Sometimes (okay, often) the life of a food writer is pure joy. I was lucky to be invited, along with a couple friends, to the recently inaugurated dim sum brunch at Peony Pavilion last weekend, with owner Lisa Shao as our guide. Peony Pavilion has been open since late last fall, and since then Ms. Shao has been winning over diners with her menu of Asian fusion dishes and sushi. I still think of the especially good duck and sea bass I enjoyed there during the winter, and look forward to seeing a new menu that is about to come out, now that they’ve had a few months to settle in.
Dim Sum is served on Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. And, you can combine dim sum dishes with items from the regular menu during the weekend lunch, so this is a really flexible option depending on what you and your table are in the mood for.
The Dim Sum menu includes all the things you’d expect, mostly in 3-piece servings, including Steamed Shrimp Dumpling ($4.95), Pea Leaf Dumpling ($5.95), Fried Fish Cake ($3.95), Spicy Salmon Gyoza ($4.95), Steamed Barbecued Pork Bun ($3.95, Steamed Custard Cream Buns ($3.95), Shredded Chicken Congee ($7.95), Shrimp Rice Roll ($6.95). Our little group enjoyed several of these, plus some other items (see photo gallery below) like lightly crisped bean curd skin rolled around a filling (shrimp?), moist, luscious fish cakes, and a steamed Golden Bun filled with what looks like a perfect poached egg yolk inside, but is actually a lightly sweetened combination of egg and lotus seed paste.
I was curious as to why the dim sum dishes are served by ordering rather than dispensed from carts, and loved Ms. Shao’s reasoning here – She has a very clear vision for her new restaurant, and it’s all about the quality and service. (The spectacular décor doesn’t hurt, either.) With dim sum served a la carte, each item is made to order, which keeps quality high. So, no food is prepared in large batches with the concurrent delay in arriving at your table while the cart wends its way through the room, which, when you think about it, is much the same as eating from a buffet (which I am not a fan of in most cases).
The concept at Peony Pavilion, according to press materials, “is to provide a sophisticated and elegant dining experience in a beautiful environment with creative dishes made from the finest ingredients.” I’d say Ms. Shao is succeeding on all counts. She came to Princeton from Szechuan Province seventeen years ago and is also the owner of the popular Szechuan House in Hamilton Township. She left behind a career in the corporate world to jump into the restaurant business and her success so far is a sign of true grit. She is also active in the community, and was even one of the featured dancers in the February Chinese New Year Spectacular at McCarter Theater – wow!
Also of note, a very nice private function room (outfitted with A-V) is available. I can just imagine having a business event here (and many are booked), or a nice special occasion celebration with family and friends. Maybe even an intimate wedding day brunch?
(Photos below are my own except for the beautiful steamed shrimp dumplings photo, which is courtesy of Peony Pavilion.)