As part of our June 2011 trip to Chicago, we had some delicious dim sum at Shui Wah Chinese Cuisine in Chinatown Square. We also visited Santa Anna Bakery (in the same mall) a couple of times for some delicious Chinese pastries.
Just north of the old Chinatown is a newer mall called Chinatown Square (just north of Archer Ave. between Princeton Ave. and Wentworth Ave.) When we first went to look for Shui Wah, we approached from Archer Avenue and found all the stores and restaurants "closed". It turns out we were in the back. Once we walked to Princeton Avenue and entered Chinatown Square we could see all the restaurants were quite open for business.
I picked Shui Wah because it had very positive reviews for dim sum. The restaurant isn't very big and there were about fifteen people waiting outside. I went inside (all the way to the back of the restaurant past all the people who were eating) to the counter and got a number assigned to me. It seemed it would be a while, so we took a walk around before returning to the restaurant to wait some more. About 45 minutes later, we got seated at a two-top near the back. There are no dim sum carts from which to pick and choose from (there's no space for carts), so ordering takes place on a little slip of paper which lists all their dim sum offerings. We picked many of our favorites and a couple of items we were unfamiliar with.
The first to arrive were the pan-fried turnip cakes ($2.70) which had perfect texture. It's probably been well over a year since I've had turnip cakes that weren't overly gummy and had a nice flavorful crust. These were perfect. (I think after having these, Tina finally understands why I keep ordering turnip cakes.)
|Shui Wah - Pan Fried Turnip Cake|
The Shrimp Dumplings ($3.10) weren't as well executed as the turnip cakes. The shrimp filling was mild (almost bland), but the dumpling skins weren't bad (had the right amount of chew without being gummy).
|Shui Wah - Shrimp Dumplings|
Chives Dumplings ($3.10) had excellent skins and nice flavor.
|Shui Wah - Chives Dumplings|
Duck Feet in Oyster Sauce ($3.10) was pretty bland.
|Shui Wah - Duck Feet in Oyster Sauce|
Chicken Feet with Black Bean ($3.10) was a little better than the duck feet, but still under seasoned. The texture could also have been improved (the edible portions weren't falling off the bones).
|Shui Wah - Chicken Feet with Black Bean|
Steamed Bean Curd Roll ($3.10) was excellent with both a flavorful sauce and delicious filling. Sometimes, this dish can have weird textures and flavors in the filling (stringy/old bamboo shoots, overwhelming shiitake mushrooms, large chunks of water chestnut) which can really affect the quality, but this was a fine example of how a steamed bean curd roll should taste.
|Shui Wah - Steamed Bean Curd Roll|
We felt the BBQ Pork Buns ($2.70) were subpar due to an extremely mild BBQ Pork filling. It really needed some salt.
|Shui Wah - BBQ Pork Buns|
The Pan Fried Chives Cakes ($3.10) (why are these cakes?) were good, but we preferred the flavor and dumpling skin of the Chives Dumplings more.
|Shui Wah - Pan Fried Chives Cake|
One dim sum item, I haven't had many times before was the Shark Fin Dumplings ($2.70) which I highly suspect only has mung bean vermicelli to mimic the texture of cooked shark fin. I can't compare it to other shark fin dumplings since I'm not highly familiar with this type of dumpling, but I did find the flavor to be excellent and one of the better dishes.
|Shui Wah - Shark Fin Dumplings|
|Shui Wah - Dim Sum|
After we finished our dim sum lunch, we walked a couple doors down to one of the more popular Chinese bakeries in the area (there are tons): Santa Anna Bakery (2158 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL).
|Santa Anna Bakery|
The pastries at Santa Anna Bakery are excellent (especially when eaten fresh, but they held at room temperature for several days as we consumed them for breakfast and as snacks). Everything we tried was good from the egg custard tarts to the red bean (sweetened adzuki bean) buns to the winter melon cakes.
|Santa Anna Bakery - Pastries|
We actually returned to Santa Anna later in our trip to get a few more pastries (some of which we snacked on while enjoying the Lincoln Park Zoo).
|Santa Anna Bakery - Pastries|
For ease of navigation and to keep the page sizes down, I've split the trip report and reviews into multiple pages:
Chicago 2011 Part 1a - Overview
Chicago 2011 Part 1b - Overview
Chicago 2011 Part 2 - Shui Wah, Santa Anna Bakery (this page)
Chicago 2011 Part 3 - Pizzeria Uno, Giordano's
Chicago 2011 Part 4 - Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse
Chicago 2011 Part 5 - Frontera Grill, Xoco
Chicago 2011 Part 6 - Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, Frontera Fresco, Marc Burger
Chicago 2011 Part 7 - Alinea
Chicago 2011 Part 8 - Vienna Beef Factory
Chicago 2011 Part 9 - Girl and the Goat
Personally, it's less confusing than turnip cake (蘿蔔糕) which doesn't use turnips; however, unless you know how it's made I guess one might not question why it doesn't taste like turnips and thus why it's labelled as such.
Coincidentally, both bing and gao (糕) are used to translate cake into Chinese. For example, cheesecake is translated as 干酪餅, a type of bing.