Maybe I'm delving into stereotypes here, but it sure seems like Chinese folks do family gatherings and traditions better than westerners. That's the feeling I got waiting for my friends at Legin. You know the place—it's that huge Chinese restaurant at 82nd and Division that, if you're like me, you've driven past 100 times and always wondered about. (Or, if you're like others, used as a stage for your drunken karaoke adventures.)
Turns out I was behind the curve. Folks were streaming into Legin at 10:30 on a Sunday morning for dim sum—couples, families with kids, people of all ages—and being greeted and seated in a totally efficient manner. You walk into Legin, and in about three minutes you have a cup of hot tea and half a dozen carts of food headed for you. They have clearly done this before.
The feel is part restaurant, part factory, part lounge, part cheese. There's a bar with karaoke, a carving of a tiger creeping through bamboo, a big fat happy Buddha on the counter, an aquarium, and tanks with live lobsters, crabs and snapper. At least, I think they're snapper—and so was set a pattern, because while I can tell you that the food was good, I cannot tell you what much of it was in any detail, and I know what none of it was called.
I was with my friends Caleb and Cheryl—their first visit here but by no means their first Dim Sum. And by the time we left, Cheryl was already saying it was her favorite Dim Sum place in town, mainly because the people were friendly, and neither they nor the food looked worn out. The way she described some other places made it sound like a combat zone staffed by stumbling, drone-like “lunch ladies” from your school cafeteria—which, for the record, I would also enjoy and can't wait to see. Nothing makes a place like rude staff.
No such luck at Legin. Just tons of food. Waves of it. It's like we were three foodless magnets, and the carts headed straight for us as soon as we sat down. You can order from the menu, but I can't imagine why you would, and Cheryl said it's a total pain. Besides, there's about 37 different types of food that will come by within five minutes. Who needs a menu?
The first cart to show up was dumplings, some with shrimp, some with scallops. Another cart had pork dumplings—or maybe it was the same cart. They run together after a while. You're trying to figure out how to eat the shrimp dumplings when something with sticky rice in banana leaf (I think) comes by—um, wait, what was that again? – and then a cart of rolls came by, some with barbecued pork, one with a sweet bean curd inside, I'm not sure. Another lady showed up and cooked an eggplant/shrimp thing, which Cheryl liked, even though she wasn't sure the shrimp was in its original form. It was like it might have been Shrimp Loaf, or something. Not that it was bad, and it was definitely shrimp. We're just no sure it was, you know, an actual shrimp.
We took some Chinese broccoli, turned down some jello and other desserts that looked terrifyingly intriguing (what makes that shade of pink?). Another dessert looked like a warm rice pudding. We saw roasted chicken, noodles, fried fish, lots of shrimp and pork options, one thing that might have been fried shrimp around a piece of sugar cane…
We also got some rice porridge with what we called “fried things”—mostly dough—that we think we were supposed to dip into the porridge. We tried dipping the stalks into the porridge but didn't care for it too much. Caleb cracked me up by running a fork through the porridge and saying “what's this grey stuff?” We thought it might be chicken…no, mushrooms…no, eggplant. We didn't finish the porridge.
After a while—I think it was like seven minutes—we had so much food on the table that we just had to stop ordering. Well, technically, Cheryl cut me and Caleb off. I, for one, was starting to order everything that came along, even if I couldn't recognize the item or understand the description. That's when Caleb said we had gotten to that point with Dim Sum where you have to think about what's out there that you might actually want.
I decided to come back with a Dim Sum Ringer, or a Chinese person—somebody to walk me through it, help set some priorities, keep an eye out for the premium items that occasionally made people take off across the room to grab some before the cart went empty—or for the oysters we walked past on the way out. Wish we had seen those going around!
When all was said and done, my stomach was full, my head was spinning, and my wallet was only lighter by $10.
8001 SE Division
Daily 10 a.m. to midnight, 2 a.m. on weekends
Visa, MasterCard, Cash (ATM)
For big groups, maybe
Made for ‘em
None that I saw, but lots of soft benches in the lobby.
Don't think so
Usual, no espresso. Good tea.
In addition to being
WWire's "Breakfast Guy," Paul Gerald is author of
60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland, a travel writer, and a WW sports writer. Now he's writing a book called
Breakfast in Bridgetown, which he will publish in 2007. He's got a working list of about 140 places, and he'll be sharing his finds with us often.