[MSP] Chowdown Report, Mai Village Dim Sum (St. Paul, MN)
Thank you to the adventurous souls who came out to Mai Village on a (rare for mid-December) warm and sunny Saturday morning for dim sum. It's always a delight to share a meal with people who really care about the quality of the food they eat and are curious enough to try new things.
There were sixteen of us (including one charming chowpuppy), six of whom were also in attendence at the Jun Bo chowdown a couple of months ago (and maybe can provide some direct comparisons between that experience and today's.)
Because of the size of our group today, they split us into two tables; therefore, I can only list what we ordered at our table. If I miss anything we ordered or if folks who sat at "the other table" tried something we didn't, please chime in.
Stuffed mushrooms with shrimp
Steamed bean curd
Sticky rice (Lotus leaf rice)
Sesame seed balls w/black bean filling
Rice noodle rolls (beef)
Rice noodle rolls (shrimp)
Har gao (steamed shrimp dumpling)
Siu Mai (steamed pork dumplings)
Steamed pork buns
Fried shrimp ball
Stuffed crab claw (fried)
Pan fried radish cake
Taro balls w/shrimp
Black bean pudding
AND: one dish that I swear he called "fishkin tofu" I'm sorry, I don't know the actual name of it, but whatever it was, it was good. Maybe someone can correct me?
At our table, the total came to about $18/person, including tip, which is astonishingly affordable.
Everyone, please jump in with your impressions? What did you like best? What disappointed you? Comparisons to Jun Bo (or other dim sum you've tried?)
Thanks again, everyone. Now, I'm going to go play in the sunshine. :)
Mai Village Restaurant
394 University Avenue - St. Paul, MN
Phone: (651) 290-2585
Mai Village Chowdown announcement: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/348223
Jun Bo Chowdown report (for comparison):
wow, you guys at the "other" table had more experiences that we did (i don't recall seeing 2 of these options, the mushroom dumplings and beef noodle rolls). We had some kind of fried tofu that was pretty good, that may be what you had.
Overall i'd rate the dim sum there as good, but not AS good as Mandarin Kitchen, or Jun Bo. The dumplings could have had a tad more filling to them, the sauce on the broccoli was kind of starchy... and i missed the big asian crowd from the other places, it adds to the experience =)
The shrimp dishes were uniformly good, especially the shrimp noodle roll. I agree with MariQ that the selection and quality were not as good as Jun Bo. However the ambiance at Mai Village was much more welcoming, i.e. warmer, more elegant, less cavernous, than, say, Jun Bo. The price was also very reasonable - our table averaged $11/person with tax and tip.
Wow, only $11! We must have pigged out, relatively speaking. I think we overordered, too we had a lot of leftovers--but, it did enable us to taste many, many things.
I agree that Mai Village is a lovely setting. It even has wood carvings on the ceiling. And, they handle large groups well. It continues to be one of my favorite places to send groups on a budget.
Mai Village does get atmosphere points. I would have to agree that Mai Village is not as good as Jun Bo or Mandarin Kitchen. I think with a bit more selection, it could be better. It just didn't have the unique items like Jun Bo serves. I really like the surprise factor at Jun Bo, you just never know what will be on the next cart!
I liked the Chinese broccoli because it wasn't in such big pieces as at other places and if for no other reason, it was easier to manage.
I also enjoyed the pineapple buns. The pineapple filling was interesting because unlike other pineapple buns I have had, it had chunks of pineapple. At other places that I have had the buns, they tended to not be quite as pineapple-y and I couldn't really distinguish the filling as pineapple. Rather it just was a sweet bun. I have read that traditionally they are not supposed to be pineapple flavored necessarily (they get the name from the look) but I really like them to look and taste like pineapple. Overall, the hot Jun Bo pineapple buns still win. There's not much in this world that is better than a hot Pineapple Bun!
re: The Chowish Lurker
The Chinese broccoli was a hit at our table, too. I thought the sauce was too salty, but someone else said she heard the server say he put extra sauce on it. (I hope she chimes in and adds more!) Perhaps mine taste was oversauced.
I didn't have the pineapple bun at Jun Bo (wah!) but I'll agree that the pineapple buns at Mai Village weren't transcendent, the way they apparently were at Jun Bo. KTFoley (who, sadly, wasn't able to join us for the Mai Village chowdown) even composed a sugar-induced "ode to the pineapple bun," right there at the table. (You can read it in the Jun Bo chowdown report I linked above.)
Well, now that I've slept on it, here are my thoughts.
Overall, I think Mai Village excels at setting--beautiful woodwork and lovely (oft-mentioned) koi pond. Also, the restaurant has lots of nookies and crannies, so that they can tuck large groups away, in their own area, so as not to overwhelm other gusts.
They were very attentive at bringing things to our table and kept asking if there was anything specific we wanted from the kitchen, so we didn't miss anything. Everything we asked for was brought to us relatively quickly. They were not as good at clearing the empty steam trays from our table.
As far as the food, I thought the best picks for Mai Village dim sum were what you'd expect to be good at based on what they generally excel at: anything with beef. The rice noodle roll with beef we had at our table (which, sadly, the other table apparently missed) was very good, whereas I remember being disappointed with Jun Bo's version. Also, the honeycomb with beef was good, with tripe and little slivers of liver. Also, they did a good job with the deep-fried items, such that they didn't seem excessively greasy. Overall, I'd give the deep fried items an edge over the steamed items.
I also felt that the food was lukewarm--one complete rotation of the lazy susan and it was cold. Only two things were "hot," the steamed pork buns (which they brought right out of the kitchen because we asked for them) were piping hot, and the pan-fried radish cake, which they fried on the cart right in front of you. (I'd never seen this before--it was fun.) As a result, the radish cakes were one of my favorites.
As far as the lukewarmness, I wondered if we were seated too far from the kitchen, perhaps because we were such a large group.
I noticed that we weren't offered a lot of the traditional items, like chicken feet or taro balls and turnip cake. Yet, when we asked for them, they brought them right out. I have a couple of theories why this might be; one being that they have everything in the back pre-prepared in small quantities, but don't put them on the carts. They only bring out the most generic items on the carts and let people ask for the rest.
Finally, I liked the lychee pudding and, also, the black bean pudding.
So, if you want a quiet, hassle free dim sum in an elegant setting and you live "St. Paulish," you can have adequate dim sum at Mai Village. Steer towards the beef dishes and pace yourself so the food doesn't get cold, because it isn't that hot to begin with. If you have favorite items that you don't see on the carts, ask because they surely will accomodate. Don't expect anything exotic or fancy.