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It's out of gas, but greater than sum of parts

Dim Sum Garden's in a strange location, but it's got promise

WITH THE Reading Terminal Market and all of Chinatown steps away, what could be enticing about a hole-in-the-wall in the underpass next to the New Century bus line?

That is a question I kept asking myself every time I found myself drawn to Dim Sum Garden on 11th Street. With nothing but bus fumes and the greasy smell wafting from the Crown Chicken place a few doors away, there's not a lot to entice foot traffic.

What you can smell is promise. Chef-owner Tom Guo runs the kitchen of this family business. His sister, Jenny, adds a welcoming face to the front of the house.

Guo came to the States from Shanghai 13 years ago and has worked in many restaurants. His vision for Dim Sum Garden is a bay of woks visible from the windows turning out handmade dumplings and noodles.

Sadly, the lack of a gas line to the restaurant is holding up Guo's vision and my taste for terrific dumplings.

As Guo points out, "Gas is the lifeline of a restaurant."

I didn't talk to the city to hear their side of why the line isn't happening, but it seems to me it is in the best interest of all to take an uninviting enclosed block and brighten it up with the aroma and drama of some wok action.

Wouldn't it be nice for tourists who can't afford the Acela and the grandeur of 30th Street Station to disembark cheaper transportation and not feel as though they just landed in a dump?

For now, Guo makes do with electric heat, but the lack of intense BTU's affects the quality of his dishes. The dough never achieves the texture a fine homemade dough can produce.

For now, there is a limited menu highlighted by Shanghai Steamed Buns ($5). I haven't had really good juicy buns since the Shanghai restaurant at 9th and Arch closed up shop.

These morsels are served in the steamer basket with serious cautions about burning your mouth on the hot soup that releases from the dough pocket with the first bite. Even without the gas heat, the buns are a delicious mixture of pasta, stuffing and broth. And properly cooked, they should be fantastic.

The Marinated Sliced Pork ($4.75) is flavored with the sugar-soy combination that is the hallmark of Shanghai cooking. Order a bunch of these, as they currently are the best item on the menu and don't suffer from the lower cooking temperature.

On one of my visits, there was Scallion Pancake special ($1.75). While a little greasy, the pancake was like a Chinese potato chip and you won't stop at one piece.

The Tofu over Rice ($4.95) was disappointing. Although the tofu was cooked well, there should have been a few vegetables or other flavorings to add some taste and visual appeal.

The Roast Duck over Rice ($5.25) is just that. Plain roast duck served with enough rice to last a cross-country bus trip. You'll need a few splurts of the black vinegar and soy sauce table condiments to add some interest.

The Shanghai Noodle ($6.25) would benefit from the wok cooking, but the noodles soak up the sauce and all the elements come together. It's another dish that will no doubt improve when the cooking appliances do.

The menu at Dim Sum Garden also sports what seems to be the requisite Chinese-Americanism of fried chicken and french fries, but you can also experiment with some unusual dishes you might never have seen before.

Chilly Cabbage Shredded Pork Soup ($1.50) definitely falls into the category of acquired taste. I found the broth to be overwhelmingly salty due in large measure to the fact the main ingredient is a Chinese pickle.

When I asked Guo what the vegetable was in the soup, he kindly gave me the label of the can which seemed to indicate a pickled root of a mustard green.

Even with a Google search I still don't know exactly what "Szchuen Praeserviertes Gemuese Effiloche" is, but it adds a great texture to the dish. I also liked the tiny slivers of a thin egg omelet that garnished the soup.

The decor is unadorned cold storefront, but the atmosphere definitely warms up with the service. It's apparent that this is a family operation and you are well attended and welcomed, despite a few flaws in the timing of your meal. And, hopefully, by Chinese New Year we'll see that gas lifeline installed and Dim Sum Garden in full-bloom. *