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[whitespace] Alan Liu
Well-Rounded: Alan Liu, owner of Dynasty Restaurant, serves an array of culinary styles, from spicy Szechuan to milder Cantonese.

Teahouse of Portola Drive

Dynasty Restaurant brightens
the Opal Cliffs neighborhood with an array of Mandarin and Szechuan dishes

By Christina Waters

'Dim sum" is Cantonese for "heart's delight," and the broad array of dumplings, pastries, buns and filled cakes that characterize this Chinese culinary specialty are traditionally served at teahouses.

On weekends, our very own Dynasty Restaurant turns itself into a teahouse by offering a full menu of Cantonese dim sum--which can be transformed into more fiery fare with hot chile oil and mind-melting mustard. Generously appointed with spacious booths, round doorways and plenty of colorful fabric and artwork touches, Dynasty has won an enthusiastic following since it upgraded the space at El Rancho Shopping Center near the corner of 41st Avenue and Portola Drive. Chef Alan Liu makes the full array of stir-fries, sizzling platter dishes and just about anything you can think of with garlic sauce. It's wonderful to find a place that can offer mu shu pork and fiery kung pao tofu as well as mellower Cantonese dishes like egg fu yung and chow fun.

Kelly and I were at Dynasty last weekend to feast on dim sum, which is served every Saturday and Sunday from 11am and 3pm. Priced from $2 to $4.50 for servings offering between two and four steamed or fried pastries, Dynasty's dim sum listings range from vegetable or meat-stuffed wontons to dumplings embedded with exotic mixtures of spices, bean paste and seafood.

Armed with a graceful iron pot of green tea, we ordered a legion of noodles, dumplings and buns and sat back to watch the parade.

First came something that looked like a frozen explosion--the taro root dumpling ($2.80). It was unusual, like earthy mashed potatoes inflected with carrots and bits of pork. I dipped bites into a mixture of soy sauce, chile oil and hot mustard that I'd whipped up on a side dish. Hot and spicy. A more interesting texture--and very intense flavor--was provided by a thick pocket of fried eggplant stuffed with a ground pork mixture ($2.80). This isn't lo-cal food, but one look around the room packed with happy diners gave evidence that no one here was complaining.

Next a steamer of shaw mai (pork dumplings) arrived: four tiny crinkled wontons packed with a bright coral-colored filling ($2.80). Even better were the steamed Shanghai pork buns ($4.50), which arrived six to an order in a round bamboo steamer.

Each little saucer, bowl or steamer was presented very simply. The eggplant pockets arrived on a garnish of shredded cabbage; the steamer of Shanghai pork buns was its own decoration. We liked the ginger and Szechuan peppercorn flavors infusing these pastries.

A cup of nicely made hot and sour soup was provided, as requested, to share with the dim sum dishes--there is nothing better on a chilly day than this fabulous culinary treasure of the East. White pepper provides the mystery kick to this soup filled with tofu strands, crunchy cloud-ear mushroom, bits of egg and pork and, in this case, a few mushrooms and peas. Delicious.

A favorite of this long afternoon's lunch was a dish called Prawn Jiao ($3.50). A metal steamer arrived filled with transparent, almost gelatinous knotted dumplings--incredible texture, exquisitely surreal--filled with chopped prawns and garlic. We could have simply ordered three helpings of these gossamer pastries and made an entire meal of them alone.

I enjoyed an order of Jade Dumpling ($2.80)--huge half-moon-shaped wontons filled with spinach, water chestnuts and baby corn--though Kelly thought they'd been better the week before. And while my beautifully folded creation of egg filled with minced leeks and tiny noodles ($2.80) was freshly made, it was saltier than even I could tolerate. And I love salty foods.

Dim sum grazing is interactive and lots of fun. You can order a huge variety of tiny dishes and do lots of tasting. Find your own favorites on the weekends at Dynasty.

Dynasty Restaurant
Address: 3601 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz
Phone: 831.479.3388
Entrees: $5.50-$8.95
Extras: Dim sum on weekends; open on Christmas Day
Hours: Open 7 days, 11am-9:30pm (until 10pm on weekends)

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From the November 24-December 1, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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