By the time you read this, dim sum may have dwindled off the menu at Wong's Asian Bistro.
When I visited Wong's this weekend, drawn by the promise of the only dim sum contiguous to the peninsula, I was surprised to discover that in the few days since the North Charleston restaurant and banquet hall had opened, almost one-third of the dim sum items had already been struck from the menu. I'd missed my chance at shumai and sesame balls, among other standards.
So that's the bad news. But the good news is what's still available is very much worth ordering, and bodes well for other sections of the extensive menu.
Housed in a tidy Colonial Revival building, (UPDATE: A reader has alerted me that the structure was formerly Carey Hilliard's Restaurant. "A lot of people will know where it is once you mention Carey Hilliard's," she assured me via Twitter.) Wong's looks more like a Midwestern smorgasbord than a Chinese restaurant. The ornate entry hall, furnished with grand column-framed mirrors and tiered chandeliers, leads to a den of dining rooms that apparently accommodate hundreds: A hostess who I asked to help me calculate seating gave up after tallying just one section of tables topped with lazy Susans.
Wong's serves a full sushi menu, and Vietnamese food is apparently in the works. For now, though, the restaurant's focus is Chinese cooking; according to Wong's website, "three traditional Chinese chefs from Hong Kong" are in charge of the kitchen.
Many Wong's patrons aren't especially interested in traditional dishes: While I was assembling a dim sum feast, diners near me were happily eating chicken wings, fried rice and Singapore-style noodles. Wong's is so attuned to its American-born patrons' preferences that when I ordered hot tea, my receipt showed "sweet tea." If you want chopsticks, you have to ask for them.
But a few Chinese families were also at Wong's this weekend, ordering off the menu page labeled "Others," a heading assigned to dishes such as grouper hot pot; pork with salted dried mustard cabbage; beef and bitter melon; spicy squid and braised abalone with mushroom.
The dim sum menu skips over many of the expected items: The choices don't include har gow, rice noodle rolls, radish cakes or sticky rice. But there are pot stickers, beef balls, spare ribs, noodle soups and - my runaway favorite - chicken feet. The tender feet are rich and garlicky, and much fresher tasting than the roast pork buns, which I suspect may have been made elsewhere and reheated in-house.
But the very best dishes are those which are downsized versions of plates that aren't typically associated with dim sum. The daikon radish beef brisket and tendon, for example, was excellent: Like a gingery Irish pot roast with added chew, the dish featured tender, cinnamon-inflected meat. But it wasn't quite a standalone: The beef was a noodle soup short of perfection, although the steamed rice I ordered helped restore a sense of completeness to the dim sum-portion.
Even better was the shrimp-stuffed bean curd, which sported one of the best black bean sauces I can recall tasting. The home-style sauce put forth more funk than salt, but the earthiness was tempered by a natural sweetness, perhaps from garlic or scallions. I can't wait to go back and order the clams with black bean sauce ($12 on the "Others" menu.)
Located at 6601 Rivers Ave., Wong's is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Tues.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on Sundays. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 764-9578 or visit wongsasianbistro.com.