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Feb 2, 2007 06:01 PM

Dim Sum Bar -- Clean-cut takeout

When I spotted the imminent opening of Dim Sum Bar on O'Farrell last week I filed it in my curiosity file and pulled it out today. It turned out to be a squeaky-clean version of a dim sum takeaway with cutesy but confusing terminology and the addition of salads(?!) to make a balanced "light" meal.

I ordered the "soupy pork dumplings" ($2.07 for five), a "bbq pork bao" ($0.92) and a diet Coke (free, an opening month promotion. The "soupy pork dumplings" turned out to be xiaolong bao wannabes, or to be charitable, xiaolong baos. (I've had far less authentic versions that CALLED themselves XLB.) They looked like XLB all right, but the skin was a bit too thick, the "soup" lacking in flavor depth and the filling somewhat too chewy and salty. I'd probably put them in the lower part of the middle tier of all the versions of XLB I've tried (probably 75 or so since my 1992 epiphany).

The "bbq pork bao" turned out to be a cha shao bao, of course. The filling was pretty standard, not too chunky or too pasty, or too sweet, but it you value a fluffy wrapper, Dim Sum Bar's version might be one of the best you've ever had.

The menu breaks out as follows (where did they get the numbers?): baos .92, dumplings 2.07 salads 3.96, soups 2.99, and "snacks" (curry fishballs, curry veggie sticks) 2.07. Beverages are .92 (including a variety of teas from Stash) and there are a variety of "combo" options that bring a discount. At lunch time familiar rice plates (Mongolian beef, etc.) for 5.30 are offered.

The owner, a young man (I almost said "boy") was friendly and solicitous. He, and later his sister, who is helping run the place, both came out to ask me my reactions to the food and the place.

While not a particularly "authentic" dim sum takeout (Robert, they probably even have clean bathrooms!), It's a pleasant and (pleasantly priced) venue which probably will suffer mostly from its location. Considering how people will line up to pay $3.00 for a bao at Out the Door, it's easy to see it making a killing in or near the FiDi. As it is, its location (620 O'Farrell, next to Lahore Karahi) is neither convenient to downtown nor in an area where you'd be likely to drop in on impulse, and a "destination" restaurant it's not.

I asked about the catering they offered on their awning, and the owner told me they'd do it anyway you want: deliver only, deliver and set up, or even prepare on location.

Dim Sum Bar
620 O'Farrell St. near Leavenworth

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  1. Gary: I would be very interested in a comparison between this place and the newly opened
    Emperor's Kitchen at 418 Larkin St.(near Golden Gate). I have worked for years in the SF Civic Center and I think it is interesting that two such similar restuarants have opened at the same time in the same general area. Emperor's Kitchen has steam table Chinese dishes to go, lots of choices and huge quantities for cheap (the combo's are about the same price as Dim Sum Bar and they also sell around 6-8 types of dim sum. They have a few small tables inside, but it is a mostly take-out place.

    1. I've been to both Emperor's Kitchen and Dim Sum Bar. I only tried dim sum items.

      Emperor's Kitchen (visited last week)
      Har Gow (shrimp dumpling)
      - good flavor with nice shrimp pieces, but loosely packed. Fell apart while eating
      Scallion dumpling with shrimp
      - as above.
      Pork Sui Mai
      - good flavor, nice size

      For around $6.00 I got three dumplings each order. They seem to have more dim sum items that Dim Sum Bar, as I also saw taro cakes, but wasn't hungry enough to order them. I didn't try any steam table items. The atmosphere is ok, but when I was there they had a commercial american pop radio station playing too loudly.

      Dim Sum bar (today)
      Crab & Pork "XLB"
      - certainly not inedible, but not even close to bad XLB. No soup, thick rice noodle. Consider this a Sui Mai variant.
      Har Gow
      - somewhat better than Emperor's Garden for being firmly packed
      Pork Sui Mai
      - large, decent flavor

      For around $6.00 I got three dumplings each order, with free tea (through) February. It's a more pleasant dining experience than Emperor's Garden.

      I didn't expect either of these places to be unexpectedly good, and the dim sum satisfied my immediate craving. However, I'd rather make the effort to take the 38 Geary to the Richmond for cheaper, better dim sum. I don't think either of these places will elevate the level of Chinese food in the Tenderloin.

      Steam table items rarely interest me, and when I'm craving local chinese food for lunch (or dinner), I visit Szechwan Second on Ellis, which I like.

      1. Rice noodle on the XLB at Dim Sum Bar? It was definitely a wheat flour wrapper when I tried them, and they had a conventional amount of "soup" in them. And I would say the XLB were as about as good as I've had in a Cantonese dim sum context (though admittedly I haven't tried Yank Sing's XLB, which have a glorious reputation).

        5 Replies
        1. re: Gary Soup

          corrected - wheat noodle in the XLB, but alas, no soup for me (well maybe if squeezed the dumpling) :)

          1. re: David Wishart

            I tried Dim Sum Bar this weekend. My experience was very similar to David's in that the "XLB" (only "soupy pork", without crab, was available that day) really had no soup at all. The menu only claimed 3 types of dumplings were available that day (XLB, siu mai, and har gao), but as it turns out, the har gao wasn't even available. So the only choices were the two pork dumplings.

            The severely limited selection is really a bummer, so much so that I almost feel like the name "Dim Sum Bar" is false advertising. I've seen places that don't even advertise themselves as dim sum, which carry more standard dim sum items than they had here. Maybe I just happened upon it at the wrong time, but late Saturday morning (when I went) isn't an oddball time for dim sum.

            I hope that the menu will expand a bit once they get settled in. For now, it seems like Dim Sum Bar is fine if you are craving really basic dim sum and don't have time to travel to a different neighborhood. Still, I think the 38-Geary will continue to remain my "dim sum chariot" :-)

            1. re: shortexact

              I don't think DSB is positioning itself as a conventional dim sum venue, despite the name, more of a lunch time "themed" venue. I think they have more salads on their menu than dumplings.I don't think you'll find a Caesar at Ton Kiang or wherever you are headed on the 38.

              1. re: Gary Soup

                It could be worse. There was a place in L.A. Koreatown called Dim Sum, which strangely had no dim sum items at all. Rather, it was a fast food place in an international food court, and "Dim Sum" was apparently chosen to represent Chinese food in general, not dim sum in particular. (Kind of like in the old days places called Shanghai Restaurant or Peking Restaurant only served Cantonese food.)

                1. re: Gary Soup

                  It's a good point -- I don't think that's their intent either. I mostly said that just to emphasize the fact that it would be nice to have a bit more selection. I think you are right that #(salads) > #(dumplings).

                  Hmm.... a Caesar salad dumpling? Perhaps we should suggest it :-)