Ming Dynasty – Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was renowned as one of the greatest periods of governmental and societal stability in the history of mankind. At its peak, the Ming dynasty made China a global superpower, influencing the known world in trade, culture and might. During this dynasty, agriculture developed significantly, dishes became more sophisticated, cookbooks were widely proliferated and noontime banquets became popular. Dishes such as sweet potatoes, corn, potatoes and sorghum were imported into China during this period while such local foods as the infamous “thousand-year egg” were introduced.
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 nearly five decades 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 often 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 as much as many lifelong New Mexicans can speak. His pronunciation of those few Spanish words is better than so many of the television news anchors and reporters Albuquerque’s stations tend to hire.
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. During a visit in August, 2017, he confided that his last vacation–a mere ten days–took place in 2004. That’s thirteen years with only ten days off! That’s commitment to his craft.
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. When you walk into the restaurant, you’ll run into an oversized Buddha, but it won’t take long before Minh greets you and escorts you to your seat.
Ming Dynasty is more upscale and classy than when it was the Beijing Palace and like its predecessor, will draw more Chinese and Asian patrons than any other restaurant in town (don’t believe me, visit on any Saturday or Sunday). Over the years it’s garnered significant acclaim for its dim sum menu nonpareil, but Ming Dynasty is far more than a dim sum restaurant. With a compendium-like menu of Chinese favorites, it’s in rarefied company as one of the very best Asian restaurants in the Land of Enchantment. 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.
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.”
4 August 2017: As has oft been recounted on this blog, my very first experience with Chinese food transpired in Lexington, Massachusetts when I was a mere lad of nineteen. In the decades since my introduction to Chinese cuisine, I’ve experienced a few transformative dishes–dishes so good they’re forever imprinted on my memories and taste buds. One of the very best (top three at least) is Ming Dynasty’s shredded duck, a tangle of fresh, crisp vegetables; noodles of intermediate size and rich, unctuous duck in a brown duck sauce with sweet, savory and piquant (courtesy of incendiary Thai peppers) notes. Texturally it offers delightful contrasts and from a flavor perspective, it’s so well balanced and delicious that it can make grown adults swoon.
4 August 2017: Who needs sweet-and-sour anything when you can have Ming Dynasty’s salt and pepper dishes, among them the phenomenal salt and pepper fried chicken wings who don’t need sauce to be among the best chicken wings in town. If you love salt and pepper chicken wings (and it will be love at first bite), you’ll likely love salt and pepper pork chops, fried shrimp, lobster and of course, salt and pepper squid. With a texture not unlike that of calamari, this squid is lightly breaded and tossed with scallions, garlic, onion and jalapeño then stir-fry over high heat until fragrant.
4 August 2017: Want fried rice? Minh makes the best fried rice in town (and probably the state), 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 and sweet-savory notes. The rice is fluffy, not clumpy with green onions, eggs, green peas and a hint of soy sauce and sesame oil. It’s rich, moist and has a plenitude of that beguiling Chinese sausage. On the occasions in which I dine at Ming Dynasty without my Kim, it’s a given that a take-out order of Chinese sausage fried rice is coming home with me or I’d better not come home myself. It’s that good.
18 November 2014: Unbeknownst to much of the dining public, there is so much more to Chinese soups than the egg drop, wonton or hot and sour soups often served in combination meals in cheap eats Chinese restaurants. In fact, soups are a deep-rooted and endeared Chinese food tradition enjoyed for generations both for their flavorful qualities as for their healthful properties. In America, Chinese soups have taken a proverbial back-seat to Vietnamese phos, perhaps the most beloved of any nation’s soups. Ming Dynasty has two soup menus. One menu lists the hot and sour, wonton and egg drop soups with which most Americans are familiar. It also lists soups that will entice more adventurous diners–soups such as the crab meat with shark fin. The other soup menu lists seven noodle soups, one of the best being the roast pork with wonton and egg noodle soup. It’s an outstanding soup, the type of which will warm the cockles of your heart and leave you deeply satisfied. It may also remind you of a high-quality Vietnamese pho. The roast pork has the traditional reddish hue and temptingly tasty flavor of Chinese barbecue. The noodles are delightfully delicious while the broth will leave you very happy. If you enjoy more “personality” with your soup, add some of Ming Dynasty’s chili sauce to taste.
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. This is a chili sauce which packs a pretty piquant punch, but it’s also quite flavorful. It’s better than the salsa served at many a New Mexican restaurant. 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.
4 August 2017: Over the years, we’ve probably sampled every item on the dim sum menu, some more often than others. My Kim isn’t quite as adventurous and her taste buds not quite as diverse as mine, so when she’s not with me I tend to order dishes she would not enjoy–dishes such as ginger beef tripe. Because of its appearance and texture, tripe is a polarizing dim sum dish. Those of us who love it consider tripe a dim sum staple and would like to order it at every meal. Nay-sayers, on the other hand, will make faces and hide their eyes as you enjoy it merrily. Beef tripe is prepared by steaming cow intestines in chopped garlic and ginger. The troika of ginger, garlic and Minh’s amazing chili enlivens these springy tendrils, elevating them to pure deliciousness.
4 August 2017: Sticky rice is one of life’s pleasures for those of us who’ve discovered its versatility in Asian desserts and savory dishes. Contrary to what you might think, sticky rice isn’t just white rice prepared differently. In fact, it’s more true name is glutinous rice. Sticky rice is a a short grain variety of rice with a sole component of starch. Ming Dynasty’s sausage and chicken sticky rice is an example of the versatility of sticky rice. Unwrapping them from the lotus leaves in which they’re sheathed is akin to unwrapping a bundle of pure deliciousness. The flavor of the sweet-savory sticky rice is punctuated with the savory flavors of chicken and sausage. Add a little chili sauce and
4 August 2017: Several years ago my Kim and I raved about the boba flavored beverages from the Boba Tea Company. My cousin who think she knows more about virtually everything than anyone else does decided the best tasting boba tea would be the taro-flavored boba tea. I joked that she must like potatoes. We watched laughingly as she choked down the sweet, starchy beverage with a yechy mouth feel, but she wouldn’t admit to disliking it. My friend Bill Resnik isn’t nearly as stubborn. He knew that in order to finish the taro root dumplings, he would need lots of chili sauce and soy sauce. Good call! In the long list of dumpling types, taro root dumplings are at the very bottom for me. To top it off, taro is heavily calorie-laden so not only does it not taste good, it makes you fat.
4 August 2017: Infinitely better than taro root dumplings is pork shumai. At its very essence, pork shumai is a crinkly yellow wonton wrapper made from flour and water then filled with finely ground pork, onion, and ginger. The shumai dumpling is then folded into a purse shape (which allows the filling to peak through the top) and steamed until cooked through. Now, this is what a dumpling should taste like! Ming Dynasty’s pork shumai offering gives you four of these dim sum treasures.
4 August 2017: A half-dozen seafood items grace Ming Dynasty’s dim sum menu, the most popular perhaps being the Crystal Shrimp Har Gow, another dumpling. At dim sum houses, it’s said that the server who pushes the cart with crystal shrimp har gow is always the most popular person on the floor…and certainly the busiest. Plump and juicy, with nearly intact shrimp barely visible through translucent stretchy yet delicate wrapper, har gow are especially good with Minh’s chili sauce. Bite through the translucent wrappers and you’ll encounter shrimp with a snap, a sign of freshness.
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 friend and Intel colleague Bill Resnik and I took business partners from throughout Asia to Ming Dynasty and they offered 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
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LATEST VISIT: 4 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 29
BEST BET: Shredded Duck, Roast Duck, Pork Chops with Peking Sauce, Dim Sum, Roast Pork with Wonton & Egg Noodle Soup