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[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.

Spareribs
Mushroom dumpling
Stuffed mushrooms with shrimp
Steamed bean curd
Sticky rice (Lotus leaf rice)
Chinese broccoli
Eggrolls
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)
Honeycomb w/beef
Pan fried radish cake
Taro balls w/shrimp
Pineapple buns
Lychee pudding
Black bean pudding
Corn pudding
Egg tarts
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):
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/32848...

~TDQ

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  1. Can't say much since I'm T-9 hours to having to finish this paper but I think the "fishkin tofu" was actually fresh skin tofu (fresh tofu skin?). It was quite good!

    3 Replies
    1. re: katebauer

      Well, that sounds more plausible than what I heard! It was one of my favorite diahes, too.

      ~TDQ

        1. re: djohnson22

          I heard fresh skin tofu at our table. It was delicious.

    2. 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 =)

      3 Replies
      1. re: MariQ

        MariQ I agree with you overall, particularly your point about the the fillings being not as generous as Jun Bo (I haven't been to Mandarin Kitchen. I have to cross the river for that, right? ;-) )

        ~TDQ

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          How about the next chowdown being at the Mandarin Kitchen? Given the raves from our table from MariQ, Josh, Danny, et al, it seems like the definitive TC dim sum experience.

        2. 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.

          1 Reply
          1. re: teamkitty

            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.

            ~TDQ

          2. 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!

            1 Reply
            1. 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.)

              ~TDQ

            2. 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.

              ~TDQ

              1. here are my thoughts, such as they are (at least for the things that stuck out in my thoughts)...

                I thought the spareribs were ok, but kind of bland.

                I liked the chinese brocoli a lot... could have eaten the entire plate. I agree with Chowish Lurker that it was really nice that they were cut into bite size pieces.

                The eggrolls, ok but nothing to really write home about.. I don't really recall them having much flavor beyond the "shell"

                Rice Noodle Rolls - the beef was much tastier than the shrimp (truth be told, I don't think any of the shrimp dishes really had that much going on for flavor)

                Stuffed Crab Claw - like Jun Bo I wasn't overly enthused by this... I'm thinking of they did it in tempura batter, or something lighter than what they used, the flavor of the crab might be able to come through...

                Taro Balls with Shrimp... Yikes it practically glued my mouth shut. I can't recall the last time that I have had to work that hard to chew something that wasn't sticky toffee... the shrimp didn't really contribute much

                Pineapple buns... Yum! Could maybe have benefited from a bit more pineapple but still...

                Lychee, black bean, and corn pudding, I enjoyed in that order of ranking (not sure I woud cross a busy street for the corn pudding though)

                I got to thinking right afterwards that there was no sign of chicken feet. It would have been cool to have had an order of those to compare with Jun Bo's, which as I recall the consensus was they were ok but a bit on the gummy side and more work that thye were perhaps worth.

                I also agree that the decor at Mai Village is hands down beautiful!

                Oh, and Ryan had asked about anyplace that might carry chokecherry jelly/jam. Love From Minnesota and the Minnesot-ah stores (owned by the same company) at the MOA carry chokecherry jelly as well as syrup. Love From Minnesota (3rd floor West) has the larger selection.

                4 Replies
                1. re: djohnson22

                  Thank you, djohnson, for that round-up. I think your perceptions are spot on.

                  Oddly, I was intrigued by the taro balls. I hadn't had them before, even at Jun Bo. My first thought was, oh, these are interesting; I'll bet they'd be good at a place that could execute them better. I'm going to order them next time I'm at Jun Bo and see what I think.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Strangely enough, I was thinking about the taro balls while driving in to work this morning (for no really good reason), and couldn't remember if I had tried them at Jun Bo.

                    1. re: djohnson22

                      I don't remember that the deep fried taro balls where a big hit at Jun Bo, either. They sure look pretty, though, with that almost lacy/crispy exterior.

                      ~TDQ

                  2. re: djohnson22

                    I've bought chokecherry jam at the Caspian Market, of all places!

                  3. I sat at The Dairy Queen's table, and I gotta agree pretty broadly with djohnson's report. I felt the Dim Sum was FINE, but kinda like the Dim Sum I've had at numerous places. The wow factor wasn't there. I did like the CHinese brocoli because it was steamed or blanched to perfection (I felt), just crunchy enough, in a way I can never get it at home. Didn't mind the salty sauce, but I'm a fan. Other than that, the only thing that stuck out to me as different or wonderful was the incredible lynchee pudding which I couldn't stop eating. Kinda had some fruit cocktail in there, too, I felt, or at least remniscent of that. I wonder if they still make canned fruit cocktail, from my childhood, with the few cherries?

                    I'm a big fan of the turnip or radish cake but coulnd't get excited about the Mai Village, kinda too "tarrow-y" for me with the weird flecks of indescrible meat. Anyone have anything to say about the turnip cake (with fried egg) at Rainbow on "Eat Street"...yum.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jeanmt

                      Ha! The fruit cocktail comparison cracks me up.

                      We never did decide what was in the radish cake, did we? Ham, I think. It was my favorite thing mostly because, aside from the pork buns (which I'm pretty sure must've been microwaved), it was the only thing that was really warmer than lukewarm.

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: jeanmt

                        Here's an ongoing discussion from another branch on radish/turnip cake that might be of some interest:

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/35046...

                        ~TDQ

                      2. Agreements all around. I did not sit at TDQs table. My table ordered strictly off the carts. The pacing was nice. After the first flurry of carts, we generally just checked for anything new. It seemed like we always had some food on the table. We split smaller orders into tastes. Oh, and we saw another item which, like the radish cake, was fried table side. It was fried tofu skin with shrimp and it was only so/so.

                        Like everyone else, I found the setting to be lovely (I do wish it had had more customers when we arrived, though. I really like the buzz of a busy room). The food was fine, just not wow. The service was friendly. There were a few times when we needed to request refills of hot tea.

                        My favorites would be the chinese broccoli (perfectly cooked and a little salty - in a good way), the deep fried fresh tofu skin (with that faint sweetness of fresh tofu), the shrimp/cilantro dumplings (the cilantro was nice and bright), and the barbeque pork buns.

                        The shockingly low cost per person was a welcome surprise. Thanks also to my tablemates for being so charming and friendly. Mostly I left feeling satiated, but not stuffed, and wrapped in a warm glow of good food and good company. I'm ready for the next chowdown.

                        1. Oh! You guys got the barbeque pork buns. The baked ones? I'm so jealous. We had the steamed ones...

                          Thank you for sharing your impressions Uisge. Sounds like you had a terrific time at your table, too!

                          Hmmm fishkin tofu or fresh skin tofu? :)

                          ~TDQ

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Yup - they were the baked pork buns. Yummy.

                            Oh -and I'd like to add another vote for the lychee pudding. Tasted great and the texture was slippery firm gel. Lots of fun to eat.

                            Thanks again for planning.

                          2. Wow, I'm sorry I missed this, though would love to attend the next event. Mandarin Kitchen sounds like a great comparison to Jun Bo and Mai Village. Mmmmm, I'm hungry already :)

                            1. Two days later, but I wanted to weigh in as well. I would rate the dim sum at Mai Village as AVERAGE. I do not mean that in a bad way. I think they had decent renditions of the standard dim sum items. If I lived nearby I could see going when I got a dim sum craving. However, from my house in Uptown, I would rather drive 15 minutes to Bloomington to have dim sum at Mandarin Kitchen or Jun Bo than 10 minutes at Mai Village.

                              Yes, the space is "nicer" at Mai Village. But it felt a little too nice. A few others complained about the crowds and craziness at Mandarin Kitchen, but I kind of like that. To me it feels more authentic, like you would find at a dim sum place in New York or China (not that I have had dim sum in China). I like the noise, the crowded tables, occasionally being bumped by a cart at Mandarin Kitchen -- to me that is dim sum. More than anything else, though, I think the selection and execution of the dishes is a little stronger at Mandarin Kitchen.

                              With that said, there were a few dishes I really enjoyed at Mai Village. I am always a fan of the shrimp dumplings, both the ones with the chives and with cilantro. I agree with MariQ that they had less filling, but I thoguht they still tasted good. I especially liked the mushroom stuffed with shrimp. I also liked the rice noodle roll with shrimp. I thought the sauce on the Chinese broccoli was too sweet -- the pieces at the bottom with less sauce were better. I found the sticky rice a little bland. Of the desserts my favorite was the lychee pudding.

                              Overall it was a fun outing, and good getting to go with a large group where we got to try so many different dishes.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Josh Resnik

                                Thank you, Josh, for adding your impressions to the pot! Alas, I wasn't able to try the sticky rice (long story), and usually it's one of my favorite things; it sounds like I didn't miss anything exceptional on this occasion, so that makes me feel better. It sounds like we have another vote for the lychee pudding, though.

                                ~TDQ