Excuse the dark photos -- such is the hazards of mood lighting in restaurants!
My friend Jamie and I ventured to try out the new Ping Pong Dim Sum restaurant, located just north of the Chinatown arch in DC. Although this would seem quite appropriate, DC's Chinatown doesn't actually house THAT many Chinese restaurants. The area has exploded in the past decade with restaurants of all genres popping up around the Verizon Center -- home to the Washington Capitals and Wizards.
In any case, we had heard about Ping Pong Dim Sum opening last December 2009, so when we were planning for a dinner together, it seemed like a great option. I arrived earlier than Jamie and found a spot at the end of the bar to sample some of their signature cocktails -- dotted throughout the bar were Caps fans in their bright red jerseys getting their pre-game eats and drinks (I made a mental note to come here before my next Caps game!). The bartenders were extremely friendly and helpful -- Ping Pong Dim Sum has an extensive cocktail menu with lots of delicious sounding options. My bartender suggested her favorite drink to me -- the Lychee and Roses (Bombay Sapphire gin, rose petals, lemon, and lychee juice). I LOVED this drink (and in fact ordered another one at dinner). The price was right too. During happy hour (until 7 pm! a relatively late happy hour in DC), cocktail drinks are $5 (as compared to their normal $11 or so price tag) (other "happy hour" specials are available after 7 pm Thurs through Sun).
When Jamie arrived, we decided to sit in the "lounge" area of the bar (to continue enjoying happy hour priced specials). The "lounge" area consists of several tall tables that could sit up to six or eight diners -- although there were only two of us, the managers at Ping Pong welcomed us to spread out at the 6 person table. Our waiter showed up promptly, brought by a paper menu for us to tick off which dim sum dishes caught our eye. If you haven't had dim sum before, dim sum consists of small plates -- kind of like tapas -- here, each dish consisted of 2 or 3 of the listed item. The waiter suggested that we order between 3 to 5 dishes for each of us -- with 40+ savory dishes to choose from, we sure had our work cut out for us.
Before coming to Ping Pong, I was forewarned by my London friend that the dim sum wasn't necessarily "authentic." And although I found this to be true, I also thought that the dishes were still, for the most part, flavorful and interesting. The dishes are broken down by category -- soups, baked, steamed, griddled, steamed buns, fried, sticky rice parcels, signature dishes, salads, pickles, and vegetables. My favorites were the "chicken puff" (Honey roasted barbecue chicken in hand made puff pastry topped with pineapple -- fairly substantial, flaky, and lots of flavor -- see photo above!) and the dumplings we ordered (including the pork shu mai -- pork and king prawns in an open pastry topped with a Chinese wolfberry). I also enjoyed the choy sum (steamed in soy sauce and cooked with garlic) -- but really, this isn't a dish that is any different from what my parents cook up at home. [We also tried, amongst other things, the crispy hoisin duck spring roll -- aromatic duck with cucumber and spring onion wrapped in wheat flour pastry, served with hoisin sauce -- this dish sounded amazing, but the duck gets mostly lost in the deep fried-ness and the satay squid -- steamed chopped squid in satay sauce, seasoned with ginger and spring onion.]
Basically, the dishes are loosely based on "authentic" forms of dim sum, with some having a definite "new" twist. One example of this was the Valrhona chocolate buns -- imagine a steamed char siu bao (pork bun) but instead of roast pork on the inside, inside is rich dark chocolate. This was our dessert of choice -- the light flavor of the bun offered a nice balance to the richness of the chocolate.
Overall, we enjoyed our experience at Ping Pong Dim Sum. The service was very attentive and friendly, and there was a large variety of dishes to suit almost every palate. This is a great addition to the DC food scene.
Ping Pong Dim Sum
900 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001