Restaurant Review: Dim Sum a Quiet and Delicious Affair
Modern Restaurant Island Hopper Has a Well-Kept Secret in Its Unique Dim Sum Menu
By Sally Lou
91 Massachusetts Ave
Boston, MA 02115
Looking for dim sum in Boston but don’t feel like making the trip to Chinatown? Island Hopper is the place to get your fix for this traditional Chinese midmorning meal, which is served in many small portions. The restaurant, located at the intersection of Massachusetts Ave. and Newbury Street, infuses the cuisine of several Southeast Asian countries into a five-page menu, proclaiming to capture the best flavors of the region.
Mindful of the crowded masses that usually surround China Pearl and Chau Chow City on Saturday and Sunday mornings, we arrived to find — surprisingly — mostly empty seats at Island Hopper. Either most people aren’t aware that Island Hopper serves dim sum or it was just too early to be out on a Saturday morning. Be sure to request the dim sum menu, as the waiter will otherwise hand you the lunch menu.
The menu is essentially a checklist containing all the items offered for dim sum, which goes back to the waiter with selections marked. The waiter then brings out the dishes from the kitchen one by one. Dim sum purists may be disappointed by the absence of waiter-pushed rolling carts stacked with rows of steamers; these are an essential part of the typical Chinatown dim sum experience, and they don’t appear at Island Hopper.
Then again, the expectations are slightly different, since Island Hopper isn’t a typical Asian restaurant. Adjacent to Newbury Street, it has appropriately upscale d cor that you wouldn’t expect from a place that also offers take-out. Colorful modern art lines one wall, with Asian-inspired decorations placed in convenient corners. The matching plates, too, have a modern design. To create a cozy atmosphere, the multi-colored high ceiling lights are slightly dimmed. The food is placed on doilies, and the jasmine tea is served in teacups with saucers.
The food selection at Island Hopper is just as unique as the d cor. It offers the usual dim sum fare, such as steamed shrimp dumplings ($4.95), lotus chicken sticky rice ($2.95), and steamed pork buns ($3.95). Other Southeast Asian influences on the menu that aren’t likely to be found in other dim sum places are dishes like Poh Piah ($4.50) — a Malaysian style spring roll — and the vegetarian samosas ($2.95). Though Island Hopper offers more ethnic variety in food, taking its selection from Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, it lacks many authentic dishes that are usually on the dim sum menu (such as chicken feet or tripe).
In general, most of the dishes were very appetizing, with subtle flavors weaved in the accompanying spices and sauces. The vegetarian samosas were particularly delicious, with a flaky pastry shell wrapped around a soft stuffing. An accompanying tamarind sauce perfectly complemented the taste of the samosas. Another dish that we couldn’t get enough of was the eggplants stuffed with shrimp ($4.75), which were drizzled with hoisin sauce and topped with scallions. The pan-seared dumplings ($3.95) were also delectable; the outside was cooked to a textured crispy skin and the soupy inside was reminiscent of the Shanghai dish xiao long bao zi. The only item that didn’t meet our expectations was the scallion pancake ($3.95), which was overly fried, creating a hard consistency. The accompanying dipping sauce helped to overcome the bland taste, but scallion pancakes generally should be able to stand on their own.
As a word of caution for vegetarians, dim sum primarily tends to be a pork and shrimp featured meal. Island Hopper, however, did have a number of vegetarian friendly selections such as the vegetarian spring roll ($3.25), the vegetarian samosas, and the steamed spinach ravioli ($3.95).
Though the food was pleasing, we found that our waiter was rather inattentive. Even though we were one of only a few people in the restaurant, we could never find him when we had a request. Island Hopper’s atmosphere and food may have been nice, but the service was a bit lacking.
Between the five of us, we ordered a total of 13 dishes, and we easily finished all of them. The portions for dim sum at Island Hopper tend to be smaller than in Chinatown, and the dishes are generally more expensive, each item ranging from $2.95 to $9.95. If you’re looking for a genuine dim sum experience, Chinatown is still the way to go, but if you’re looking for a close-to-campus excursion for unique flavors, Island Hopper is an excellent choice. Dim sum is served every Saturday and Sunday until 3 p.m.