Puzzling Dim Sum DelightsInside Feature
September 16, 2018
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
It’s Saturday evening at Yum Cha Hawaii, and the dinner crowd starts to trickle in.
Servers deliver menus and beverages to white-clad tables as tantalizing aromas begin to waft into the dining room. Guests look around and murmur appreciatively at the modern light fixtures and sconces, the well-stocked bar lined handsomely with mirrors, and the rough rock wall that adds delicious visual texture.
Certainly Yum Cha and its elegant sensibilities offer an intriguing departure from the usual Chinese eateries. Located on the ground floor of Uraku Tower on Kapiolani Boulevard, the restaurant has rejected gilt and scarlet ornaments in favor of clean, classic touches. Yum Cha’s large windows offer a sweeping view of a courtyard in twilight, and the busy street beyond.
Suddenly, a few sweet notes trill out over the crowd. They’re coming from a corner of the restaurant, where pianist Noly Paa has set up a keyboard. After a bit of a warm-up, Paa proceeds to quietly charm guests with a tasteful melange of Debussy and Bach, show tunes, Hawaiian classics and pop standards.
Live entertainment in a Chinese restaurant is a surprising treat for guests.
“It’s something different,” chuckles owner Lisa Samuels. “My husband is from the East Coast, and he just thought it would be nice to have something different.”
It’s certainly fun to catch a live performance of a musician as gifted as Paa, but catching a performance in a setting like Yum Cha is a rare pleasure indeed. And Paa isn’t the only performer who makes dining here twice as nice. On Friday nights, a skillful jazz trio plays from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
The dim sum menu at Yum Cha is enough to bring guests craving delectable teatime treats back during daylight hours. “Yum cha,” which translates to drink tea, is the Cantonese tradition of brunch with tea and dim sum. And this restaurant executes this idea very skillfully with a long menu of dumplings, buns, tarts, nests and bundles, each more mouthwatering than the last.
Try Shrimp Dumpling for $3.99, a trio of soft pillows stuffed with generous bits of shrimp. Another treat is Cream Custard Tart ($3.99), which consists of a dreamy filling definitely worth trying. Mochi Rice with Chicken ($4.99) consists of two little bricks of fragrant rice and poultry wrapped in lotus leaves, which are tied neatly before they’re steamed and brought to the table.
Finally, no visit to Yum Cha Hawaii would be complete without a basket of Doggy or Piggy Buns ($4.99 for two pieces), the dessert dim sum filled with custard or sweet bean paste. “I wanted to create a little bit of fun,” says Samuels. “And the kids love them — even the 80-year-old kids!”