To be a truly fine dim sum house, you must proffer a cacophony of carts and surprises at every turn.
I want the crunch of deep-fried stuffed crab claws that I can pick up and chew like chicken wings. I want rice-noodle rolls with minced pork and shrimp tucked inside their glossy, silken sleeves. I want meatballs wrapped in crinkly tofu; roasted duck with crispy skin over a layer of fat and bone; piles of bright Chinese greens. If you want me to fall in love, give me radish cakes cooked on a tableside griddle.
Won Won Seafood Restaurant, a capacious dim sum house on Pleasant Hill Road, does a pretty good job of meeting my many demands. Known until early this year as Golden House, Won Won rolls out the carts every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it serves an ambitious a la carte menu until late in the night. The focus here is largely Hong Kong style and Cantonese, but if you desire mapo tofu or Mongolian beef, you can order that, too.
You’ll appreciate the refurbished banquet room’s chairs draped in splashy gold fabric (a change from the red covers of the Golden House era), the outrageously large plasma-screen TV, and wisecracking servers that you may recognize from Atlanta Chinese restaurants-gone-by. Actually, most of them are very sweet. They will woo you with bowls of comforting congee and steamer baskets filled with elegantly pinched little dumplings. It would be wrong of you not to indulge them.
You’ll want to go with a group so you can savor as many tidbits as possible. You may leave with a few regrets (stinky-sweet durian pastries, clams with the chewy texture of pork gristle). But mostly you will be pleased. And you won’t spend too much money, either, particularly if you take advantage of the half-price dim sum lunch offered weekdays through Sept. 30, in honor of the restaurant’s “grand opening.” The Hong Kongese regulars we chatted up on a recent Saturday told us the special is a very rare bargain indeed.
When I compiled my Atlanta dim sum guide back in March, Won Won was new to the scene, so I wasn't able to include it for reasons of time and space. Consider this an update: Won Won's Cantonese and Hong Kongese classics, while not exceptional, make the cut.
Over the course of two weekend stops, I took a shine to most of the dumplings (especially the open-face, boat-shaped pot stickers with scallops); roast duck; chive patties; and turnip cakes that your roaming server will refuse to plate until they are properly browned. One observation: There was not an abundance of fried nibbles, and the ones I did try — salt and pepper squid, crispy squares of tofu — had cooled to room temperature and suffered accordingly. The Chinese sticky rice, though filled with tiny dried shrimp and cubes of sausage, didn’t pack much punch, either.
Once your table is filled with dumplings of various shapes and fillings, you may realize they have all started to taste the same. At this point, give your palate a break in the form of a steamy soup or chilled tidbit. We loved the clean, elemental flavors of a soup with fish cakes, Chinese celery, wood-ear mushrooms and a mild-tasting green melon. I randomly picked what I thought was a spicy seafood stir-fry, only to discover it to be a salad, with cucumber, a hint of toasted sesame oil and “noodles” that were really slices of giant clam that required you to chew… and chew… and chew. Hard pass.
I'd probably skip the durian rolled in crispy pastry, too. Unlike, say, the sweetly appealing durian sticky rice at Talat Market, this rendition of the famously foul-smelling fruit had not been purged of its unpleasantness. For me, at least. One of my dining companions quite liked it, which seems to be the way it goes with durian.
Switching out of dim sum mode, I stopped by one night to order from the menu. I was rather fond of my oyster casserole — it’s not a Southern holiday dressing but a hot clay pot with plump, smother-fried oysters in a luscious sauce with red onion, mild peppers, and aromatic basil. Also good were classic wok-fired green beans with minced pork and a tangle of homey egg noodles with seafood, veggies, roast pork and chicken, served in a glass pie plate of all things.
If I lived nearby, I would be a lunch and dinner regular. For now, dim sum is what makes Won Won worth the trip.
WON WON SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 1600 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth. 770-921-2228, wonwonseafoodhouse.com.
Recommended: From the dim sum carts: Rice-noodle rolls. Tofu-wrapped meatballs. Roast duck. Radish cakes. Soup with fish cakes and mild green melon.
From the a la carte menu: Wok-fried green beans. Oyster casserole.