Feed Your Head

Finally, Tampa has an honest-to-goodness dim sum place that serves great morsels every weekend afternoon.

T.C. Choy’s opened last summer on Howard and Platt. When I heard of T.C. Choy’s dim sum and its vaunted Peking Duck, I decided a visit was in order. If you like East Asian food at all, then T.C. Choy’s has something you’ll like.

I arrived one afternoon and it was filled with Asians and very few Yankees, always a good sign. The sparse and tasteful décor stole the show initially. One can easily see into the open kitchen, and seats are available at the bar for patrons interested in watching the chefs in action.

To emphasize its pan-Asian cuisine, the restaurant features three distinctive menus: a full menu (soups, appetizers, salads and entrées), dim sum (available off rolling carts on weekends, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and sushi. During the week, a limited dim sum menu is available, but the carts do not operate.

On one occasion, I foolishly ordered soup, salad and entrees before seeing what dim sum they had to offer. Servers constantly roll the carts around, piled high with a variety of dumplings, rolls, and buns. Chinese-food enthusiasts will recognize flaky egg rolls and hearty buns stuffed with meat. But the offerings on the cart are just the beginning. The spring rolls were flaky like pastry, with an almost sweet filling of pork and spices. Pan-fried dumplings arrived stuffed with pork and greens. The rice rolls with beef are like rice ravioli or crepes filled with beef and topped with teriyaki sauce. Small servings of dim sum range from $2 to $3.50.

When the dim sum is available on weekends, waiters carry plates of chef’s specialties, offering them table to table. I was surprised at how involved these chef’s specialties tended to be. I saw small sautéed calamari, heaping plates of Chinese greens and Hong Kong roast pork.

When you see something you like, you flag down a server and he/she adds it to your card. Much of the time, the servers offer you a dish. If it doesn’t look good, you simply decline. This style of ordering may be unusual and chaotic to some, but I admire the spontaneity of the process. You might leave eating something you never heard of and loving it. The chef’s specialties are priced nicely from $3 to $5.

The Hong Kong pork was excellent and very lean, cooked until it is incredibly soft and tender. The honey sauce on the pork was not cloyingly sweet, as many sweet and sour sauces tend to be. Best of all, the portions of the chef’s specials are generous. Unfortunately, they had sold out of the duck on my last visit, but I hear it is remarkable.

The Thai papaya salad was excellent — crunchy, spicy and mildly sweet. The Thai-style soup satisfies, with crisp vegetables and plump shrimp in a fragrant broth. A soy-marinated tuna dish originating in Hawaii called “poke” was equally impressive. The seaweed salad was a bit strange by Western standards, with a mildly sweet flavor.

During a dinner visit, the chef impressed with a luxurious version of Szechuan chicken and X.O. Beef with asparagus. Indonesian shredded pork tasted strongly of cumin and curry. The Mongolian beef was the most distinctive I’ve ever tasted, with a dark, slightly burnt-tasting sauce and the strong flavor of three different kinds of onions. The sauces tasted like the chef took his time with them, unlike the oily concoctions of inferior restaurants. Entrees range from $8 to $20.

For a festive lunch with friends, try T.C. Choy’s on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Enjoy some tea or cocktails, and watch the morsels roll by. A great place for culinary adventure.

T.C. Choy’s Asian Bistro is located at 301 S. Howard Ave. To contact the restaurant call (813) 251-1191.

Check out Feed Your Head again on March 5.