As an adventurous eater, I like to try lots of things. I’m a fan of Spanish-style tapas restaurants because of the wide variety one can have at a reasonable price. The Chinese version of tapas is dim sum. And in Wichita, you have only once choice for dim sum: Tom’s Lotus Garden.
Dim sum is a form of traditionally prepared Chinese food, generally served steamed in tiny, bite-sized portions. Dim sum menus are large and inexpensive.
Tom’s features a dim sum brunch from 9 to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. (During the weekdays, Tom’s serves downtown Wichita’s only Chinese lunch buffet. And in the evenings, customers can order from a traditional Chinese menu.)
Having been told that Sundays were especially busy with the after-church crowd, we decided to try the brunch on a Saturday. Dim sum is a fun way to enjoy a large and slowly eaten meal. Servers push heated steam carts from table to table displaying their delicious offerings. “I’ll take one of those and one of those” was heard much at my table. The servers mark down the selections on a special ticket on the table, and items are priced at $2.60 for small servings and $3.10 for large servings. A serving generally contains two to four pieces. Our table ended up ordering twelve servings.
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According to the two picture menus at Tom’s, there are 32 offerings to choose from. We also discovered there were special off-menu items to try. In our group, everything was game. The goal: to sample until we were full. We got in the habit of saying yes to everything.
There were two varieties of shrimp dumplings and an order of pork dumplings ( siu mai) to start. Both were delicious, having a slight sesame oil flavor typical of pot stickers, nestled in a soft wrapper, steamed in a traditional metal serving dish. We dipped the dumplings into hot chili oil served at each table, which added nice heat and the saltiness Asian food demands.
We then sampled an off-menu, non-steamed item: a tasty BBQ pork pastry, which was flaky and buttery and filled with a smidgeon of cherry red barbecued pork and sauce typical of Chinese cuisine (think spare ribs). Next came a nearly uncooked jalapeno boat with a pureed shrimp mixture set atop, served under a tea-like sauce. This piece was overly spicy for me and lacked in the flavor department. It was a little bland, despite the nice presentation.
Chinese cuisine is known for using the whole animal, and the dim sum menu at Tom’s isn’t lacking in this department. They present delicious looking offerings of tripe, pig stomach and chicken feet, to name a few. We tried the chicken feet, which were fried and then stir fried in a sweet and garlicky sauce, similar to the General Tso many are familiar with. The flavor was great, but for us adults, the texture was too slimy and fatty. My 2-year-old, however, loved them and devoured two of them.
The most interesting item we sampled was the taro cake, which was a pureed paste of taro root surrounding barbecue pork and sauce, then battered and deep fried. These dense, purple pillows of soft and creamy taro were a surprise. We loved them.
We sampled several other dishes, including steamed barbecue pork buns, Chinese fried bread sticks, fried squid heads and barbecue pork spare ribs. Each was interesting and delicious. And to finish our meal, we enjoyed fried sesame balls, which are rice flour balls filled with sweet red bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds and fried.
For me, the joy of eating is in trying new things and sharing with your friends and family. Tom’s Lotus Garden is a kid friendly and fun restaurant doing a great job of bringing a unique Chinese tradition to our community.