Originally a kind of Chinese high tea on the Silk Road, Dim Sum has latterly become a culinary art form, requiring considerable dexterity, technical chops and an army of cooks.
For several years, Indy's only decent Dim Sum restaurant was the aptly named Yummy on the city's West Side. The food was great, the place was pleasantly chaotic and the service was abysmal. There have been others since it closed, but nothing to compare until the arrival of On Time.
It's a good idea to visit On Time for a late lunch, when everything is prepared freshly to order and service is prompt if unremarkable. The Dim Sum menu offers around 50 dishes: four per person should satisfy even the heartiest of appetites.
The interior, although clean and well lit, is on the cavernous side. A fish tank at the back of the restaurant is the final home to lobster, tilapia and sometimes Dungeness crab. The main menu offers numerous fresh seafood dishes, but the Dim Sum is the real attraction.
In case you're not familiar with this style of food, the restaurant offers a convenient laminated card with pictures of the menu items and their names. A corresponding paper menu lists the dishes and you just check off what you would like to order. Not all dishes are available all the time, so if you're inclined to make a special visit for the pork intestines, it might be worthwhile calling ahead.
On a recent visit, good, classically prepared dishes included the pan-fried chive shrimp ($3.50); the cha siu bun ($2.95 for three), a delicious fluffy steamed affair stuffed with BBQ pork; and the shrimp dumplings ($3.50), which are steamed and come four to a basket. Although very palatable, these dishes could have used a little more savory zing: while not exactly bland, there was just a hint of something lacking. The BBQ pork crepe ($3.50), made with rice flour, should have been a delicate, slithery bundle wrapped in the thinnest rice flour pancake. Instead, it was triple-wrapped, thick and cloying, amply demonstrating just how precise and finicky this kind of cooking has to be to succeed. But not to worry: there was plenty else to rave about.
Excellent were the seaweed rolls ($3.50), short cigar-shaped delicacies, stuffed to the brim with pounded shrimp paste. Savory and perfectly seasoned, these were very impressive. The one outstanding dish, and the one to go back for again and again, was the salt and pepper fried baby octopus. At $6.95, this was the most expensive dish we tried, but my goodness, was it good. Lightly battered and deep-fried, the octopus was as tender as any I have ever tasted, and the portion size improbably generous. If you're afraid of octopus being rubbery and chewy, try this one.
In spite of the small shortcomings in seasoning, and perhaps in the quality of some of the ingredients, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to On Time, not just for the overall experience, but for the rare opportunity to taste an authentic and unique style of cuisine right here in town.
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