Our Great Aunt Vi is always up for an adventure for her birthday so we decided on dim sum at the Golden Duck in Amherst.
Dim sum is a style of Chinese cuisine that features small bite-sized dishes served with tea. The tradition goes back to the ancient Silk Road, where tea houses would serve travelers food and tea.
We only traveled from Cheektowaga and found Golden Duck packed at 1 p.m. We guessed the lots of young folks were University at Buffalo students taking advantage of the $10.80 all-you-can-eat luncheon buffet.
The friendly (but harried) waitress got us set up as soon as a booth opened and brought us a big pot of tea.
The dim sum menu is printed on a sheet so customers can mark what they want. Small items ($3.50), special items ($4.25), congee ($2.25-$5.25) and noodles ($2.25-$8.95) are listed in English and Chinese.
We went into uncharted territory with the pen, checking here and there, then adding won ton and egg drop soups ($1.95 cup).
The Father (whose eyes are bigger than his stomach) added udon noodle with pork ($10.95).
According to our placemats, we determined Great Aunt Vi was born in the year of the Tiger. Brave, forceful and the symbol of power and lordliness (yet she is so little).
After a brief wait, darling little dishes arrived, some in steamers. We grabbed a plate and started digging in.
The intriguing "turnip" cakes ($3.50 for two), a standard dim sum dish, were fantastic. Golden squares were crispy on the outside with a tender, mild and sweet interior. Looking it up on our phone, we learned that the cakes are shredded Chinese radish mixed with rice flour. Served with a side of salty oyster sauce, it was my favorite.
The barbecue pork buns ($3.50 for two), another dim sum staple, were a hit, too. Served in the steamer, the sweet, puffy bun was filled with a tangy shredded pork filling.
Siu Mei ($3.50 for 4), made with pork and shrimp, also came in a steamer. The fresh pasta was wrapped around the filling and twisted, leaving a little of the filling peeking out. We liked the savory taste, a break from the sweeter buns and cakes.
Three cute stuffed baby eggplants ($4.25) were served in a dark sauce that was salty, garlicky and good.
For those who need something “safer,” the fried shrimp rolls ($3.50 for three) and the fried pork dumplings ($5.75 for eight), were solid choices, as was the huge plate of fat udon noodles with pork and the beef chow fun ($6.50), the simple dish of stir fried beef with noodles and bean sprouts.
Our least favorite was the spare ribs in black bean sauce ($3.50). Served in bowl with broth, the meat was tender but the mini bits of pork rib tips were bland.
Egg drop soup was a little thicker, and tasted just OK. The wonton broth was good, as were the delicate wontons. Both soups were hot ($1.95 cup).
The regular lunch and dinner menus hold more standard fare, but we recommend the dim sum, served noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Two or three dishes per person are plenty. Next time we'd venture to try the spicy beef noodle soup ($8.95) and the congee, a rice porridge. Golden Duck serves roast duck ($5.25) and black egg with pork ($5.25) versions in addition to the plain ($2.25).
The best part about dim sum is the shared experience of trying dishes and passing items around.
1840 Maple Road (639-8888, goldenduckrestaurant.com)
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday, noon to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 9:30 p.m.
Wheelchair-accessible: Yes, but tight seating.
Gluten-free options: No.
Story topics: Cheap Eats