave after an hour, hungry and disappointed? Because the "pickled" white cabbage and chestnuts have no bite. Because the chopped, steamed squid has no kick despite its ginger-laced peanut sauce. Spiky prawn balls deliver a lot of crunch but also a lot of grease, and the battered asparagus, crackling with a hailstorm of salt, is more than over-seasoned: The vegetable is mushy inside. If I were to close my eyes and ignore the hipster setting, I could imagine myself in an English boarding school.

We ask for multiple orders of pork puffs because the savory pastry is one of the few dishes that put us in mind of a Chinese teahouse, the upscale chain's purported inspiration. The snack, flaky on the outside and sweet with honey-roasted pork inside, comes three to a plate and goes down easily. So does the juicy and truly lemon chicken presented on lettuce. Both deserve better company.

Dim sum, $3.50-$7.

(Jan. 13, 2010)