The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was renowned as one of the greatest periods of governmental and societal stability in the history of mankind. Before long, history just might recognize the Ming Dynasty restaurant as one of, if not the, greatest Chinese restaurants in Albuquerque.
Launched at 11AM on Sunday, April 27th, 2003, it returned our friend, proprietor Minh Tang and his loyal staff to the Duke City dining scene after the dissolution of an unsuccessful partnership that precipitated the closure of the great Beijing Palace. In Ming Dynasty, there’s a lot of addition by subtraction. Minh no longer has a partner to hold him back and he no longer offers a buffet that drew in patrons who didn’t necessarily know or appreciate real Chinese cuisine. Beijing Palace’s buffet was living proof that you shouldn’t judge a Chinese restaurant by a buffet. It wasn’t bad, but ordering off the menu is several orders of magnitude better.
Though his parents are southern Chinese, the youthful and exuberant Minh was born forty some years ago in Vietnam. The story of his family’s migration to America is one of fortitude, courage and determination. Should you get to know him well, he might recount it to you in his usual self-effacing and humble manner. Similar to the large-bellied Buddha near the restaurant’s cash register, Minh sports a perpetual smile no matter how hectic and harried the day may be going.
About the only time the good-natured Minh lets his hair down is when Ming Dynasty hosts the annual dragon dance during Chinese New Year. He beats on the drums with the fervor of a real rock and roller. He also greets some of his long-time customers and friends with “Buenos dias, como estas?” It’s about the only Spanish he knows, but that’s more than many lifelong New Mexicans.
Prior to the Chinese New Year in February, 2008, Minh was invited to prepare hot and spicy pork chops on the CBS affiliate Channel 13′s morning show. At the unholy hour of 6:30AM, synchronized stomach growling among Albuquerque viewers could be heard all the way to China (or maybe that was just mine).
Minh is also the hardest worker of any restaurant owner I’ve ever met. Seven day work weeks without respite are typical. None of his wait staff can keep up with his multi-tasking routine of clearing tables, serving customers and keeping the kitchen running.
Ming Dynasty is more upscale and classy than its predecessor and like its predecessor, will draw more Chinese and Asian patrons than any other restaurant in town. I receive more feedback on Ming Dynasty than on any other Asian restaurant save for Budai with favorable comparisons to Chinese restaurants in New York City, Vancouver, Hong Kong and San Francisco often made. By the same token, I receive a lot of feedback from diners who “don’t get” Ming Dynasty and can’t understand my high regard for it.
Ming Dynasty’s decor is very traditional though unacculturated patrons might consider it a bit stereotypical. From the moon gate entrance surrounded by a ferocious dragon and a resplendent phoenix to the restaurant’s wasabi-colored walls, Minh can tell you the significance of every artifact, each having a purpose in his restaurant’s design.
The menu is a veritable compendium of Szechwan and Cantonese cuisine, with more than 100 examples of authentic Chinese treasures prepared exceptionally well. A well-stocked tank with live lobster and crab is the source of some of the menu’s popular seafood entrees.
Ming Dynasty offers a wonderful Saturday and Sunday dim sum lunch (and you can ask for a dim sum menu every other meal). Dim sum, a Cantonese word meaning “a little bit of heart” has captured my heart and seemingly the heart of every Asian in Albuquerque. Get there right at 11AM on Sunday morning and watch the restaurant fill up quickly. There are seemingly three “shifts” of diners–those who get there as the restaurant opens, a second shift an hour later and a smaller phalanx of diners at about four o’clock. Regardless of when you get there, freshness is a hallmark.
At Ming Dynasty, you might swear you’re in San Francisco, the domicile of American dim-sum dining (and four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Jamison even compared Ming Dynasty’s dim sum to similar fare in Hong Kong). A fusillade of stainless steel carts make their way to each table, each cart wielding several different treasures. Most dim sum dishes come in multiples of two, three or four so it will behoove you to dine with someone you love.
Ming Dynasty’s 43-item dim sum menu includes a boatload of steamed seafood treasures such as seafood salad rolls, stuffed crab claws and shrimp-stuffed bell peppers. There are also steamed, baked and fried items of all shapes and sizes, including chicken feet (which are actually pretty tasty but a pain to eat because chicken feet tend to have a lot of cartilage), fish maw, Mixal ox stew and shark’s fin gow. Minh’s professional catering team can craft party trays with all your favorites for parties of all sizes. On many a Saturday during the spring and summer, Ming Dynasty is actually closed because it is hosting a wedding.
Dim sum protocol dictates that you dispense with soy sauce which tends to mask the subtle flavors of some items. Instead, use Minh’s chili sauce, made on the premises, in moderation to enhance inherent flavors. I’ve also seen some patrons mix plum sauce and Chinese hot mustard to create a gunpowder hot and fruity sweet mix they swear enlivens the flavor of the dim sum even further.
Ordering off the menu is an adventure in decision-making. The 120-item plus menu includes many traditional Chinese favorites prepared with an authenticity you rarely find in New Mexico. In every respect, Ming Dynasty is a formidable, world-class Chinese restaurant with the operative word being “Chinese.”
Although he serves the sweet and sour standards, Minh’s offerings aren’t “Americanized.” The sauces he employs (lemon, plum, orange, etc) are subtle ameliorants, not candied and overwhelming such as served at other Chinese restaurants. Fellow gourmand and friend Bill Resnik often refers to the culinary offerings at other Chinese restaurants as “chicken in syrup sauce, twice chewed pork and pork tasting like fish.”
If you are in the mood for something sweet, my highest recommendations go to the orange beef or either lemon chicken or orange chicken. The pork chops in Peking sauce are also quite wonderful. All of Ming Dynasty’s sweet and sour meat entrees are lightly battered and replete with high-quality white meat, a contrast to the heavily breaded, dark meat served elsewhere.
If you want something on the spicy side, order the Twice Cooked Pork–fresh pork sautéed with green pepper, vegetables and a hot, spicy Hoisin and black bean sauce. This entree is proof that you don’t need to load up a dish with Thai peppers to make it firecracker hot.
Want fried rice? Minh makes the best fried rice in town, flavored with a unique Chinese sausage which has a savory and sweet taste similar to longoniza, the wonderful Filipino sausage. Chinese sausage, made from pork, has a distinctively reddish tint. The rice is fluffy, not clumpy with green onions, eggs, green peas and a hint of soy sauce and sesame oil.
Minh’s salt and pepper chicken wings are an interesting, but delicious entree in that the prominent flavor profile isn’t salt or pepper, but rather green onions and minced garlic. Never mind the misnomer, these chicken wings are absolutely delicious. Each golden hued wing is lightly battered, a thin batter sheathe briefly concealing white and dark meat. The meat is moist and tender with the influence of its seasoning quite prominent.
In the fall of 2005, Minh launched a satellite restaurant in the Chinese food starved east side of the Sandias. Ming’s Chinese Cuisine (12128 Highway 14 North, Cedar Crest) met with critical success from day one, but closed in 2008. The restaurant was smaller (only twelve tables) and had a somewhat limited menu, but it brought great Chinese food to our neighbors in the east.
If you think, I’ve got exclusivity of opinion as to how terrific Ming Dynasty is, buy a copy of Scott Sharot’s outstanding book New Mexico Chow in which he lists among his favorite restaurants in New Mexico, only two Chinese restaurants. One is Ming Dynasty and ABC Chinese is the other. Sally Moore, one of New Mexico’s most prolific travel writers, also waxed poetic about Ming Dynasty in her terrific tome Culinary New Mexico.
In her March 11, 2011 post on her Tasting NM Blog, my friend Cheryl Alters Jamison, the scintillating James Beard award-winning author listed “5 New Mexico Hot Spots for Chinese Food.” Of Ming Dynasty she said, “This east-side establishment reminds me of the epic dim sum houses of Hong Kong, the capacious ones where families gather, carts roll continually, and you pick what you’d like when they come by. Carts piled with dim sum roll here too on weekends, but ordering off the menu at times that aren’t so busy keeps the little dishes fresher. There’s a full menu of Sichuan and other Cantonese too. The attentive owner will guide you.”
Over the years, my colleagues and I have taken business partners from throughout Asia to Ming Dynasty and they offer the highest praise possible, “it’s as good as home.” They don’t say that about P.F. Chang’s.
1551 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 31 August 2014
# OF VISITS: 27
BEST BET: Shredded Duck, Roast Duck, Pork Chops with Peking Sauce, Dim Sum