One of the few problems with American cuisine is that we haven't quite developed anything to satiate those who indulge in the art of nibbling. The Spanish have tapas, the Japanese have sushi, the Chinese have dim sum. Here in Salt Lake, nibblers are even more limited, since tapas are as yet non-existent. But we do have a number of sushi bars, and when it comes to dim sum, there is an amazing, unassuming little place right in the heart of the city. It's an all-too-rare treasure, if you can find it: Cafe Anh Hong.
Located in a grubby little strip mall on the east side of State Street between 1400 and 1500 South, you'll find Cafe Anh Hong nestled between a number of surprisingly good ethnic restaurants. What they lack in ambiance, they make up for in authenticity. Every community needs an enclave of eateries where the help speaks little English, and the menus are written in a foreign language.Cafe Anh Hong is polite enough to offer pictures of the their dim sum for the neophytes. While there are several pages of delicious-sounding entree dishes (I tried the octopus with vegetables, for a very reasonable $6.75), I would advise sticking solely with the dim sum. Not that the entrees aren't well-prepared, it's just that such a variety of dim sum is so rare in this vicinity, you'll find yourself wanting to make a meal of it.
Dim sum is mostly dumplings, fritters or stuffed noodle-type concoctions. It may sound a bit exotic for your taste, but I encourage you to take a walk on what may be the wild side for you. Trust me, you won't regret it.
My favorite, and soon to be yours, is the Cha Siu Bau: sweet fluffy, light, white buns, steamed and stuffed with barbecue pork. I practically lived on these while I was staying in Hong Kong and didn't want to take the time for a sit-down meal. The baked pork bun, which is similar, but with a golden brown color and texture Americans are more accustomed to, is good as well.
You'll also become instantly infatuated with Anh Hong's shrimp and leek dumpling, which comes looking like a little fried patty, brimming with savory leeks and shrimp. Mine was a bit greasy, but that didn't deter from the flavor.
You get a reprieve when it comes to ordering the chicken feet or beef tripe. I've tried them, and I suppose my tastes are just too Western. But you won't want to miss the Siu Mai, which is not well-identified on the menu but consists of steamed, basket-shaped pork-sausage dumplings wrapped in fresh egg-flour pasta, slightly reminiscent of pot stickers, only, well, cuter.
If this all sounds like an awful lot of pricy food, you can lean back and relax. My dining companions and I ordered nearly everything on the dim sum menu, and when the check came, I looked at it upside down and was relieved to see that it appeared to be a mere $56.32, half the price of a similar sushi meal. I was stunned when I turned the check over and saw that in fact it was only $23.95. If starving students don't yet know about this place, they ought to find it. It's never very crowded, or, at least hasn't been until now.
Rating: * * *
Cafe Anh Hong, 1465 S. State St., Salt Lake City, 467-4288. Open for exotic breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, with the traditional dim sum servings on Sunday. Major credit cards and checks are accepted, and you may want to reserve a table for a large party.