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Ton Kiang Eliminated – Dim Sum Update

  • m

The North team visited San Francisco's Ton Kiang on Saturday and found too many flops to include it in the top circle of dim sum houses. This was the biggest upset of the places tried to date, considering its popularity and reputation.

The dishes all looked beautiful – tiny, delicate bite-size dumplings wrapped to perfection. However, four of the different types of shrimp dumplings sampled were overcooked, resulting in shrimp with the texture of pencil erasers and robbing their flavor. The soy-based sauce on the shrimp crepe lacked the delicate complexity of the best versions. Scallion pancakes, while still hot and fresh from the kitchen, were doughy and listless. Deep-fried taro balls were heavy and oil-laden, filled with too much gravy and not enough meat. The braised tofu skin rolls lacked depth of flavor and suffered from gluey sauce. The char sui so (bbq pork in flaky pastry) suffered from overly hard pastry and too skimpy filling.

Some dishes were acceptable and one could be considered exceptional. The Shanghai steamed dumplings were delicious with a gingery pork filling, even though overly firm in texture and the juices had escaped. Braised chicken feet were excellent with complex flavor and chili highlights. The panfried turnip cake was decent, and made special with Ton Kiang’s Hakka-style green chili sauce. The curry beef turnovers were wonderfully flaky and tasty. The custard tart had a beautifully flaky pastry and only lost points for having too low a proportion of custard to pie shell. The one very special dish was the nai wong siu beng (egg custard-filled panfried rice cake) – served piping hot, the silky custard oozed from the center of the lightly browned and chewy mochi-like shell.

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. Boy, you must have hit a bad day. On a recent visit with foodie friends from Paris and Lyon, each dim sum item was light, delicate, totally fresh and of the highest quality... as usual.

    12 Replies
    1. re: dules
      m
      Melanie Wong

      I'm glad you enjoyed your experience more than our group did. Now you've got me curious - how did your friends feel TK compared with dim sum in Paris and Lyon?

      It certainly could have been a bad day. Yet, a dim sum house that can't deliver the goods on a Saturday, one of the busiest days for this specialty, can't be considered top notch.

      Two of our group have been regulars at TK, and had considered it the best around, until they started the dim sum trials. Guess I have corrupted them with Cantonese sensibilities and recalibrated their palates - they now can recognize the difference in TK's standards and the better options around.

      If you are new to this board, the local chowhounds are in the midst of organizing a dim sum taste off between the South Bay and North Bay. Stay tuned for the finalists, and sign up to take part in the final dim sum tastings.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Melanie,

        I'm having some trouble following the taste off.

        Which places are currently still in the running--which have been knocked out? Where to try still? Favorites/front-runners?

        Please point me to a post if I missed a status report. Anxious for results!

        Thanks!

        1. re: Missy P.

          Sorry about all the mystery -- we've been tasting places all over our territory, but for various strategy reasons (and so as not to taint the competition) the ones that are still in the running have not been disclosed.

          Full writeups of the places still under consideration will appear eventually: the battles will be reported fully and the also rans will be reported once they have been eliminated.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            My friends keep making me go to daly city (from Oakland!) to have Dim Sum at Koi Palace. I do not think it is worth the drive. Why was it eliminated. Have you tried any places in Oakland?

            1. re: kellyann
              m
              Melanie Wong

              IMO, the dim sum at Koi Palace is nothing to rave about, and on top of that, the kitchen is inconsistent and the service uneven.

          2. re: Missy P.
            m
            Melanie Wong

            Hi Missy, if you go back up to the root post for this thread, you'll find the link to the url for the previous report on a candidate eliminated (ABC Seafood in Foster City). That thread contains a link to the previous report and so on, so you can go back to the original list of candidates. We have expanded on that and come up with some goodies that are worthy contenders for the final three - very tough decision for the North team!

            Link: http://chowhound.safeshopper.com/23/c...

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Ah ha! I followed the links and...here it is! Thanks.

              If anyone else is looking for the original list of competitors--here ya go.

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The link in this post is broken, but the rest of the ones in the chain look good, so here's the correct link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/21186

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yes, I know. However it was linked in a recent discussion, and the links are still useful, if unbroken.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Given how many places have closed, changed hands, or gone uphill or downhill in the past nine years, I think bumping old topics like this is more likely to confuse people than to provide useful information.

          3. re: dules
            r
            Rochelle McCune

            I'm on the Dim Sum North team and I have just returned from Paris. Where do your friends get good dim sum in Paris? I walked around many, many neighborhoods and saw many dim sum places, but they all had platters of dim sum baking in the window. It was crazy.

            The very best dim sum comes straight from the kitchen to the table. I won't even accept dim sum that has been walked around the room. How is it possible that it is acceptable in Paris for dim sum sit out like that?

            I assume that Paris has real dim sum teahouses, not just the fast food joints that I saw. I would love to know their names and where they are.

            Also, I was back at Ton Kiang last weekend and it was better than the last time we were there, but still not good enough to make it onto our Top Three list.

          4. I have only eaten there once and we were disappointed also. Yank Sing was considered significantly better by all 6 of us- though one try at a place is not definitive.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Tom Hall

              It's interesting that people have seemingly widely varying results for dim sum. Chibi's experience at Ton Kiang ("dim sum are greasy, crudely seasoned and almost everything is overcooked") is exactly my experience at Yank Sing, especially the greasy part.

              Could some of this debate be due to different cooks being in the kitchen on some days? I know that happens at one of my favorite restaurants in the Sunset, Eight Immortals.

              1. re: Alan

                Eight Immortals. I like that name. Kind of like Seven Samurai.

                But what's the FOOD like?

                1. re: svl

                  Sorry for the time lag - here's some links to info on Eight Immortals:

                  http://www.aquanet.org/zine/yah/eatin...

                  http://www.222.to/8immortals/menu.asp

                  http://www.sfweekly.com/issues/2001-0...

                  I'm not an expert at fine distinctions betwen types of Chinese cuisine, so bear with me. The style is low on spicy, high on subtlety - this is cantonese? The best items are their sea food - jellyfish salad, fish, etc. One of my fav's is tofu with shrimp - squares of fresh tofu with shrimp in the middle, in a light broth. I also like their version of shanghia silver noodles. Some of their food doesn't seem to appear on the written menu (in English), so I always take a look at the tables around me to see if anything looks good, then I order that. The place always seems packed for dinner (see SFWeekly review), which not all chinese restaurants in the Sunset can claim.

              2. re: Tom Hall
                m
                Melanie Wong

                I've got a family private party at Yank Sing next week and will have a chance to calibrate again.

                YS, btw, is excluded from this taste-off, as is ABC Seafood in Milpitas because they were the sites for the original taste challenge.

              3. From what I understand, Ton Kiang used to serve traditional Hakka cuisine, then branched into cantonese dim sum when they moved to their new location. Perhaps like many other chinese restaurants in the US, they felt they needed to get into the dim sum in order to compete even though that was not their specialty. I've had one or two of their Hakka dishes that I thought were so-so but the dim sum were perfectly dreadful. I'm half Hakka and lived in Hong Kong and I recognize that I'm often over-critical of preparations that don't match my memories from back home. But Ton Kiang's problems are very basic - the dim sum are greasy, crudely seasoned and almost everything is overcooked. They don't even stir fry vegetables properly.

                And those cards placed on each table proclaiming that the dim sum are "creative" and something about the "best outside Hong Kong" or something like that really bug me. Their dim sum are very standard items that one would find in any dim sum restaurant. But I suppose I can't really fault a restaurant for advertising their good reviews - everyone deserves to make a living.

                12 Replies
                1. re: chibi

                  Chibi I agree with wholeheartedly on this one. Read my comment to Melanie.

                  1. re: chibi

                    The only two that come to mind are Ton Kiang and a place on Broadway near Stockton (I forget the name).

                    1. re: svl

                      To my mind...absolutely not..but perhaps Chibi may be able to weigh in here with some info.

                      1. re: weipanlan

                        Ah no, sorry, can't be of any use here. I hardly ever eat Hakka food out in restaurants.

                        In addition to the two places you mentioned, there is also Dragon River on Geary in the Richmond and Hakka Restaurant in San Mateo. Haven't been to either one, but here's a link to an old posting by Limster on Dragon River.

                        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        1. re: chibi

                          Dragon River is quite popular. Besides the salt baked chicken (love the chili sauce), the bacon with preserved veg is also good there. Also the KangKong dish (veggie) and fried tofu is also good if not mistaken. I was there last year sometime. Prices are reasonable.

                          1. re: chibi
                            m
                            Melanie Wong

                            It was a good 6 or 7 years ago that I had lunch at Hakka in San Mateo. Not too much hakka on the menu then. Anyone have a more recent report?

                            1. re: chibi

                              Dragon River! Not Lucky Dragon. Its good, anyway, I love it.

                          2. re: svl
                            m
                            Melanie Wong

                            The restaurant on Broadway is Mon Kiang. Best for a cheap snack, not top class.

                            1. re: svl

                              Had lunch at Hakka in San Mateo -- lunch plates: the beef stew was excellent, not overly lean, w/enough gristle&stuff to keep it interesting; the prawns in b/b sauce was a generous plate w/well cooked prawns in good sauce. Based on those, took home an order of kau yook -- not the best, but filled the need!

                              1. re: svl

                                I really like Lucky Dragon, I think its called.
                                It is on Geary and 15th, kitty-corner from the 7-11.

                                Rice wine chicken is great, so is prawns in scrambled eggs over rice. The whole menu is exceptional.

                              2. re: chibi
                                m
                                Melanie Wong

                                I used to eat at the old location fairly frequently from about 1990 to 1997. Dim sum was served there too, but after trying it a couple times, I would opt for the other dishes. I was disappointed by a recent dinner at the current location (link below). When one of our community mentioned that his father had been head chef but had retired about 10 years ago, the downhill started to make sense. Also, as it relied less on ethnic Chinese for its clientele, some changes were probably inevitable to serve its customer base. If you have 9 out of 10 customers sending the salt baked chicken back because they're afraid of the red at the bone doneness, you'll change your ways...for the worse, unfortunately.

                                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Haven't had it for some time, but I loved their salt-baked chicken. I've even come up with my own approximation, cooked in a crock-pot.

                              3. Melanie, I'm so relieved that both you and Chibi have rated Ton Kiang as providing mostly poor dim sum offerings. When I first moved to SFO I visited twice and couldn't understand the hype as to me the place was sub-standard on most usual dim sum items compared to many other establishments in the city...and of course was a long way behind experiences I had in Asia. I agree with Chibi about the Hakka food too..even Australia and New Zealand have better Hakka places!I think Chibi's comment "so..so" just about sums it up.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: weipanlan
                                  m
                                  Melanie Wong

                                  It still was stunning that it fell so low. The funny thing is that the chicken feet were so tasty. I hypothesized that since the restaurant caters to nonChinese, this is what's usually leftover for the staff to take home. So they make sure it's worth eating! (g)

                                2. m
                                  Melanie Wong

                                  I forgot one other item we had that was subpar. The ja dan (egg bomb), which is a deep-fried french cruller-like pastry covered with granulated sugar, was oil-logged, anemic and soft on the exterior, and doughy and undercooked inside. So, this is one item that wasn't overcooked!

                                  The folks in our group had not tried this item before. We had a very good version at another restaurant 2 days later, with golden brown and crisp exterior and light airy inside, and the difference was very clear even to the uninitiated.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Yes, even someone who had never had one before could have easily discerned the difference -- the inside of the ja dan at Ton Kiang was so undercooked it was almost custardy. While I like custard in custard buns, clearly this item is supposed to be puffy and airy, not gooey in the center.