Though some may think that good dim sum is synonymous with brightly lit, noisy dining rooms and plastic tablecloths, we've found that style and substance coexist harmoniously at Sense. The dim sum experience at this Michelin-starred Contemporary Cantonese restaurant is impeccably refined, yet far from staid or sterile.
The sleek Nouvelle-Chinoiserie interior takes advantage of the view and is smartly appointed in dark wood and richly textured fabrics, with jewel-toned glass bottles cleverly encased in slender pillars. Toward the back of the restaurant, rows of black tassels dangle from the ceiling and elegant Chinese vases line the shelves.
The menu, like the decor, brings elements of the traditional into a modern context. Chef Kenichi Takase's creative adaptations of classic Chinese recipes are imbued with nostalgic flavors and accented with surprising touches. The first course, a vibrant mix of thinly sliced vegetables and deep-fried tofu, tossed with fresh lime juice and crunchy peanuts, was a palate-stimulating departure from the cold chicken or jellyfish salads typically served at dim sum.
Steamed dumplings veered toward the traditional; a chewy crescent the color of pale jade was stuffed with chopped mushrooms and bitter greens, while the har gow was simply filled with fresh, sweet shrimp. Fried morsels, like the ginger-infused crab puff, and crispy prawn wonton drizzled with mango mayonnaise, were unmistakably contemporary in feel and execution. All of the dishes were delicately flavored and seasoned to perfection. Throughout the meal, condiments like soy sauce and vinegar were never offered - or needed.
The fact that most everything was delicious became a challenge to our self-control - it was nearly impossible to ignore the gentle exhortation to select additional dim sum dishes from the main menu. Even after a soul-soothing broth of ginko nuts and Chinese herbs, and a plate of assorted shumai - pork and shrimp purses topped with miniature shiitake mushrooms, and adorable packages of crab and scallop garnished with asparagus spears - we couldn't resist ordering more. The wagyu beef soup-filled dumplings, braised tripe with roasted garlic in broth, and perfectly greaseless pan-fried turnip cakes were too temping.
We should have stopped at the clay pot rice with Chinese sausage and fiery chilies but weakness prevailed once more, and we found ourselves sadly unable to finish the silken tofu in ginger syrup. Like an open bar, all-you-can-eat dim sum does little to encourage restraint.
Dim sum brunch is Y5000 per person, available only on weekends and holidays.
by Melinda Joe