For the past couple weeks, when I’m not having lunch at the Reading Terminal Market, I’ve been getting my fill of decent Chinese food at Tom’s Dim Sum. After eating here 5 times, I can finally do Tom’s Dim Sum review … I’m still trying to figure out if I really like the place. This is pretty confusing because one should know if a place makes your list after eating there twice. (Toms Dim Sum review)
The first thing that throws me off … is the location. Although it’s across from the Hilton Garden Inn, I find that the weird bus stop location seems super sketchy … Did I mention that it’s in the 11th Street tunnel on the edge of Chinatown. That being said … the food is cheap and I love me some soup dumpling (well until I opened one and saw the liquified pork fat … more on that later).
I have been there when it rains but I’ll say that I would hate to have that rainfall coming off the roof drip on me … I think I just threw up in my mouth thinking about it. Another review used some excellent imagery in saying that when it’s raining, the water sheeting off the mouth of the tunnel as it runs beneath the Hilton and the garden of umbrellas that blooms around the crosswalk makes me feel like I’m living in the opening scene of Blade Runner.
I love their Singapore Fried Noodles. I asked for them extra spicy and Tom’s obliged. It’s also a huge portion for all of $8.95 which is an excellent value until they pissed me off charging me 50 cents for their Visa processing charge because my lunch wasn’t over 15$.
The star of the show here is Tom’s soup dumplings. They’re thin-skinned, Tom’s soup dumplings. Fragile, with pursed tops, and maneuvering them from the tin steamer tray in which they arrive to a pho spoon is a challenge, but you’ll manage. The contents (the broth, rich and sweet and bulging inside the delicate skins, and the core of minced pork and spices) are hot like lava, dangerous to the uninitiated, but everyone develops a style.
I’ve eaten them whole, testing the outer temperature of them with the knuckle of one finger then just popping the entire thing in, then I’ve broken them into a spoon, laying open the interior of the dumpling like a gift, then spiking the broth with soy and chili oil and sweet dumpling sauce and sucking the whole mess down.
The soup dumplings are everything you’ve ever hoped a soup dumpling would be. The product of thousands of hours of practice. But that’s just where Tom’s kitchen starts. There are two kinds of shumai on the menu—Shanghai- and Hong Kong-style. The first is filled with pork and sticky rice; the second is small and sweet and salty, perfect with a dash of soy—the shumai you’re accustomed to, only done better. The pork and chive dumplings are better fried than steamed, time in the pan giving them a crunch and texture that their steamed counterparts don’t have. Same with the Shanghai pan-fried buns—soft up top and crispy on the bottom, helping them hold together, giving them some seriousness and heft.
That being said … for all the excellence of the dumplings and the Singapore noodles … their Mapo Tofu is a colossal fail. Maybe it’s the horrible optics of the brown tofu chunks or the fact that the Mapo Tofu itself was thin and over runny and without a lot of flavor … I simply hated the execution of the dish.
I’ve had the Young Chow Fried Rice which was ok (the fried rice was thrown together like a staff meal—from leftovers and bits and pieces … I was not terribly impressed with it) and the Scallion Pancakes … which I thought was pretty bland to my taste. The one thing I did notice is that they have a bunch of stuff that’s not even on the menu … salt-and-pepper shrimp with that numbing kick of Szechuan peppercorn. A plate of Chinese vegetables and blazing hot red chilies studded with a rough brunoise of pork.
In the end, it’s definitely worth it for the Soup Dumplings and the Singapore Noodles … however I think I will need to continue eating there a couple more times before I can truly have an opinion!
Here’s an update as of August 16th, 2016
I flew into town and ended staying at the Four Points – Philadelphia City Center … it’s pretty close to my client and two streets away from the heart of Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Dinner tonight consisted of the following
- Singapore Noodles : As mentioned previously … this is a favorite of mine at Tom’s
- Spicy Schezuan Beef : This dish was brutally oily, didn’t have enough of those tongue numbing peppercorns and not enough Cilantro. When I drained all the excess oil from the dish … it was palatable enough but I wouldn’t order this again from Tom’s
- Chinese eggplant with Garlic sauce : This was phenomenal. It was a well done mixture of eggplant, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and mushrooms in an excellent sauce tossed with about 20 cloves of garlic. This is an easy recommendation.
Again … while I love the things I love at Tom’s … whenever I stray away from the dishes that I like … I end up paying for something I don’t like. This is why people are afraid to try new things 😀