It was 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and the queue to get in to the restaurant was already 4 hours long. An unflappable young woman at the front was calmly collecting phone numbers so she could text would-be diners when a table opened up (Tim Ho Wan only accepts table requests at the door).
Welcome to NYC's version of "competitive eating". Is any restaurant in the world worth this type of hassle?
In a word: yes. In another word: maybe.
Tim Ho Wan, in its original Hong Kong incarnation, is the cheapest restaurant ever to garner a Michelin star. The New York City outpost opened in early 2017. Its founder, chef Mak Kwai Pui, had been head chef at the Four Seasons Hotel and he tackles classic dim sum with the same luxuriant sensiblity he applied to the fare at that ritzy hotels. Meaty items, like the famed barbecue pork buns or the pork–and–shrimp dumplings, have an umami quotient that's off the charts—they taste like a Vanderbilt's version of pork stew, with big chunks of tender meat, wrapped in an ethereally light bun or dumpling wrapper. The pan friend turnip cake should be pictured in the dictionary under the word "creamy." And if there's a better version of french toast than Tim Ho Wan's custard one, I'll eat...well, I'll eat more of them. They're addictive. All of the dim sum is prepared fresh to order, so everything on the menu is of high quality.
The question becomes, is the food at this simple-looking (but pleasant) place good enough to justify that four hour wait?
If you were only to order the above items mentioned above, then yes, wait all day and you'll leave satisfied. But the other dim sum, while quite good, didn't seem exponentially better than what you can get in Chinatown....at restaurants where you'll be escorted directly to your table.
I only have to assume that the frenzy surrounding Tim Ho Wan will diminish with time. And when it does: go and feast.
- Pauline Frommer