Review: Yum yum dim sum at Pine Court

 

★★★

You don't simply eat lunch at Pine Court Chinese Bistro. You brace for waves of it. A small army of women roam the floor with rolling pushcarts. Some bear stacks of small bamboo steamers loaded with dumplings. Some carry small platters with roast duck, crisp barbecued pork and fried calamari. Others have plates of fresh Chinese greens, and eggplant stuffed with minced pork.

Before you know it, your table is covered with food, a meal that's gone from zero to 600 calories in five seconds flat. Pace yourself. Nibble. Pick. Relax. Sip on some tea. Repeat.

When you select a dish, the server puts a mark on the tally slip that sits on your table. Small items go for $2.95, medium for $3.45, large for $4.25 and extra-large for $7.95. It is possible for a large group to stuff itself for under $100. I have the receipt to prove it.

This is dim sum as it ought to be, a traditional Hong Kong brunch experience that is hard to come by in South Florida. Look around the 200-seat room, filled to capacity at 1 p.m. on a recent Saturday, and you'll see lots of multigenerational Asian families sitting at large, round tables. I also saw Broward County's chief judge, a Chinese food maven originally from New York.

Dim sum is served every day until 3 p.m., but weekends are the best time to get the full range of dishes, everything from beef tripe to jellyfish. Arrive before noon to avoid a wait. I was brought by a co-worker of Chinese heritage from Northern California. When she pines for dim sum that harks back to her San Jose and San Francisco past, she goes to Pine Court. I was skeptical, because I've had so many dim sum letdowns in my years in South Florida that I stopped trying.

Pine Court fills the gap. It opened five years ago in Sunrise, in a Sunset Strip shopping plaza that's also home to New York Mart, an Asian supermarket chain that began in Queens. The man who founded New York Mart, Long Deng, also owns Pine Court. Deng, who in 1991 came to the United States from China, now owns 11 New York Marts in four states, with annual revenue of $300 million, according to China Daily USA.

Pine Court is run by Ringo Lo, a New York-restaurant veteran from Hong Kong. Lisa Yong, an assistant manager, says the place always has long lines on weekends and attracts patrons from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Service veers from indifferent to friendly (it helps to have a tablemate who speaks Mandarin). Sometimes, we took matters into our own hands by grabbing a set of clean plates from a server station for the next round.

Yong says Pine Court sticks with traditional Cantonese and Hong Kong-style cuisine and eschews Americanized dishes. There are no spare ribs or chicken wings on the menu. But you can get steamed chicken feet.

The spindly feet I sampled from the dim sum cart came bathed in a spicy black-bean sauce spiked with Chinese cinnamon and small slices of jalapeno. The gelatinous skin and cartilage aren't my cup of tea, but the sauce was slurp-worthy.

Pine Court has seafood tanks with lobsters, crabs and fish along the walls, and a riser with two large tables for weddings and banquets at the rear. The wedding area has a red wall adorned with the traditional double happiness character along with carvings of a phoenix and dragon, all symbols of good fortune.

We had the good fortune to arrive before the rush, and after we were seated, it didn't take long to get bombarded with plates of fried calamari, fried sardines, barbecued pork and Chinese broccoli. The calamari and sardines were crispy. The roast pork slices were crunchy and caramelized on the edges, lean on the inside.

The next wave arrived with some disappointments. The pan-fried leek dumplings were tasty, but a bit greasy. Ditto the roasted duck, although the crackling-like skin was addictive ( beware of bone fragments, because of the way it's cleaved). The steamed pork dumplings (shumai) and shrimp dumplings (har gow) atoned, with the tasty minced pork topped with roe. Also satisfying: sticky rice, flecked with pork and mushrooms, which comes wrapped in a banana leaf.

We cleansed ourselves by heading to a table near the kitchen where a woman stood by trays of greens. We picked out some bok choy, which she quickly dunked in boiling salted water. She plated it, squirted on some oyster sauce, and we felt healthy devouring the blanched leaves back at the table.

The dessert cart shouldn't be passed up. Steamed egg custard buns were a bit too doughy

and heavy for my liking, but the baked egg custard tarts were smaller, flakier and better. Best of all were the crunchy sesame balls, coated with sesame seeds and filled with red bean paste that wasn't overly sweet.

Besides the occasional greasiness, my other concern is the kitchen looked a bit dirty. I also saw sugar ants on a magazine rack near the front door. Pine Court came out perfect in its latest health inspection last December, but was cited for scores of violations — many deemed serious and "high-priority" — in repeat visits by health inspectors earlier in 2015. My cohort says she has eaten here repeatedly with no ill effects. Management says the problems are in the past.

Pine Court tends to thin out after dim sum service ends, but the dinner menu (which can be ordered anytime) is intriguing. The clams in black-bean sauce ($15.95) were pungent, briny and a bit on the undercooked side (which in my mind is better than rubbery), and the ginger-and-jalapeno studded dark sauce enhanced the flavor. Braised E-Fu noodles with mushrooms ($11.95) are wider and flatter than standard lo mein. Although brightly mixed with greens, scallions and carrots, the dish was a bit bland and oily. But when I poured on the clams with black-bean sauce, I had myself a winning Cantonese version of linguine vongole.

I left Pine Court happy as a clam.

Read Mike Mayo's dining blog at southflorida.com/eatbeat. Email: mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Instagram: @mikemayoeats.

Pine Court Chinese Bistro

10101 Sunset Strip, Sunrise

954-748-5958, PineCourtChineseBistroFl.com

Cuisine: Dim sum, Chinese, seafood

Cost: Inexpensive-moderate

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; dim sum until 3 p.m. daily

Credit cards: All major

Sound level: Conversational

Outside smoking: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Free lot

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