dim sum update: HKFL and Ton Kiang
I managed to have back-to-back dim sum this week, which provided the perfect opportunity to compare two popular dim sum-eries.
Sunday, my family and I met at Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae at 10:30 when they opened. This was early enough to snag free parking in the lot, and unlike past visits, the steamer trays were plentiful. They did stick us in an awkward corner, but service was attentive.
The only real problem was that the food came in batches that seemed to similar--five different kinds of shrimp dumplings; and an hour later, only fried items. This was true the next day at Ton Kiang too.
Highlights included the potstickers, steamed Chinese broccoli, pan fried rice noodles with XO sauce and dried shrimp, egg custard bun s, suckling pig (not sure what they call this, but at $5.50 it's a bargain), chive dumplings, fried shrimp and crab claws, and mochi with black sesame sauce. Oh yes, and salt and pepper fried pumpkin (ordered from the menu--don't miss it) We finished off the feast with mango pudding and tofu fa.
A few dishes went by that I'd never tried before, unfortunately too late to order them. The next table had a plate of deep fried small fish--any ideas? They looked great. There was also a gelatinous layered dessert in huge rectangles that could have been pineapple--or anything.
Total came to $125 for 7 before tip, which seemed ridiculously cheap for how much we ate.
My visiting uncle commented that this is the only San Francisco area restaurant that I still take out of towners to after 10+ years. (I probably had my first great dim sum at HKFL when they were out on Geary, 15+ years ago.) Always rare to find a place that's as good as ever.
The next day, my new boss took the six of us to Ton Kiang. I used to eat there all the time, before I discovered that it took no longer to drive to HKFL in Millbrae once you included parking, and getting in. Plus I hate waiting in line, and mediocre reports from the dim sum civil war four years ago dampened my enthusiasm.
But I'm happy to report that Ton Kiang is quite decent on a Monday. Everything came fresh out of the kitchen, with a lot more variety than expected.
Highlights: shrimp and scallop dumpling; steamed pork buns; fried soft shell crab; and a wonderful plate of delicate greens, steamed in garlic. Walnut cookies were delicious.
Sesame mochi had been made a while earlier, so while they didn't ooze all over, they didn't taste like much either. Chinese chicken salad (not my idea) was poor. Chicken feet weren't great but did impress my new co-workers. Xiao long bao were served without spoons, but didn't have any soup in them either.
Service was friendly if a little haphazard. I didn't see the bill.
I'd go again if I were in the neighborhood, but probably wouldn't wait in line or choose this over other upscale dim sum options.
Hong Kong Flower Lounge is at Millbrae Avenue and El Camino in
Ton Kiang is on Geary at 22nd Avenue in San Francisco
We were at TK Friday - had siew mai, mushroom shrimp dumpling (both good and hot), duck (very meaty), leafy pea sprouts (excellent as always), rice in leaves (not as sticky as I'd like), chicken feet (good), bbq pork rice noodles (excellent), fried sugared "bombs"(my friend scarfed), egg custard (my favorite crust). Alas, no room for the meaty and beautiful looking spareribs and crispy calamari.
Service good and friendly -- took home an order of kau yook w/ preserved veggies for dinner. Perfect as always.
One of my aunties took my mom and I to Ton Kiang about 18 months ago. I wasn't crazy about the dumplings, but one item that we ordered off the menu still sticks in my mind. The dry-fried beef chow fun with yellow leeks was excellent.
I was on the North team during the Dim Sum War. We scheduled one of our test meals at HKFL as a lunch before my husband and I left from SFO for a vacation. As soon as we were seated, I let our waiter know that we had a flight to catch and what time we had to leave. Since some people like long lingering dim sum meals, others like quick dim sum snacks, I've found its a good idea to communicate your expectations to your waiter. Apparently, they have a lot of pre-flight diners so they were not at all surprised and easily accomodated us.
Next, we let him know that we were interested in "coursing" our meal. We also indicated which items we were particularly interested so that if it wasn't going to naturally come out of the kitchen, we were willing to place an order. He really took up the challenge and ended up rushing things across to us. It helped minimize the "damn, we missed that" experience that so often happens at dim sum places, especially off peak hours.
It was the best service and best dim sum I'd had at HKFL at the point and it made me realize the obvious - servers are not mind-readers and if you take an active role, you're much more likely to get what you want.