We had already said "yes" to nearly every item the smiling server proffered from the cart at Dim Sum House. Hers was the first dim sum cart to pull alongside our table, and it had arrived within a couple of minutes of our being seated even though the dining room was nearly full at this dim sum prime time of a late Sunday morning.
Noting how rapidly our table was getting covered with bamboo steamer baskets from the cart, I reminded myself that we needed to pace ourselves. Other carts, bearing different but equally tempting assortments of goodies, would be along soon enough.
Then I spotted the stuffed peppers. Bite-size segments of jalapeño, their deep green skins and pink shrimp filling visible through a translucent egg batter, they beckoned from their little doily-lined plate. I couldn't resist. No sooner had they landed on our table that I popped one into my mouth.
And instantly regretted it, as my blistered palate bore painful witness to the fact that the peppers had come straight from the fryer.
A couple of minutes - and a few sips of water - later, I approached the peppers again with more caution. They were superb - and, as I was to discover, a harbinger of things to come.
Not that stuffed peppers are the first thing that comes to mind when you think of dim sum. Delicate dumplings, steamed or baked buns called bao and sesame-spangled balls filled with sweet red bean paste are more typical of the fare that is traditionally enjoyed with hot tea, and whose culinary roots are in the often subtle flavors of Cantonese cuisine.
But those incendiary bites of shrimp-stuffed jalapeño were the first in a long procession of dishes that would leave no doubt that Dim Sum House sets a new standard for dim sum in the Triangle. Steamed buns filled with barbecued pork are exemplary, the meat succulent and slightly sweet in a fluffy cloud of dough. Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce is a happy marriage of crunchy emerald-green vegetable and umami savor. Shrimp dumplings are house-made, and they're exquisitely delicate.
So is the shrimp rice roll, a slippery sheet of hand-made rice noodle folded around marinated shrimp and splashed with warm, sweet soy sauce at the table by your server. It's a challenge to eat with chopsticks, but well worth the effort.
The dim sum staple sticky rice in lotus leaf isn't as lavish here as some renditions, which may include embellishments such as Chinese sausage and black mushrooms. But the shredded chicken in Dim Sum House's version is authentic, and it's rustically satisfying.
Same goes for the black pepper beef ribs, though some may find them a little too authentically greasy. There's nothing at all greasy, on the other hand, about the crisp golden crust that encases the creamy centers of deep-fried taro root dumplings. Further evidence of the kitchen's frying skills can be found in the frazzled egg batter of seaweed rolls, the porcupine-like rice noodle prickles that punctuate the surface of shrimp balls and the lacy pan-browned surface of turnip cakes.
Unlike the handful of other Chinese restaurants in the area that offer dim sum and limit service to weekend brunch hours, the carts roll at Dim Sum House from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The rest of the week, you can order dim sum from the menu, along with a selection of authentic Chinese fare ranging from Cantonese-style crispy chicken to beef brisket with white radish casserole to variations on the pan-fried noodle theme.
There's a Thai menu, too, though your server will likely try to dissuade you from ordering from it. Heed his advice. You'll fare much better with, say, ho fun noodles with beef, crispy tofu and snow pea tips with minced garlic. The salt and pepper seafood combination isn't bad, either, though for my money the steamed whole flounder is a better seafood bet. For appetizers, turn to the dim sum menu.
Just watch out for those stuffed peppers.