Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Walk into a dim sum shop and it's a safe bet that a Chinese speaking woman will be pushing a cart with some dim sum essentials. Fried dumplings (probably pork or chicken), noodle dishes (fried or otherwise), and a variety of meats. So when UK-based dim sum chain Ping Pong Dim Sum opened with two locations in D.C. without these staples, it felt a little incomplete. Thankfully, with Ping Pong's recently launched fall menu, some of the more obvious omissions are being remedied.
Ping Pong began with a much more seafood heavy menu. The new approach captures some of the more seasonal elements in its menu and offers things that people in its tourist-centric locations (Chinatown and Dupont) would appreciate. Finally they are offering a noodle dish, beef, and chicken dumplings.
The menu additions also capitalize on seasonal fall flavors. The legion of pumpkin themed dishes and drinks notwithstanding, the new menu offers a few comparatively inventive pumpkin items. The Duck and 5 Spice Dumplings ($6.50) wrap slow-cooked duck, shallots, enoki mushrooms, orange zest, and 5 spices in a pumpkin pastry that offers a subtle sweetness, but not overwhelmingly so. The Pineapple and Pumpkin Martini ($11), vodka with pineapple juice, pumpkin marmalade, and lime, is a tart and citrusy sipper that's nicely mellowed out by the pumpkin.
The new menu includes a variety of new cocktails in addition to the Pineapple and Pumpkin Martini. The Chinese Mule ($11) is a blend of ginger spices, coriander, lime, vodka, sake, and ginger beer that has a solid, spicy kick with a lingering sweetness. Perhaps the most interesting and representative of Ping Pong's fusion approach to traditional dim sum is the Tennessee Electric Tea ($11). Made with Jack Daniel's, triple sec, lemon juice and soda, the drink is served in a tall glass with a straw topped with a Szechuan button. The idea is to place the Szechuan button on your tongue for about 10 seconds, which yields a similar numbing effect to those familiar with Szechuan peppercorns, then to sip the Electric Tea to let the citrus and carbonation play off your now tingling taste buds.
Ping Pong Dim Sum, despite its name, doesn't serve dim sum. Not in the traditional sense anyway. What you'll find instead is a sufficiently modern and seasonal take on the dim sum tradition. That might deter some purists, but if you're curious to check out some of Ping Pong's new menu, click through to the slideshow for a quick sample of dishes.