By LAURA Reiley
Times Food Critic
You may know Michael Lee's work. He was responsible for much of the dim sum at T.C. Choy's in Tampa and then Ha Long Bay in St. Petersburg. Dim sum is still a rarity in these parts, and in fact this just may be the only dim sum in Brandon.
Lee House is new, opened at the end of December. It took over the space of a former Chinese restaurant. Yet, if you were to view it sans rice, noodles, chopsticks and such, there would be nothing to give away its cuisine at all. It's a clean slate awaiting decor like Sleeping Beauty awaiting a lollygagging prince.
The draw is Lee's work with those crazy whorled and folded dumplings and, one of my fetish foods, Peking duck. He and the other two owners, Priscilla Uong and David Or, have opted for options: There's a buffet at lunch, a buffet at dinner, a special super-quick lunch combo, regular a la carte menu and a second dim sum menu. Forget the buffet. It's fine, but the fresh-from-the-kitchen a la carte dishes trump it every time. Lee learned to cook in hotels in Hong Kong, but the duck is his mother's recipe.
Burnished, crackly skin, plush meat below, little pillowy steamed buns, hoisin and sliced scallion ($16 half, $30 whole, the whole easily feeding four). It's a near-perfect food. When it's busy they trot out the dim sum carts; the rest of the time it's the less dramatic plated approach. No matter. Smalls are $2, mediums are $2.75 and larges are $3, but it doesn't really look like the size is the price indicator. The fancier, the more expensive. Of what I tried, the classic siu mai pork dumplings were perfect, the steamed pork buns with their neon, sweet filling (like the Chinese answer to a Hostess Sno Ball) just right, and the shrimp balls bouncy and subtle.
Lest the carbo load seem too weighty, throw in an order of garlicky broth-steamed Chinese broccoli ($7.25, so much "greener" tasting than Western broccoli) or slightly spicy green beans ($7.25). Then top it off with salt and pepper shrimp ($9.95) or a guilty-pleasure orange chicken ($8.95), oh-so breaded and fried and gloppy, yet its lengths of bitter orange peel lending the illusion of robust good health.
Lee House is off to a good start. With an interior gussying, a liquor license and a bit more server training, Brandon will have a treasure on its hands.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.