At NYC's Dimmer & Summer Restaurant You Could Be Served By A Cat Robot

food, at nyc's dimmer & summer restaurant you could be served by a cat robot

BellaBot cat Dimmer & Summer

When you go to a dim sum restaurant, you probably have certain expectations. The tradition of dim sum, according to Yauatcha, is thousands of years old and originated in tea houses located in southern China along the storied Silk Road that linked China with the Middle East and Europe. Weary travelers on the Silk Road would stop in tea houses to rest, drink tea, and dine on communal plates of small bites of food that would come to be known as dim sum. Traditionally served in the morning through early afternoon, dim sum, which translates to “touch the heart,” wasn’t originally served as a meal but rather as a few tempting morsels to accompany the practice of yum cha or drinking tea.

Dim Sum Central explains that dim sum evolved in the early 20th century to become more hearty fare and was fuel for hungry laborers. Dim sum spread throughout China, and there are hundreds of dishes with an array of regional specialties and variations. Modern dim sum restaurants are typically social and interactive, typically enjoyed by families and groups of friends. Servers push rolling steam table trolleys bearing dim sum offerings, and diners often check out dishes on other tables before making their selections.

Hungry patrons of Brooklyn’s Dimmer & Summer may have expectations that are a bit unusual. The restaurant opened in July 2022, according to Brooklyn Magazine, and it has generated quite a buzz, both for what’s on the menu and how it’s served.

Meet Bella, Your Adorable Server

food, at nyc's dimmer & summer restaurant you could be served by a cat robot

BellaBot cat server winking

The most famous server at Dimmer & Summer pulls in patrons looking for a novel dining experience. Bella is a cat, a robot cat, who, according to Time Out, sings, tells jokes, and delivers dumplings and drinks to delighted customers. BellaBot, manufactured by Shenzhen-based Pudu Robotics, is a remarkably charming and sophisticated piece of equipment with a $15,900 price tag.

Kenney Mei, the owner of Dimmer & Summer, knows a thing or two about restaurants, having grown up working in his family’s busy Chinese restaurant in upstate New York. After a stint in the IT business, the lure of the restaurant biz became irresistible, and Mei was determined to make his ventures both special and commercially successful. And that commercial success is the reason Bella was hired. Eater New York explains that part of Bella’s training is being programmed with the restaurant’s layout, and she is equipped with laser sensors and a lightning-fast reaction time to avoid obstacles. The manager of Dimmer & Summer told Eater that Bella is a “marketing tactic,” and it’s working. CNN recently pitted Bella against a human coworker, Leo Ten, whose charm and expertise give him an edge over his robot counterpart. One diner, who’d traveled from Staten Island specifically to see Bella, found the experience delightful but said the best thing about Dimmer & Summer was “100% the dumplings.” While Bella may bring diners and their social media posts into the restaurant, the biggest surprise may be the food.

Kenney Mei Is Seriously Passionate About Dim Sum

food, at nyc's dimmer & summer restaurant you could be served by a cat robot

steamed Har Gow shrimp dumplings

If you think a guy who hires a cute robot cat as a draw for customers is all show, you haven’t met Kenney Mei. Dimmer & Summer’s Instagram is a love letter to dim sum traditions, a passionate exploration of the history and art of understanding and preparing small plate delicacies.

For example, Mei explains that xiaolongbao, or Chinese soup dumplings, date back to at least the 12th century. The Chinese word means “buns in a little basket,” reflecting the traditional bamboo steamer they’re presented in. Typically filled with pork or crab, along with meat jelly, when steamed, the jelly liquefies to become soup. Dimmer & Summer has experimented, trying new flavors in this ancient style of dim sum.

Or look at the Har Gow Siu Mai, shrimp dumplings that reveal the skill of a dim sum chef. It’s traditional to count the number of wrinkles in the wrapper of a shrimp dumpling; the more wrinkles, the more talented the chef. According to Mei, the highest number of wrinkles is thirteen-and-a-half. Or there’s the rare — even in China — Szechuan spicy wonton called chaushou, which translates as “folding arms,” named for the appearance of the Sichuanese who would fold their arms inside their long clothes during cold winter weather. Mei’s descriptions reveal his reverence for dim sum, and diners who come to meet Bella stay for Kenney Mei’s passionate exploration and perfection of the art of dim sum.

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