Here’s where I mention the 20th-century novel I haven’t read where the author invented the term for an impossibly lovely and inaccessible place. Detroit can be that sometimes -- the city has many houses that resemble 1920s castles -- tudors and storybooks, especially. Given the multitude of delicious things discovered during one blazingly hot lunchtime in the heart of Detroit, it looks like paradise exists in both classic novels and on Cass Ave in a little red storefront covered in ivy.
For the uninitiated, dim sum is essentially a meal made up of small plates -- dumplings, fried balls of meat and seafood, tulip-like shumai (translating directly from Cantonese as "touch the heart"), small fried game birds, etc. -- delivered to your table via metal carts circling the restaurant. Originating in Southeast China, it's a staple in Cantonese cuisine, traditionally served as part of the tea meal called Yum Cha often enjoyed as lunch or brunch. The concept already has found plenty of popularity in bigger US cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco.
In any proper dim sum restaurant, a cart approaching is an excitable moment. Servers open the steaming tops of bamboo or metal trays to reveal small treasures: the waxy white teardrop shapes of steamed pork dumplings against bright green cabbage leaves, golden fried shrimp balls in little paper cups, golden orb-like buns. You're free to take it or leave it at your choosing.
Shangri-La is no grand dim sum hall; just a modest space near Wayne State, a Detroit outpost of the original spot hidden all the way in Bloomfield. When you find your way inside, you’re greeted by a hostess who leads you to the restaurant’s tiny sparse first-floor dining room. The second upstairs dining room makes the most of large windows overlooking the street. The second floor has its charms, too, with its open format and tropical treehouse vibe. At lunch, even late, the place is crowded, and it always feels like we’re getting the second-to-last table.