Ping Pang Pong: More Bounce To The Ounce
Sometimes when you run a steady, sturdy ship it's easy to get overlooked relative to newer, flashier restaurants with more marketing money. Such might be the case for Ping Pang Pong, perhaps one of the few perennial winners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal's "Best Of Vegas" that actually deserves it. Both local and national critics have already waxed plenty of praise on this Chinese restaurant set in the unlikely Gold Coast casino. Perhaps to their credit, the owners have not been lured away to a larger location on the Strip, where plenty of more expensive restaurants produce far less praiseworthy food.
PPP's greatest strength, as many locals know, is their creative and broad array of dim sum, served daily until 3 pm (other than that, they produce a good solid menu of various regional Chinese dishes, but nothing astoudingly unusual). I've tried plenty of different approaches to this Chinese style of buffet (in Manhattan, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and most recently, the Bronx) and I've come to the conclusion that a few particular elements make some Dim Sum better than others:
• Ingredient quality, which tends to be more important to the Western palate than the Eastern (or at least, the palates differ on what defines quality).
• Variety: there need to be more than four carts on the floor, those carts need to have more than 16 dishes (and four versions of jell-o don't count), the fried food should taste like it was fried a minute ago, not ten, and the steamed foods need to almost sear your face when opened.
•Individuality vs. familiarity: I think Dim Sum is most delightful when about half of the dishes are classics–shu mai, cha siu bao, sesame seed balls–and the other half are house specialties you've never seen before (and may not again).
• Lots of Asians eating there.
Ping Pang Pong hits all of these right on the head. They even have the waitresses whose English is so bad they can barely pronounce "pork" or "shrimp." Which is exactly as it should be.
Here's what I ate and remembered to write down: spicy curry fish balls, pork dumplings, tofu wraps, fried shrimp cakes with greens, crispy shrimp dumplings, egg custard in crust (kinda weird), fried crab claw rolls, fried octopus, chicken feet, and some chow mein. Nothing was too greasy, nothing was bland, and nothing went unfinished.