Eating/Drinking  •  Cocktail Napkin Review

Cocktail Napkin Review: Dim Dim

Secretively tucked away and illuminated by the low glow of candles, Dim Dim gives one the impression of being inside a small, red, Chinese jewelry box.

May 19, 2017
It’s more than mere coincidence that this bar is dimly lit; Dim Dim is predictably illuminated by the low glow of candles, as is the style of such hole-in-the-wall Chinese drinking dens. Tucked almost invisibly between two halves of Peppina, Dim Dim gives one the impression of being inside a red, Chinese jewelry box. In addition to six stools at the bar, there are two L-shaped booths in opposing back corners, each with a pair of stools that, upon closer inspection, are actually leather-bound, wooden drums, leading us to believe (after a few drinks) that it might be fun to have an impromptu drum circle here one night!
The suuuper friendly staff is both attentive and adept, clearly enjoying their jobs and easily interacting with clientele. Such a welcoming vibe suggests the venue should succeed as a neighborhood bar or a regular haunt for those in the know. They were even receptive to the feedback we offered on one of the cocktails and poured us teaser tastes of various other infusions created behind the bar, one served as a pair of miniature teacup sipping shots. Very nice.

While Dim Dim is not stocked as deep as a Chinese apothecary, the shelves feature an honorable array of spirits, including the Chinese tonic featured in the Mang Hak Tang, one of only five cocktails offered on the menu. Although eight would seem a more appropriate number, the five cover a fair range of base spirits and flavor profiles, and the bar staff appear able to handle whatever else you might ask them to concoct.  

The music at Dim Dim ranges from ’90s pop/alt-rock to Stevie Ray Vaughn to Ella Fitzgerald, all of which seemed suitable for such a watering hole. As for food, we were told beforehand that they served congee and boiled chicken, but hadn’t any in stock the night we arrived. Perhaps it’s only a late night menu, as we were there at 7. Fortunately, you can order pizza from next door—possibly spaghetti too if you want to dine a la Marco Polo, if you will.
The Drinks: All the signatures are served with a particular condiment or side that is explicitly stated on the menu, which is actually kind of handy in a “what exactly am I eating again?” kind of way. Beyond mere garnish or gimmick, these are excellently paired with the cocktails, providing balance to every drink whether by flavor, aroma, or both.

The Oolong & Orange Sour, at the top of the menu, is a great starter, suitably served in a Chinese teacup alongside a small serving of cured, salted lime (possibly mandarin orange peel). Citrusy and refreshing, it’s a fusion of oolong tea and orange peel-infused bourbon, orange syrup, lemon, and egg white. Thanks to the creamy egg white foam and citrusy profile, the drink stands on its own; simultaneously snacking on the salty/sour cured rind rounds out the cocktail quite well. The only downside? As it’s served on a tea tray, we were worried that we would have no cocktail napkin to write our review upon.

You might not realize it at first, but once your Mang Hak Tang is served it’s clear that you’ve just ordered a Manhattan in a Chinese accent. This eastern-spin on a western classic was our favorite offering on the menu. Served straight up with a pair of skewered sweet plums, the Mang Hak Tang is not only refreshing and subtly sweet but also offers a host of health benefits from the Serravallo Tonic. A “bark and iron wine”, according to the label, Serravallo claims to “excite the appetite” (for what, it suggestively doesn’t say) and “strengthen the merves,” which I presume is a charmingly stereotypical mistranslation of English found on many an authentic Chinese product—“Over 10,000 Medical Testimonials” can’t be wrong!

The Beijing Mule follows the “inspired by a classic cocktail with a Chinese twist” menu theme but with slightly less success. Fresh ginger is always superior to canned ginger ale, but the challenge is subtlety when using such an overpowering ingredient. The lychee syrup was less over-sweet than the ginger was too sharp, actually helping balance out the flavors. Snacking on the crispy pork skin served as we sat gave a salty counterbalance that helped a bit too, but not as much as another shot of chrysanthemum-infused vodka (or even a splash of soda) would have. A bamboo straw instead of a plastic one would have complemented the earthenware-glazed jar that the cocktail was served in—a straw is required, however, as the overflowing ice and slices of fresh ginger obstruct you from otherwise getting into you drink.

Smelling is clearly an essential component of taste, and offering an aromatic cocktail condiment is a now-accepted norm—though some would say the trend has been overdone. In the Bakkwa Old Fashioned there’s wiggle room to accommodate those on both sides of the debate. For us, the fresh chili sesame oil rosemary and bee cheng hiang bakkwa atop the cocktail were a bit too literally in your face (“Like a nose full o’ bacon.”) We suggest approaching your first sip with caution, then toss the rosemary and chase your next sip with a bite of the peppery-sweet bakkwa: the flavors of the rosemary-infused bourbon, chili and cinnamon syrup, angostura bitters, orange peel will all come together. It paired pretty well with the pizza too.

While we didn’t order the Rosella Clover Club (rosella-infused gin, hibiscus-grenadine, lemon, egg white, served with rosella), we were offered a small shot of the gin, which the barman was clearly delighted to share. We agreed that, in a highball, it would be enjoyable with soda rather than tonic.

*** Cocktail napkin art by Hecto Rios ***