It’s noon on a Sunday in the frenetic dining room of Super Star Asian. Manager David Siu, clad in black pants and a cotton polo shirt, bounces from table to table, crouching down to converse — in English and Chinese — with patrons. Near the front door, I can see the bobbing head of the hostess standing tiptoe on a chair scouring the sprawl for empty tables. I count 30 starving souls in wait, some of whom snub the waitlist entirely and head straight for a spare seat, a signal of their unnerving impatience. The human decibel level far supersedes the clanging and clattering of plates. It’s comedic chaos — and far more interesting than any circus.
Set in a Denver strip mall where the next-door nail salon signs are lettered in Vietnamese and nearby Asian market proffers up turtles (for cooking, not petting), Super Star Asian is fast becoming a dim sum destination. The restaurant’s high-ceilinged, boxy interior — much like a hotel banquet room — is goliath, sparse and bright, with stark white walls, tables overlaid with vanilla linens and booths hued shamrock green.
To eat here is dim sum nirvana, a seemingly unending parade of delightful dumplings, seafood small plates, noodle dishes and desserts, all of which are delivered on careening carts by affable, mostly English-speaking servers maneuvering their way around the large round tables lively with kids, nannies, grannies and everyone else oblivious to being bumped.
For me, dim sum, which means “a dot on the heart,” is all about grazing, burying my nose in the bamboo steamer baskets to sniff for what’s fresh, lingering over hot tea, and exploring uncharted territory. I get to pick and point at random, sometimes utterly clueless as to what foreign foodstuffs have just been placed in front of me. It frees me from culinary fidelity, allowing me to guiltlessly wander from the steamed chicken feet to the cushy white dimpled baked buns hugging crimson-colored, sweet barbecued pork, by which I’m smitten.
I get to dally in dumplings, and really, who doesn’t love dumplings, with their pliant and bouncy translucent skins embracing moist shrimp, or shrimp and pork studded with scallions, or shrimp and leeks, shrimp with snow peas, or minced pork strewn with steamed spinach? I have no idea how many different dumplings roll around on those carts, but you should get some. And then get some more. Some come dotted with pinpricks of orange tobiko, all the more reason to order a bounty.
I ate flash-fried squid and sautéed leafy Chinese broccoli the hue of evergreen trees with stalks the size of their trunks. “You’ll like this,” said the cart lady of the Manila clams bathed in a salty black bean sauce. True, I did, but several of the clamshells were cracked and at least half hadn’t opened. I sampled —and subsequently spat out — spicy jellyfish. Was there anything wrong with the jiggling flesh? No, but for me, it’s a texture thing. Plenty of other diners liked it just fine.
I devoured sweet sesame balls and gnawed my way through the beef spareribs, even while failing to figure out how to use my chopsticks to tear the meat from the bone, and I was thankful to see a sugarcane stem propping up the shrimp balls resembling fried lollipops, but tasting of the sea. A hill of salt-encrusted whole shrimp, heads intact — beady eyes and all — arrived festooned with red Fresno jalapenos and scallions. Don’t bother peeling off the shells. They, too, are edible, as are the creamy shrimp brains, which will make you squeamish if you think about it, so don’t. Do as the servers command and “just eat!”.
As I do, I eye the murky aquariums of crabs awaiting their ultimate demise. The crabs are not a dim sum option, but the main menu offers seven different preparations. I stalk the tanks, point to a seaworthy specimen, and within minutes out come the tongs. My crab wages war and lands belly up on the floor.
I feel a twang of sympathy as he scampers straight for the death coffin of the kitchen, where he’s slid on the scale and subsequently deep-fried and then pan-fried before being plopped on my plate in a heap of bits and pieces, parts and wholes, odds and ends — all of them wonderful.
There’s so much more to eat, a whole encyclopedia of Chinese wonderments, including sea cucumber with goose web. I’ve no idea what it is, and I don’t particularly care. I’ve feasted on grasshoppers and ants, fried scorpions and tarantulas marinated in pinot noir. To the goose web, I say come hither.
If You Go
Super Star Asian, 2200 W. Alameda Ave., Denver, 303-727-9889
Lori Midson, Colorado AvidGolfer’s restaurant critic (www.coloradoavidgolfer.com), makes a career out of wining and dining her away around Denver, where she lives, a city ripe with culinary surprises. She is a frequent contributor to Sunset and CITY, the local editor of numerous Zagat Surveys, and the Denver dining writer for AOL CityGuide. Midson, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism, has also written for other publications including 5280 magazine, Executive Travel and EnCompass.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.