Dolo Restaurant and Bar

As much as I enjoyed dinner at Dolo Restaurant and Bar, the seafood-focused modern-Chinese restaurant I wrote about on Monday, I was more excited yet to learn that they were open every morning for dim sum. Dim sum is a favorite of mine not only because I love it as comfort food but because under the right conditions, it’s a great scene. I love the experience, culinary and social, of a popular dim sum place, packed to the gills with what would appear to be the entire Chinese-American community catching up on gossip, reading Chinese newspapers, and ordering food off the carts that are rolled around the room.

That’s the ideal scenario, but for years I’d come across it more in places like San Francisco and Toronto than I did here. I was never a big fan of the largest dim sum places here, and it turns out that Dolo manager Jason Moy’s favorite, like mine (and most of LTHForum circa 2006), is one of the smaller, homier ones in Chinatown, Shui Wah, which closed a few years ago. “Shui Wah was my favorite dim sum in Chicago and, believe it or not, the last time I had dim sum in Chicago was the day Shui Wah closed,” he said.

Egg custards and barbecue pork bao

That was a dark day for chicken feet, but there has also been a bit of a dim sum renaissance in the last couple of years, and if places like Cai, Ming Hin and Lao You Ju may not be perfect, they’ve certainly come a lot closer to the kind of lively modern dim sum places I’ve seen in other cities, the ones that make so many of our older dim sum parlors look tired. Now Dolo aims to be part of the renaissance, and based on a weekday visit with my sons last week, it definitely belongs in that category too, with a lot of fresh-tasting, well-crafted choices.

Moy says part of the reason is that unlike Cai in particular, Dolo is pretty small—as Shui Wah was. “We can’t rotate [product] as fast as Ming Hin or Cai. Our kitchen’s not that big. Our freezer’s not that big. We have to prep for whenever we’re ready, so everything is freshly made. We can’t freeze things for a couple of weeks, we’ve just got to make everything daily.”

That shows to me in some of the best dishes: the pan-fried corn-and-shrimp dumpling, the glazed barbecue pork buns, even the standard pot sticker, which is as good as any I’ve ever had in Chicago. Soup dumplings, xiao long bao, had a sweet flavor that wasn’t to my taste, but I was really impressed by the turnip cake in XO sauce. At Shiu Wah this had been a deliberately spartan dish of slightly bitter turnip squares, but here they were breaded and fried and tossed with spicy chopped vegetables—it’d be a great vegetarian dish at dinner. (I think it’s vegetarian, though there are some little flecks in that picture that make me wonder.)

Turnip cake with XO sauce

Moy says the development of the dim sum menu was a serious, even scientific process for himself, the owners, and chef Ming Chen. “There was a lot of testing. We compared all the menus—you’ve always got to have your main four—spare ribs, chicken feet, pork dumplings, and shrimp dumplings—and you always have your crepes, so you build everything around those. Right now I’m actually working on a picture menu. We didn’t want to go all out—some restaurants have like 50 dishes, all dim sum. We tried to make it simple. Our chef is pretty young; we were looking for something new.”

As I mentioned Monday, Moy is a wedding photographer and though he has past experience in restaurants (he worked for a while at Joy Yee’s), Dolo was his first return to that world after going to school to get a degree in finance. But you can tell he’s happy to be back in it, and he says, “I love the industry life. You’re always meeting people, get to interact with people. Strangers are your best friends. It’s nice to say ‘hi’ to strangers, ask them how their day is, they may be having a better day than you and they make you feel great about yourself.”