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Aug 11, 2005 08:56 PM

Saigon (Richmond) Dim Sum Review

  • n

I had a dim sum lunch at Saigon today (3150 Pierce st., Richmond 559 9388) - Just north of the Albany hump, east of the freeway.

If you want a big dim sum hall easily accessible to Berkeley this is it. The grade for the dim sum is "B", but I'm comparing it to SF ("A" grade). I honestly don't know of other dim sum places in the Berkeley environs with which to compare Saigon. I got there by asking an Asian man fixing my friend's computer a couple of miles away for his favorite local restaurant. He said, "You won't find better dim sum for 50 miles around." Sorry to disagree. But I would go back there again for lunch, if in the area. Certainly not worth a trip from SF though.

OK, I know, cut to the chow. At 11 a.m. there were probably 25 people sitting there in front of empty plates waiting for dim sum. When we left at 12:30 there were probably 125 people there. I ordered pure porridge $2.50. It was perfect. Donut was perfect $2.00.

So my hopes were high...the shrimp in the various dim sum did not have the sparkly sweet shrimpy flavor you love. Not bad in any way but just a clean proteiny flavor and a little tough. Most dim sum are $2.50 - $3.50/4 pieces. Har gow skin is thin, almost transparent and a bit rubbery. Siu Mai are kind of salty but nice and porky. Little pork buns are fine. Deep fried, very pretty, lacy big shrimp balls ($3.50/4)with duck sauce would have been wonderful if the shrimp had been higher quality. They also feature chicken feet, lots of taro things, the big crab claw breaded fish mousse things ($4.50/2) and egg custard tarts. Overall, the dim sum does not come out fast enough.

Unfortunately I didn't see the non-dim sum menu until we were leaving. What's on this menu is the reason I'll be back the next time I have to go over that way.
There are a lot of duck and clay pot choices. There are fish, lobster, and crab tanks (all prices for these are "seasonal") and they feature lots of choices for these "live" items(chiu chow style, supreme broth, satay, xo sauce, sashimi, butter cooked, wine sauce, sam pan style, preserved turnip with shallots, as well as the usual, like black bean sauce, salt and pepper, sweet and sour, etc.). They also serve calamari, sea bass, and scallop dishes on this menu, and "live shrimp." This must be the "good" shrimp that does not show up in the dim sum. They also feature about 4 animals I consider endangered, so I won't tell you about those if you don't mind.

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  1. I do hope you make it back to try the regular menu. They make some of the very best Chinese food in the bay area. See link below for more info.


    1 Reply
    1. re: nja

      Thanks for kindly thinking of my gustatory pleasure!
      I do plan to return to eat lots of "live" shrimp (thanks R.L), crab, lobster and other non-endangered fish.

    2. r
      Robert Lauriston

      The live shrimp are great. And correspondingly expensive. If you don't pay close attention it's easy to spend a pile.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Mr.Lauriston, you and Melanie Wong are my heroes.
        Is there a restaurant in Northern Clifornia you have not visited?

      2. We had lunch here today. Highlights were shrimp (not ha gow) and scallop dumplings. Sharks fin dumplings were OK+; spareribs were appropriately grisly and fatty and tasty; bean curd rolls came in a congealed gravy/sauce - a definite minus. An order of Hainan Chicken yielded exceptionally boney pieces - the most meaty piece was the middle section of a wing! The accompanying rice was tasty and the soup of the day of rich chicken broth with black-eyed peas/peanuts(+chicken foot) was rich and delicious. I got some to go.
        The place was never full, but the noise level was still annoyingly high.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Sarah

          It makes me sad that your shark fin dumplings were only adequate considering how hard it is for the sharks to swim after they rip off the fins and throw the sharks back in the water. In light of the ecological tragedy, it seems a shame the dumplings weren't stellar.

          1. re: Niki

            Sharks fin dumplings are called that because of their shape. They don't have any actual sharks fin in them.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              For the sharks fin dumplings that I had, they actually do have sharks fin in there, though not the most expensive type, which was translated as, "'the loose fin."

              1. re: Cynthia

                Guess we'll have to let Sarah tell us what was in the dumplings she was served. I did assume that she was referring to yee chee gao (literally sharks fin dumpling), the type that are served in a steamer basket, like the photo below since she used the plural. This type used to have some sharks fin in them, but that's rare these days as artificial fin has become available and some places just leave it out. There are other types of dumplings served at tea houses that do have sharks fin in them, e.g., boon tong gao which are one per order and served in double-boiled soup.



                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  They were like in the photo but dried out looking and there were only three -- no sharks fin as far as I can tell. I would have passed, but fellow diner prevailed.

                  1. re: Sarah

                    Thanks, Sarah. I found that photo on the site of a New Zealand restaurant, so we can't do a taste comparison easily. (g)

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                Wow, thanks so much for relieving my mind. After wincing about "Shark Fin Battle" on Iron Chef, I just assumed shark fin meant shark fin. So Saigon does not serve any shark fin? Is shark fin being served generally elsewhere in the Bay Area? Is this inappropriate to discuss here?
                Thanks, you are so my hero. Is there any restaurant,
                not to mention tamale truck, in Northern California at which you have not eaten?

                1. re: Niki

                  Saigon Seafood Harbor has many dishes with sharks fin in it, as do all the local Hong Kong-style seafood restaurants I can think of.

                  This board is dedicated to trading tips about delicious chow in the SF Bay Area. If you want to talk about the ethics of consuming sharks fin, you'll need to find another message board dedicated to that cause.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Mmm...delicious extinction.