TAKEOUT REVIEW: Sum Dang Good Chinese
by Andrew Chalk
[We can’t do restaurant reviews right now, so we will do ‘takeout reviews’]
New spot at Trinity Groves replaces Chino Chinatown as the Asian entry in that portfolio. The chef is Weigou Cai, who is a former execuchef at Royal China. He hand-pulls his noodles, and handmakes his dumplings and soups. Through an unconventional media event, I got to try his food.
I have to hand it to Phil Romano. Opening a restaurant at this time is beyond the scope of almost anyone else in the Dallas restaurant business. And Sum Dang Good Chinese can only serve takeout and delivery, to boot. That is like going into your first boxing fight with one arm tied behind your back. Nonetheless, it means new jobs in an industry that could shrink by 25% by the end of the year. Almost all of the closures will be in the independent sector.
Let’s appreciate just how bad coronavirus is to the restaurant industry. The central part of their product is the dining room. They exist to provide conviviality over food, wine, and other beverages. But that is the very thing that coronavirus makes impossible. Revenue goes to zero in one day. Nobody in the industry has seen anything like it.
The smart thing to do is pivot to take out/curb pickup/delivery (TCD). After all, everyone is eating the same amount of food as the day before the virus. The trick is to get them to do TCD, and thereby keep local restaurants alive. Unfortunately, people seem to be continuing as though these rules will only be in effect for a few weeks. But the return to normality will be when there is a commercially available vaccine. Likely not in under a year. So the TCD models put in place have to be durable, not shackled together with shoe laces and binding wire.
Government help, as legislated thus far, is payment for a maximum of two-and-half months regular wages, rent, and other essential payments. The money for this is in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act passed last week with a budget of $350bn. That is not enough for all the eligible businesses. It is also an open question whether a successful applicant will see the money soon. A proposal of remarkable business astuteness by celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller, that the government underwrite an extension of the terms of business interruption insurance to cover pandemics, had the virtue that the money could have been delivered in days. It was not pursued.
In this uncertain environment the last thing I would expect would be new restaurant openings. However, that is what Sum Dang Good Chinese has done. The recipe is a broad, eclectic, but non-challenging array of Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and crowd pleasing dishes. Most would be most recognizably Chinese.
Thus, appetizers offer vegetable($4) or chicken egg rolls ($5), cheese and crab rangoon ($7), edamame (the soybeans normally associated with Japanese menus but found more broadly in east Asia) ($5), a scallion pancake ($6) that was a variant of the Bánh xèo that one might find in a northeast Dallas Vietnamese restaurant. I wanted something with some heft, so I opted for Wuxi spare ribs ($12), a substantial lump of pork long cooked in soy sauce, leaving the meat helpless but to crumble under my fork. The accompanying black bean sauce could have been more potent, but the crisp, fresh side of baby bok choy was a thoughtful idea.
If you love soup then the choice of four will be very welcome. There is the de rigor ‘Hot & Sour’ ($10), an intriguing Sizzling Rice Soup (not tried) and a vegetarian option - Veggie and Tofu ($10). I went with the Seafood Soup ($15) consisting of scallops, shrimp, fish, krab meat, green peas, carrots and egg. Textured like an egg drop soup the chicken stock is thickened with cornstarch creating a light, eye catching suspension of ingredients. It had abundant seasoning and was the perfect prelude to the heavier food to follow.
Dragon and Phoenix ($25) is a classic American Chinese dish descended from a dish in China named Dragon Tiger Phoenix made of somewhat less familiar ingredients (including snake). Here, chicken bites marinated in sweet sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds (General Tso’s chicken?) occupy one half of the bowl, while shrimp and vegetables occupy the other. Some Dragon and Phoenix variants bathe the latter in a hot and spicy sauce. Sum Dang Good uses just garlic. This is a very flavorsome dish that I could have made lunch of on its own.
Eggplant and Garlic Sauce ($11) is a trooper. A truly heartwarming rendition of one the vegetables that Chinese cuisine does best. The Chinese eggplant flavors are earthy and intense, the red and green bell peppers, cooked soft with garlic, offer flavor and texture variety.
The staff at Sum Dang Good thoughtfully warned me of dishes that did not travel well. As a result, the Dan-Dan noodles will have to wait until the score is Man 1, Corona Virus 0. I had pork dumplings ($9) in lieu and found them the safe choice that I expected. The ground pork is mixed with napa cabbage, jicama, black mushrooms, green onions, and seasoned with ginger. The latter present in just the right amount to subtly accent the flavor. I found these noodles benefited from a touch of Chinese mustard and soy sauce.
Three desserts are offered but, due to stomach capacity limitations, I passed. That was despite a menu exhortation in giant type “There’s Always Room For Dessert”.
Service? With take out, presumably we look at timeliness. Sum Dang Good Chinese delivered within 30 minutes of the requested time, so I will give them a passing grade for that.
Overall, I had a very pleasant experience and would order again. And, when Dallas restaurants reopen, this will be a popular addition to Trinity Groves.