Dim sum and then some
The neighborly New Wing Wah serves solid Chinese fare
New Wing Wah, which opened on State Street the middle of last year, has brought downtown Los Altos a long-awaited go-to spot for no-frills, dependably tasty Chinese food.
With its cheery yellow walls, straightforward menu of Hong Kong-style classics, speedy service, and steaming plates of reliable standards like kung pao scallops and sizzling rice soup, New Wing Wah has the confidence of a solid neighborhood restaurant that's being run by a sure hand. After 30 years of waiting tables and running his own restaurants, owner and Hong Kong native Donald Jew has the formula down. His one career hiccup seems to have been his brief association with the ill-fated Peony, which previously resided in New Wing Wah's spot. Jew says he left the operation after three months because of disagreements with his one-time partner over the food and customer service.
What most distinguishes New Wing Wah (Jew's "old" Wing Wah operated in San Jose for 22 years) are the daily dim sum lunches. Soon, Jew says, he will offer the popular Chinese-style small plates at dinner as well. "Wing wah" means "nice and busy" and Jew says he wants to do everything he can to keep it that way.
The dim sum menu includes about 30 of the classics: steamed shrimp dumplings, pork buns, crab claws, beef tripe, Chinese broccoli and so forth. Rather than troll the small dining room with a dim sum cart, the waiters make each plate to order — a practice that ensures the food arrives wok-hot.
Service is attentive and quick. Come to think of it, has anyone ever had slow service in a Chinese restaurant? I am not sure I have. I have, however, had perfunctory, surly service, but definitely not at the neighborly New Wing Wah. On both of my visits, our waiter made pleasant conversation and even stopped by the table on one visit to tell my 4-year-old daughter that she was welcome to draw on the white butcher paper covering the table.
Dim sum is Cantonese for "heart's delight." What evolved originally as a tea room snack food for Silk Road travelers, dim sum has touched so many hearts — and taste buds — over the centuries that it has become a staple of Chinese cuisine, particularly in Hong Kong. It is a fun and inexpensive way to lunch with a friend and sample a large variety of dishes.
It isn't dim sum without the requisite trio of ha gao, steamed shrimp dumplings ($3.90). It is said that the dim sum chef's artistry is demonstrated by how translucent he can make the rice flour shell that envelops the shrimp. If translucency is one of the measures of good ha gao, I would give Wing Wah's a B-. The pink shrimp residing in the interior of the dumplings were succulent, but the casings were on the thick, doughy side, only vaguely translucent.
The Chinese broccoli ($4.90) is a huge mound of steamed greens tossed with oyster sauce. True to the Hong Kong style of cooking, the kitchen uses high-heat steamers and woks and cooks with a light hand, bringing the food, especially vegetables, just to the point of doneness and then whisking the plate to the table in a cloud of steam.
The shoyu king chow mein ($4.90) lacked flavor, tasting primarily of soy sauce and maybe a hint of ginger, but the generous portion of noodles almost made up for the lackluster flavor. Traditionally, potstickers were not a dim sum offering, but the fried-then-steamed dumplings are a natural for the small plate experience. Like their ha gao cousins, New Wing Wah's potstickers ($2.90) were weighted down by a too-hefty skins, but redeemed themselves with a flavorful center bulging with pork and green onions.
Seafood plays a starring role at New Wing Wah. We tried some stand-out shrimp and scallop dishes at dinner. The kung pao prawns ($11.50) didn't pack enough chili-spicy punch for me, but the giant, juicy shrimp mixing it up with the peanuts, green pepper and carrots were outstanding. So were the scallops with mixed vegetables ($13.50). Large discs of the bivalves were sauteed with zucchini, mushrooms and sprigs of green onion.
The aromatic crispy half duck ($12.50) was indeed aromatic and had a sensuous, smoky flavor that rivaled a nice wine in its combination of flavors: hints of black tea and wood smoke. It was a touch too dry, however. Another mixed review would have to go to the shrimp chow fun ($9.95). Soy sauce, rice wine, garlic and ginger bathed the wide noodles in a tasty marinade, but the noodles, a touch overdone, had either been chopped into pieces or broke apart in the wok. Either way, the dish felt damaged and roughed up, even if the flavor was appealing. The chef also used a too-heavy hand with the crunchy bean sprouts.
Every neighborhood needs a solid Chinese place and downtown Los Altos has a good one with New Wing Wah. That the restaurant also serves a decent selection of dim sum makes it even more appealing. The food does not, overall, rise to the level of the unusual or gourmet, but it satisfies.
New Wing Wah
132 State Street, Los Altos
Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Outdoor dining: no
Party facilities: No
Noise level: Low to medium
Bathroom cleanliness: Excellent