SF Chinatown Lunch Series #12
To all who attended; please share your opinions. Dim sum for 18 chowhounds at Y Ben House split us into two tables, each on opposite sides of the din of the cavernous room today. Comparing each tables selections offers a wide range for review. We had Limster as our culinary guide and I defer to the other chowhounds at the table to embellish the menu: two types of teas; ha gow; siu mai; tripe; filled-fried tofu skins; silver needles; rice with bok choy, duck breast and sausage; guen fun with beef, and with chicken and mushrooms; taro cake; ha yu jeung lot jiu - shrimp stuffed bell peppers and mushrooms; and morefor $8/person. Always notable, we were charmed by the gathering of delightful chowhounds at the round table.
Y Ben House
835 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 415.397.3168
Thanks to Cynthia for hosting another fun get-together with a delightful group of people. As is often the case at these lunches, the camaraderie and the spirited conversations surpassed the food itself. Still, the price at Y Ben is right and the dim sum is dependable if not outstanding.
I had the distinct pleasure of sitting at table #1 -- aka the non-wine drinkers this particular afternoon -- and must say that while the usual har gow, sui mai and stuffed bell peppers were average, there were a few dishes that stood out and which I would order again on return visits:
Tripe was very tender, moist, and not overly chewy as in some versions I have tried before. The sauce could have used less corn starch, but was still above-average.
Fried tofu skins with shrimps, etc. were also good -- nice and greasy and were OK even without the yellow sweet and sour sauce that resembled melted custard in appearance and consistency. At first naive glance, I even thought the sauce was possibly egg yolks.
Silver Needles were fun and different. I had never even seen let alone tried these before. Even though they may have not been served with the normal amount of accompanying ingredients, I thought the pork and onions were quite tasty.
Taro cake was also yummy -- just the right amount of taro that one could detect, without being overly dry.
Shrimp and chive dim sum was also quite good, although I forget the name of this one.
Thanks, too, to Limster for being our extraordinarily capable culinary guide. He succeeded in adeptly and melifluously shedding multiple lights on the dishes and teas as they arrived. I, too, will also be going back to the "weird cookie" place for more of those treats! Thanks for sharing.
The tripe and the silver needle gummy worms were standouts. But the conviviality and the pleasant ordinariness of the selections in general reminded me of going out for dim sum as a teenager in New York Chinatown, when there were a ton of divey places and no (to my recollection) higher-end Hong Kong-style palaces. It was fun and fine. I also really liked the Pu-Erh tea; I might have had half a pot of it, which might be why I'm posting now instead of sleeping.
On the way home I picked up some of the famous mochi and two joongs, one from a place Yimster recommended and the previously-discussed Godzilla-size joong from Yuet Lee. They made a memorable Shabbat dinner with challah and sweet wine and stir-fried bean sprouts.
re: RWCFoodie (Karen)
Volcano pancakes were a Passover invention. Matzoh meal pancakes have no leavening, of course, and come out really flat. I'd put them on top of a spoonful of thick Middle-Eastern yogurt so they'd look like little hills, then poke holes in their peaks and let the maple syrup lava flow down them.
Rachel was pretty taken with the "dragon boat food," less so with the "tar pit dessert." But she did successfully use her kid chopsticks (attached at the top) for the first time last night! I was impressed.
I agree with the other posts that most of the food was too oily and that the shrimp paste filling too tough and filling too similar in texture to each other. Two dishes stood out though: the stewed tripe in a spicy sauce was delicious and slightly chewy, but not tough; and the "gummy worms", large worm-shaped rice noodles that were nicely chewy and mixed with vegetables and bits of pork.
The "gummy worms" are better known as Silver Needle Fun. I remember as a kid watching my Mom and Auntie make dim sum in the day when we had no teahouses. The left over dough was made into these nooodles. It was so easy even I could do it.
The noodles were good but it lacked the goodies that go with it. Like bay shrimp, shitake mushrooms and so worth.
Sorry to say Limster is still in Boston, you had to settle for yimster.
In this case the food failure to meet the company. Food was good but not great. A few of the dishes were too oily and the black sesame roll was burnt so that was the wrose dishe we had.
We had turnip cake, fried taro puff, har gow, sai mai, tofu skin rolls (good expect for too much oil) and beef tripe.
We had too teas one was Sue Mei and the other was Cook Po. Sue Mei is a more mild tea and nice to start the meal with the milder dim sum.
As always, great to see the Friday Lunch Gang! I really liked the texture of the wrapper on the har gow; very resilient unlike some that fall apart the minute the chopstick touches them. The filling tasted fresh and had a nice texture too. I liked the siu mai too; flavorfull porkiness. That said, nothing else really stood out to me. I missed my chicken feet; never saw any go by our table. Kept looking for my favorite, the mochi-like dessert filled with liquid black sesame paste with crushed peanuts on top - didn't spot them until we were leaving the restaurant!
This meal was like going to a party. The place was loud and the carts moved fast.
I found the meal to be too texturally similiar. everything chopped and boiled/steamed. My favorite was the shrimp and chive dumpling which had been pan sauteed and the flavours were fresher than the rest.
I liked the first tea. I was fascinated by the fact that there were two.
I would not go back here. too greasy and same. It sounds like Table #2 had more different sorts of things, but ours was a similiar price, $8 per person including tip and tax!!
Our table did not have desserts because we went to the mochi & "weird" cookie/biscuit place after.
and someone made a deal with me and he got a cake I made this morning.. :}
thank you for organizing another really fun friday event!
The six hounds who arrived just after 11:45, and one just after 12:45, were banished to Table 2 in a deep corner of the restaurant. But we had the last laugh: we had the wine. ;)
Our table ordered the following, plus a few more I'm sure that I didn't capture:
Braised Bead Curd Skin with Shrimp
Fried Bean Curd and Shrimp "Egg Roll"
Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant
Shrimp and Chive Dumpling
New Years Cake (a rice noodle stirfry)
Raw-Made Sticky Rice
Ribs with Black Bean Sauce
Fried Rice Flour Balls with Pork "Footballs"
Egg Yolk Bun
Another egg yolk pastry, this one flat
Jook with Preserved Egg
Shark Fin Dumplings
Total cost including generous tip: $7 each.
Overall I thought the food was acceptable but nothing special. The New Years Cake, Jook, and "Footballs" were the only items that I thought were better than average. The taro puffs had good flavor and might have been special, but they were rather cool by the time they reached us. A lot of the other items arrived cold, contained low quality ingredients (e.g., all of the shrimp), had lots of MSG, or were too greasy. But the only dish I would go so far as to call "bad" were the ribs, which were mushy and tasted like plain boiled meat.
But, a feast for $7. Can't really complain. Just not eager to return.
Thank you to Cynthia for being our host and to the rest of the hounds for coming out and keeping the Lunch Series exicting and alive!
Here's my thoughts:
Shu Mai - tough filling but okay given price point
Braised Bead Curd Skin with Shrimp - ok, shrimp was tough
Fried Bean Curd and Shrimp "Egg Roll" - good but served with a sweet lemon sauce that I dubbed "liquid egg custard", I didn't think the sauce enhanced the egg roll at all
Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant - one of the better shrimp dishes
Shrimp and Chive Dumpling - okay, there was enough chive to make up for the overcooked shrimp. GIANT in comparison to other dim sum places, but since we cut them in half to share, the size was reasonable.
New Years Cake (a rice noodle stirfry) - the best dish of the meal. I would go back just for it.
Taro Puffs - bad, greasy, greasy, greasy
Turnip Cakes - bad, greasy and cold
Raw-Made Sticky Rice - nice, especially when I put hot sauce on it.
Ribs with Black Bean Sauce - bad
Fried Rice Flour Balls with Pork "Footballs" - very good
Egg Yolk Bun - not good, very bready
Another egg yolk pastry, this one flat - very bland
Jook with Preserved Egg - very, very good. I knew Bryan H. comes here breakfast, now I know why!
Y Ben is decent, cheap food. They have a couple of standout dishes. But if I was in that area, I'd go to Dol Ho (just across the street) which I prefer. That said, Y Ben is much bigger and has nicer atmosphere. Dol Ho, which has amazing ribs and good solid dim sum, is very divey. Dol Ho's fried dim sum items are much better than Y Ben's, but then I've am very sensitive to grease bombs.
Plus, Table Two Rocked! We had a great time, I'm sure Table One was sad they weren't with us.
Last, on the way back to the office I noticed a highly recommended thai place that I may have to scout for a future lunch, if I'm ever allowed out for lunch again. ;-)
Jumping in late here, I think you're being generous in calling the food here "decent" overall. The odd thing is that the dim sum items were the worst. The only bright lights in my book were the sauteed rice cakes and the jook (although the congee got a boost from Knorr chicken stock powder which has a distinctive taste). Someone at the other table told me that the only thing worth eating was the sauteed noodle dish.
If our bill had been much more than $7, I would have been pretty upset to have paid for more than that to leave so much behind because it was tasteless and/or grease-logged. But at that price, I didn't really mind and just kept ordering dishes hoping we'd find something worth eating. My plate was rimmed with food "skeletons", left from my taking one bite out of a dumpling and then setting aside the rest of the piece. I didn't spit out anything, but I didn't let more than a taste of most items pass my lips.
So, I guess the trick here is to avoid the dim sum and order the other dishes. It is cheap and it does have large tables. However, dim sum-wise, there are several take-out places even that have tastier dumplings than here. If Y Ben House was good for dim sum at one time, I think we have to give it a "downhill alert" now.