Chowing Down at Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor in Sunnyvale
Today 10 chowhounds answered the call to check out the dim sum action at the newish Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor restaurant in Sunnyvale.
Image of HKSSH entrance -
Our co-host Peter Yee had made a reservation for 11:30am and our table was ready at the appointed hour. We whisked in past the throngs clamoring for tables. The server overseeing our table asked if we wanted ice water, which is a very rare occurrence at Chinese restaurants. This was a much appreciated gesture of hospitality toward our non-Chinese dining companions and all the more unexpected since there were few non-Asian faces in the crowded room.
Rolling carts bring plates of dim sum tableside. The system here seems to have fewer carts in circulation with each of them carrying a larger assortment leading to some lulls between decision points. I was impressed by how hot and fresh most things were, especially the steamed dumplings, although our sampling of the fried items suffered from temperature problems.
Cary was our point man, poised on the aisle to signal to the cart ladies when we were ready for the next round, and did an excellent job of sussing out what looked the most delicious. A dish would then pass to ahclem's side of the table to be photographed for posterity. We adopted a strategy of ordering less than one dumpling apiece for most dishes in order to try more items. Ruth Lafler brought her dim sum tool kit and her experienced hands ably dissected, snipped, sliced, and divided items that were large enough to share. This was a well-oiled dim sum eating team!
In addition to dishes from the carts, we also ordered a couple barbecue items (and were most disappointed to learn that suckling pig was not available today), a dish of greens and one claypot from the laminated specials card. Unless I've miscounted, we assembled a tasting menu of 24 different flavors to touch the heart. This included:
Teochew fun gor
Shrimp fun gor
Steamed Chinese chive dumpling
Steamed spareribs with black beans
Scallop har gao
Siu mai topped with roe
Beef rice crepe
Shrimp rice crepe
Sticky rice chicken in lotus leaves
Hainan chicken plate with rice and soup, $6.75
Jelly fish with Japanese-style baby octopi
Cantonese-style roast duck (half), $9
Ong choi with fu yee and chilis, $12
Pan-fried turnip cakes
Fried taro root dumplings
Honey-glazed baked barbecued pork buns
Salt and pepper calamari
Hom sui gok (fried football-shaped dumpling
)Braised frog, eggplant and pate de foie gras claypot, $15
Water chestnut gelée (coined by ChewChew)
We didn't get around to exploring the soup/jook cart, and had no more room for mango pudding. Next time.
When the final bill was presented, I whispered to ChewChew that I thought it would be $200. But I was way off on the actual cost for stuffing ourselves to the gills with extras to take home. Peter announced that it was $16 per person or $160 inclusive.
Now, let's hear from the others about the food and any other impressions, please.
Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbour [South Bay]
Lakewood Shopping Center
1135 N Lawrence Expressway
CYL's lunch post -
Silicon Valley Chowdown Group -
We had dim sum for the first time at HKSSH this past Sat. with a group of 5 and were generally pleased w/ the food. I'm not that experienced w/ dim sum and am not used to being that aggressive w/ getting food, so we let the carts come to us and said yes to what looked good. The only dish we ordered was gai lan which was not impressive relative to the other dishes. Next time I'll remember the ong choi w/ fu yee and chilis.
I'm not going to list everything we ordered, but you can view the photo slideshow below to see our full array. Standouts for me were the shrimp rice crepe and beef chow fun w/ dipping sauce. The chow fun was not thin, loose noodles but rather layers of rice noodle sheets that had been rolled up and then cut into small tubes akin to rigatoni. They were all browned and caramelized from the seasoning meeting the hot wok and were not too greasy. There was a dark dipping sauce to dunk the toothsome tubes into. What do you call this addictive type of chow fun? The shrimp rice crepe was very generous on the sweet, plump shrimp, and the noodle and sauce were harmonious.
Husband's favorite item was the steamed pork spareribs. Nicely meaty and savory w/ a gentle hand on seasoning. He lamented that no one at the table enjoys chicken feet so passed on a dish, but he vows to order them next time since they did look good if you're into that sort of thing. The beef meatballs were very soft and melt in your mouth. The pan-fried turnip cake was good too.
I heard the taro baos are special here and highly coveted; however, I didn't see them once and didn't bother to ask our waiter if he could score a plate for us. We also didn't see any sticky rice in lotus leaf. I was worried when I didn't see many carts when we were seated around 1pm, but a bunch started circling within a few min. of us being seated. We were seated in the center of the dining room along the middle aisle that the cart ladies stream down. It seemed to be a pretty good spot, although watch out that your chair doesn't jut out too far otherwise the carts or people will bang up against you w/ regularity.
Overall, the food was quite good and definitely makes me want to return for dim sum as well as dinner sometime. The seasoning was done well and not too heavy-handed, although I found a couple of dishes too salty for my taste. My bro who has eaten at most of the south bay dim sum places within the past year said that HKSSH has been the best that he's had.
When I called Fri. night to see if they take reservations for Sat. dim sum, the lady told me "no reservations" but that I could call at 10am to get a number. Since we wanted to eat around 12:30pm, I called around 11am but kept on getting their voicemail about 5 times in a row. Someone finally picked up around 12 and gave me a number over the phone after I told him our group size. Upon arrival, we picked up our number ticket at the hostess stand outside. Given that it was still mobbed when we arrived around 12:15, we weren't called until about 12:50. Definitely call in to get a number at least 30 min. before you arrive!
Cost for 5 of us w/ only oolong tea for sipping was $57 pre-tip. I thought this was a good deal for the amount of food and satisfaction. I look forward to my next visit! Any other updates on dim sum or other food here?
Hong Kong Saigon Sea Food Harbor Restaurant
1135 N Lawrence Expy, Sunnyvale, CA
My one gripe was not so much the gap between carts, but the gap between the *type* of carts. When we first arrived, the fried items were just going by. The did not appear again for well over 1/2 hour, whereas the steamed items kept coming by repeatedly, offering many of the same things on each cart -- fortunately Cary was eagle-eyed enough to select the items that were new on each cart so that we had what seemed like an endless stream of dishes coming to the table. With that off my chest, I'll get to the good parts.
Several things impressed me. First, the room was brightly and pleasantly decorated. There was sufficient room to get down the aisles, even when dodging dim sum carts.
The staff is pretty attentive, especially when it came to clearing empty plates -- those disappeared off the table, often within seconds of being emptied. Even then, we did an impressive job of keeping the lazy susan groaning with tasty morsels.
Everything had a lightness about them that made it much easier to try something from every dish and sometimes a bit more from some. Not one of the dishes ever struck me as greasy, heavy, or likely to stick to my ribs, which in my book is a good thing. In general, portions of the individual dim sum were small (small dumplings, miniature daan tat, etc.), and only lightly seasoned. The dishes we ordered off the menu, on the other hand, were huge. Melanie had to get a larger box just to pack up the leftover eggplant and frog.
A few comments on selected dishes:
Steamed spareribs with black beans -- nicely meaty without being oily or mostly gristle.
Scallop har gao -- call me a heathen, but I couldn't tell these (by taste, if not sight) from the regular har gao
Beef rice crepe, Shrimp rice crepe -- both were quite good, with thin noodle wrappers that did not overwhelm the fillings. The char siu one I had the week before are also quiet good.
Sticky rice chicken in lotus leaves -- I wish these were both larger and more complex. Here the subtlety of the whole thing hurts, since aren't enough things added to the rice to make it really interesting.
Hainan chicken plate with rice and soup -- the soup doesn't share very well, it quickly became apparent. And the rice was just all right in my book, with odd flecks in it. I had been expecting a yellow color owing to the chicken stock and I've had better.
Cantonese-style roast duck (half) -- yum! Nice crisp skin and a distinct lack of that MSG zing you get in so many ducks. I didn't try the sauce, but this duck didn't need any either.
Pan-fried turnip cakes -- pretty ordinary, but then I don't have high expectations for this dish. It's always struck me as a filler.
Fried taro root dumplings -- blessedly not greasy.
Honey-glazed baked barbecued pork buns -- darn, these guys were tiny! A bit more of everything would have been good. No complaints, however, about the flavor.
Hom sui gok (fried football-shaped dumpling) -- again, not greasy. Also not filled with very much, which wasn't so good. I prefer more pork/mushrooms/shrimp/etc. inside. The dough was sweeter than I had expected.
Sesame balls -- tiny compared to most places. I prefer them larger and just slightly thicker because I like a decent amount of chew to the outer skin so that I can enjoy the sesame seeds, assuming they're cooked enough to develop that rich sesame flavor here. Perhaps a little too subtle here.
Water chestnut gelée -- a special thanks to Ruth for making sure we got a couple of orders of the gelee. Very nice texture with the bits of water chestnut in a gel that held up well and didn't fall apart when grasped with chopsticks. I liked that they were fried like the turnip cakes, since that extra caramelization on the outside adds nice crunch and flavor.
Daan tat -- well, these sure didn't come from the Golden Gate Bakery. Yes, the dough was many layered and flaky, but it was also pale and the custard didn't have a lot of that eggy taste I like.
Well, you may have gotten the hint that many of the flavors are subtle. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does require a patient palate to enjoy after so many places overdose their dim sum in soy sauce, salt, MSG, worcestershire sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and so many other devices that mask the real flavors of the dishes. HKSSH does a very good job of highlighting the base ingredients and they are to be commended for their light touch. It's certainly a welcome addition to Silicon Valley.
For Cary -- there were char siu bao offered on the steamed carts, a couple of times. I think we passed on them in our rush to try dumplings and eventually they stopped showing up with the steamed kind. And the soy milk and crueller/Chinese donut/you tiao might have been hiding in the "soup cart" that we never got around to looking into. What I personally missed was a proper egg roll. This seems to be a dying art in the Bay Area, with many places offering vegetable spring rolls in their place. Something that just would not have been seen 20 years ago. Asia Garden that Ahclem mentions made an exemplary egg roll in its day. Great photos, by the way, Ahclem.
re: Peter Yee
Thanks for your and everyone's comments! And ahclem, your photos were great! I'm happy to hear they have a "light touch", as I find alot of dim sum I've had to be too heavy w/ a cumulative effect of overwhelming my palate and stomach. I'm very glad there's a good dim sum place in the South Bay for me to check out...
Do they offer dim sum everyday or on weekends only?
I haven't had to a chance to partake in a Chowdown in quite some time, and this one was a treat. Thanks again to Peter and Melanie for organizing this Peninsula event. Thanks also to Ahclem for the mouth-watering photos that helped me to put a name to what I remembered.
I enjoyed the opportunity to try HKSSH's version of some old favorites, and trying new dishes I might not have ordered on my own. Aside from getting together with a group of people who share a passion for food, the fun of going with a larger group is tasting small bites of everything, then having seconds of your favorites. I couldn't believe it when I looked over and saw Melanie's long list of the items we tasted.
I particularly enjoyed the seasoning of the Teochew fun gor, the crispness of the roast duck, the wonderful sauce surrounding the Ong choi with fu yee and chilis (Ruth's scissors were especially valuable for serving this one), the perfectly seasoned salt and pepper squid (it must have been a huge one -- there were some really hearty pieces). The blend of flavors and textures of the Braised frog, eggplant and pate de foie gras claypot was interesting and rich, and the Water chestnut gelee was a nice suprise (my first time trying this as well). The BBQ pork buns were seasoned well though a little lighter on the filling than I am used to.
The mango pudding looked like an interesting preparation, though we were too full to try it when it passed by.
What a great event. Dim sum with lively chowhound companionship! I enjoyed the food and company.
My favorite dishes were the chicken plate and the ong choi. Chicken is usually overcooked for my liking but this version was perfectly prepared and accompanied by the requisite scallion and ginger sauce as well as a sweet chili sauce that was well seaasoned and not cloyingly sweet. The ong choi was surprisigly tasty and rich with that mysterious sauce concotion. I hope that ChewChew will be able to deconstruct the flavors in that sauce for the rest of us!
I really enjoyed the sticky rice with the salted egg being the surprise in the dish. Although the batter on the calamari was thicker than I like, it was not overly heavy and the flavors were nice.
The shrimp and beef rice crepes were well prepared with the crepes being just right in thickness and texture and a generous enough amount of filling.
It was an honor to be included in this chowhound event and delightful to meet new hounds and to reacquaint with others. Thanks very much to Melanie and Peter for the work in planning and preparing for this fun event! Thanks also to Cary for the nice job in selecting the dishes from the carts that passed by our table. I look forward to the next event with this group!
Like ahclem, this was my first chowdown, and my first dim sum with such experienced eaters! We moved way beyond my traditional "pointing to what looks good" method with items like the jellyfish with octupus, the water chestnut gelee, the hot pot, and the greens. All were excellent and items I doubt I would have found on my own.
I thought my usual dim sum favorites of various shrimp and pork dumpling and rice dishes were uniformly fine. With dim sum, unlike other cuisines like Italian and Indian, I don't have enough experience to be very analytical about it. My one special request was the dish I learned as a "black bean doughnut", a sesame ball with sweet bean paste filling. Alas it was a mediocre rendition (compared to, say, my most recent dim sum at Ton Kiang). But that was hardly a problem after so many fine savories.
Thanks to Peter and Melanie for organizing, reserving, and inviting! It was great to meet so many hounds and share such fine food together.
Gosh, we were stuffed!
I agree the steamed dumplings were excellent -- very light but flavorful. Melanie and I discussed afterward that the wrappers here are thinner and more elastic than most when hot -- the har gao almost looked like they were wrapped in plastic wrap -- but that they do tend to get a bit gummy when they cool.
I wasn't impressed by any of the fried items -- they would have been a bit better warm, but I also thought the fillings were kinda skimpy and bland. The exception was the water chestnut gelee (although that's pan fried, not deep fried). The whole concept of hot fried "jello" with water chestnuts sounds strange, but once you've tried it, it becomes addictive. I think it was new to several people at the table, and I was glad I'd spotted it on the cart and requested it. I also thought the daan tat were only okay -- not nearly as good as the ones I had a couple of weeks ago at Chef's Wok in Alameda.
I actually thought the three "big plates": the duck, the ong choi and the eggplant clay pot were the most impressive. The eggplant was insanely rich but also incredibly delicious: the eggplant had performed its usual "sponge" role and soaked up all the carmelized, garlicky, fois-gras-infused sauce.
I was surprised by how cheap it was, too, especially with the duck and the eggplant dish (which was $15). I had figured we were over $200. Of course cutting up the dumplings so we didn't have to order one each helped keep the bill down and allowed up to try more different items.
It's great they take reservations, because there were people waiting when we got there, and even more people waiting when we staggered out two hours later. Thanks so much to Peter for making the arrangements.
This was my first ever chowdown and I couldn't have hoped for a more enjoyable initiation.
I've been going to dim sum places ever since Herb Caen first mentioned Asia Garden in one of his columns back in the 1960s, but it's usually a matter of just pointing at whatever goes by on the carts that looks intriguing and hoping for the best. So having Melanie ordering otherwise mysterious dishes from the kitchen opened up a whole new range of chowish experience.
Photos of most (but not quite all) of our selections here:
For the most part, the items that I'm familiar with from my dim sum past were consistently good, particularly the various steamed dumplings. Unfortunately, as Melanie alluded, the fried taro root dumplings, a usual favorite, suffered from being luke warm.
Among the other items, the ones that were especially interesting included:
Jelly fish with Japanese-style baby octopi
Although it isn't visible in the photo, the jelly fish is laced with just enough hot pepper to give it a bit of a kick. A great combination of tastes and textures (and colors as well).
Ong choi with fu yee and chilis
This was one of the surprises of the meal for me. I was just expecting some nice greens, but this dish's sauce made it something special. I have no idea what was in it, but it had a unique richness of flavor that defies description (at least by me). I'm hoping someone else might have more insight into what it's about.
Pan-fried turnip cakes
Pretty much a dim sum staple, but again, with just a bit of chili kick.
Salt and pepper calamari
Just really, really good fried calamari. Big meaty pieces that were tender and full of flavor.
Braised frog, eggplant and pate de foie gras claypot
I wished I'd had a video camera to supplement the still camera when this dish arrived furiously bubbling away. Initially, we were sort of poking at it wondering where the foie gras was, but it soon became obvious that it was incorporated into the sauce (a fact that became more obvious as the dish cooled). The frog, incidentally, did not taste like chicken.
Water chestnut gelée
This was another surprise. Typically, the idea of water chestnuts embedded in some sort of jello doesn't inspire great expectations (which is probably why I've never tried this before), but Ruth insisted that it had a unique appeal and, on her recommendation, I gave it a try. This is definitely one of those whole-being-more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts deals. The gelée was not too sweet, the water chestnuts provided textural contrast and the bonus factor was that the whole thing was apparently pan-fried, resulting in some charring and a slight bit of oiliness (which in this case is a good thing). I'll definitely be adding this to my dim sum desert selections.
Thanks again to Melanie and Peter for putting this delightful meal together.
Thanks to the organizers for a great meal with wonderful company. Overall, the offerings were above average, with some exceptional items. All of the dumplings were perfectly cooked and arrived at the table steaming hot and I agree with Cary that, in general, the flavors were on the subtle, light side, which seems fine in a dim-sum context. The braised frog dish was great, more reminiscent of a French preparation. The foie gras melted into the sauce and was absorbed by the eggplant. Great match. The Empty Heart greens were unique in terms of texture. When it first arrived I was disappointed to see what looked like a pile of greens in a huge puddle of liquid. But this was no ordinary liquid; it's creaminess set off the greens perfectly and the slight hint of chili added a third element, all in balance. Great stuff.
The chestnut gelee was also great. I usually avoid gelee preparations due to textural issues but this really hit the mark. The thin bricks were pan seared to give them just enough crunch on the outside before the meaty chestnuts. Yum.
DeeGlaze and I lately have been hitting Fook Yuen near SFO to scratch the dim-sum itch but this place will be a fine addition to our list.
Thanks again to the organizers and our fellow hounds for a great meal.
It was good to finally meet a bunch of Chowhounds in person.
I also noticed that there were noticeable gaps between carts.
There were some favorite (and I had thought common) dishes of mine that I did not see offered at HKSSH:
-lai wong bau (steamed egg custard bun)
-fung zow (braised chicken feet in black bean sauce). I might have seen this in a plate offering but not in a steamer. Too bad, as fung zow is probably my all-time favorite dimsum dish.
-cha siu bau (steamed)
-ma lai go (a yellow "Malaysian" cake")
-hot, sweet soy milk
-the deep fried airy dough to go with the soy milk (or the version where its wrapped in a rice crepe.
That being said, I was impressed with the preparation of many of the dishes they did offer. My overall impression is that the flavors of the dishes were light and subtle, letting the technique and ingredients shine without overseasoning.
-Steamed chives dumpling (gau choi gow): I'm used to the preparation where the translucent, spherical dumpling is lightly sauteed (then steamed I think) and the whole dumpling is densely green with chives. HKSSH's version is steamed and not as dense with chives. I liked the texture and freshness of their version.
-steamed spareribs in black bean sauce (pai gwut): Their pork is very moist and tender. The sauce is "light" and not heavily oiled. Many places over do sauce so it's very salty and oily.
-Har gau: Their shrimp dumpling seems a tad small compared to other places. I didn't get to the har gau when it was piping hot so the wrapper seemed a little gummy.
-Scallop har gau (die zee har gau): I liked this one. The flavor and texture of the scallops are subtle but enough to complement the shrimp.
-siu mai: Again, their siu mai seems small. I didn't have a ruler but if a typical siu mai size is roughly 1.5" in height and 1.25" in diameter, SKSSH's is 1.25"H x 1" D. Maybe the hounds who where there will correct me if I am wrong. Taste wise, it was very good. Good balance of shrimp and pork, without the pork being rough or mealy in texture.
Shrimp rice crepe (ha cheung fun): A decent version. Sometimes at places,the rice crepe can be too thick and gummy and without a lot shrimp filling.
Sticky rice in lotus leaves (zhong zi): I was surprised to see some salted/preserved egg yolk in their version. I'm a bit partial to my mom's preparation, so their zhong was just okay.
Beef meatballs: You can have this with or without worchestshire sauce, but we had it with the sauce. The meatball is very moist with good "bouncy" texture. I forget if there are chopped water chestnuts in this one.
Jelly fish: This is a decent version. No complaints.
Roast duck: I didn't get a good look at the dish when it arrived, so I can't comment on how meaty the duck was. The piece I sampled had a very crispy skin.
Ong choi with fu yee and chili ("Empty heart" greens with preserved bean curd and chili): A very Cantonese dish. There was some discussion at the table on how the "sauce" or the liquid the ong choi was cooked in is so "creamy" in texture. My mom tells me that it's that way if properly cooked with the fuyee. On a side note, she also says that Liu Ma Kee fu yee is the most popular brand for Hong Kong natives. Oh yes, I liked this dish, since it's a childhood favorite of mine. Not too much fuyee and a hint of garlic.
Pan Fried turnip cakes (lo baht go): Again I will always prefer my mom's version (which she makes from scratch with fresh turnips). Techincally lobahtgo is boiled/simmered to make the batter, then steamed to make the cake, then pan fried, so it's a lot of work. HKSSH's doesn't have a lot of extra filler/stuffing in their version.
Football-shaped fried pork dumpling (hom sui gok): As Melanie mentioned the fried dishes arrived just warm, and that was the case with the hom sui gok, another one of my childhood favorites. In general hom sui gok may be a tad oily for some, but piping hot, with the wrapper crispy and not gummy, it's a perfect marriage with the pork (sometimes with five spice) and minced mushrooms. HKSSH was a decent version, but I need to try this when they come fresh from the kitchen :)
Braised frog, eggplant in a foie gras sauce. When ChewChew was reading the description of this dish I thought I misheard. Foie gras? Can't be. He must have said frog. Braised frog in a frog-based sauce. But no. The menu really says foie gras sauce. I couldn't really detect any foie gras flavor, but the dish was very rich and fatty so I'm sure the foie gras was a component of that. The frog was tender with a nice bite to it. Eggplant was a good match to the texture and weight of the dish.
Sesame balls (jeen doi): My sample was okay. I'm not a huge fan, in general, of these, so some other Hound can analyze this one.
Water Chestnut gelee: Hm. I don't remember the Cantonese name for this dish. I was impressed that their version isn't too cloying. I'm not a big fan of water chestnut, but this dish works for me.
Egg custard tart (dahn taht): HKSSH's version isn't too sweet or oily. A good version.
I was also surprised at the low price.
On a side note, they have various banquet menus (wah choi) for a table of 10 from $188-$338.