There isn’t an egg roll to be found on the menu at Ming’s Bistro. Nor is there a moo goo gai pan or anything named after General Tso. Instead, the menu – and the experience – is more traditional Chinese than is to be found at most Central Florida Asian restaurants, and that added to a general consistency in good quality and a welcoming and gracious staff make a meal here a real treat.
Especially exciting is Ming’s dim sum menu, which is offered at all times, even during dinner hours, something rare for even the half-a-handful of Chinese restaurants serving dim sum. But the best time to come here dim sum during the day on weekends when the small plates are served from carts wheeled through the dining room.
The trolley service presents a never-ending parade of tasty tidbits, the servers giving diners quick peeks of the foods stacked in silver steaming trays or ceramic dishes. Point and say, “I’ll have one of those,” or simply nod yes if your mouth is already full from whatever was placed on your table a moment earlier. The server will grab the hot tray with a pair of tongs and place it on your table, then make a checkmark on the tally sheet on the table. It’s sort of like an Asian version of tapas, but the gratification is more instant and the prices don’t seem to add up nearly as fast or as high as in a Spanish restaurant.
In fact most of the dim sum at Ming’s Bistro are under $3, and a serving will give a table of three or four at least a sample bite.
You may or may not be adventurous enough to try the spicy chicken feet ($2.50) or beef tripe in ginger sauce (2.50). But do try such dim sum staples as shrimp dumplings ($2.60), lotus leaf sticky rice ($3.75) and turnip cakes ($2.25). I especially liked the sticky rice, with bits of roast pork wrapped inside a lotus leaf, then steamed. (I bought one in a market in San Francisco’s Chinatown a couple of weeks ago where is was marketed as a Chinese tamale, a perfect description.)
Steamed beef balls ($2.50), were good, too, dense meatballs that had to be pried apart with chopsticks.
Dim sum isn’t the only reason to try Ming’s. I had some very nice entrees from the main menu, none better than the genger scallion fish fillets ($8.95). It featured thin pieces of firm white fish covered with slivers of ginger in a yellow sauce that was similar to a curry. The sauce was wonderful with the steamed white rice.
I also liked the house special casserole ($8.95), though you should know this isn’t the sort of casserole known in the Western world. Rather, it’s more like a stew with all sorts of goodies in it, including beef, pork, chicken and squid.
When I requested the crispy roast pork ($5.25) the woman who took my order kept asking me if I was sure that was what I wanted. Usually such a question is a signal that the dish isn’t very good or is a bit off that day. But she simply wanted to make sure I knew that this particular pork would be somewhat fatty (yea!) and have some small bones. That was acceptable, and the meat, served over rice with a slightly sweet sauce, was mouth meltable.
I also got a strange look when I ordered the egg and pork congee ($4.50). It was a different server this time but she kept asking if I knew what it was. Congee is basically a rice porridge, a breakfast staple in Asian countries, and a tough sell to American palates. In truth, it’s not something I usually care for because it’s just so blah, but I did like this version. The creamy texture of the boiled rice was complemented by the addition of egg and bits of pork.
Roast duck on rice ($5.95), similar in presentation to the roast pork, including a side of steamed bok choy, had deliciously crispy skin.
The English descriptions on the menu can be startlingly frank, as in gingered pork intestine or fish head with tofu (which is more frightening to you, the fish head or the tofu?). Each item is presented with Chinese characters but followed by a Vietnamese translation, a nod to the predominant culture in this part of town.
Ming’s Bistro is a big, bright box of a restaurant in a newly constructed building just east of Mills Avenue. On the far end is a large fish tank, with large fish inside, and a hot box with hooks holding cuts of pork, beef and whole ducks.
From the high ceilings hang jeweled chandeliers, but any light they throw is drowned out by the fluorescent fixtures above them. The walls sport framed pictures that appear to be posters or perhaps part of a mural wallpaper scheme. Décor is not emphasized.
Rather the efforts are focused on the quality of the food and service, which, despite the slightly prejudicial concerns for the Western palate, was kind, prompt and efficient.
I’m not sure why, but Chinese food has been a tremendous disappointment in Central Florida. Few manage to do it well, but to that limited list we can now add Ming’s Bistro