If there’s no vacation in the budget this year, there are still loads of opportunities to expand your dining horizons. You can flavor your staycation with authentic Chinese cuisine at House of Sun, where brunch rivals the best dim sum I’ve had in any city.
This no-glamour dining spot is in a small shopping center with a Red Squirrel deli, at the Rt. 42 exit of I-275, right behind White Castle. Newcomers are handed the basic menu filled with familiar General Tso’s Chicken and Pepper Steak, but you can ask for the “other” menu — the genuine Chinese dishes — and make your visit an adventure.
My Indonesian friend who told me about House of Sun accompanied me on my first visit. He’s been delving into Chinese cooking recently, and knows a lot about the regional differences between Cantonese, Hunan and Mandarin cuisines. He discerned House of Sun’s Thai influence by the precise slicing of the ingredients in each dish.
I decided to push my limits a little, so we dove right into the deep end with our appetizer order. We opted for two meat salads. Hot and Spicy Tendon ($5.95) was served cold with crunchy raw carrots and scallions topping thin slivers of chewy meat in a peppery dressing that was akin to kimchi. I also had to try Pork Ears ($4.95), thankfully not at all like the greasy smoked pig ears my dogs love to crunch. You wouldn’t have been able to identify the part of the pig they came from by the appearance of the thin, crosscut slices. Again, the dish was like a pork salad, dressed with sesame oil and ginger. While I liked the ears more than the tendon, I wouldn’t say that I’d order them again — but at least I can claim to have tried them once.
I was genuinely enamored of the next course, though.
A table near us had Sizzling Rice Soup ($7.95), and it looked so good that I wanted to try it. The broth, seasoned with baby shrimp and thickened with egg white, came to the table in a big porcelain bowl, and the server added the rice at the last minute — with an audible snap, crackle, and pop. The rice had a distinctive roasted aroma and stayed crisp in the soup. The result is a good palate-cleansing course after the meats that preceded it. I love Chinese soups, and will go back to try the Mandarin Seafood and Bean Curd Chowder ($7.95) or Sliced Fish with Watercress ($9.95), which sounds pretty elegant.
Our main courses started with Har Kar Fried Pork ($8.95). This savory stir-fry of matchstick sliced pork, tofu and vegetables, accented with squid, was gracefully sauced, not overwhelmed by a plateful of cornstarch thickened gravy. Water Spinach, or Ong Choy ($7.50), was simply flash-cooked with sliced garlic and served unadorned — a healthy bright green tangle, but a little challenging to manage if your chopstick skills are rusty. The fish special is quite fresh, in fact our server gestured towards the pearly tilapia swimming blithely in a tank near our table. Instead, we treated ourselves to Crispy Skin Duck ($9.95), coppery duck hacked into manageable nibbles, to be dipped into a mix of pepper and salt. I love duck and this was no disappointment — rich and delicious.
I don’t think House of Sun had ever seen two people order that much food, and obviously we didn’t have room for dessert. But what I had seen on the brunch menu made me drag my husband back in on Sunday for dim sum. I’m so glad I did. We shared an order of Fried Bread ($1.25), two long, slightly sweet breadsticks that every table had ordered and small sausage-filled Steamed Dumplings ($3.75) with dipping sauce. I absolutely loved the Scallion Pancake with Egg ($2.95) — a savory crepe wrapped around an omelet — and the Steamed Bun filled with Barbecued Pork ($1.25) was superb. But my new favorite breakfast has to be Sesame ShaoBing with Beef ($3.25). This was a savory folded flatbread, topped with sesame seeds and filled with sliced roast beef, paper thin slices of onion, and cilantro. Just perfect.
Breakfast is served at House of Sun on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and nothing on the menu is priced over $4. The regular menu is also available during those hours.
I’d recommend this Chinese getaway wholeheartedly — no suitcase required.
HOUSE OF SUN
Go: 11959 Lebanon Road,
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Entrée Prices: $6-$11
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Many seafood and some vegetarian choices
Accessibility: There are some stairs up to the plaza level