Another Dim Sum Debate
We are heading to SF in 2 weeks and I'm trying to do my homework and give so much thanks to fellow hounders who keep putting up with my endless questions...special thanks to wolfe...We have secured reservations to Canteen...decided that mexican would be better in the Mission for lunch and I'm still trying to investigate Peruvian a little more...but I keep going in circles regarding Dim Sum.
This is what I can assess -
Yank Sing - super pricey and not worth it unless it's on an expense account (and we don't have one)...also I can't justify spending over $5 for shu mai.
Koi Palace - huge selection, great dim sum, terribly long wait especially if you aren't Chinese and we aren't...and horrible rude service.
City View and Ton Kiang - seem to get mentioned but not much variety.
Is there anything with the variety of Yank Sing or Koi Palace without the unwanted negatives? We have a car and are willing to travel if necessary. Also I'm looking to either go on Thursday or Saturday morning
I think to properly answer this question, some background info would help. How familiar are you with dim sum? If you are someone who eats it every week in Vancouver, you're going to be harder to please than someone who tried it once in Cleveland. Are you looking for particular dishes (for ex. a fan of shrimp dumplings, asian sweets, or pork)? Are you squeamish?
The best dim sum is on Sundays, with Saturday coming second. Range of dim sum is usually limited on weekdays (but you might not care if they don't serve pickled chicken feet on Thursday, whereas I do). And the wait, even at places like Koi Palace, is not that big of a deal, if you show up 15 minutes before the restaurant opens. The worst time to show up is about 30 minutes late, because then all the tables are full and turnover takes forever.
That being said, if you don't want to wait at Koi Palace (and I don't because I think they put too much sugar in everything), Hong Kong Flower Lounge, Zen Peninsula, and Fook Yuen are all good choices.
I agree with your choices and think that these places are also decent. I just think it sucks--and again, I recognize this is a bit off topic, so I apologize in advance--that for the price we're paying in the bay area we cannot get something close to what we would get in Hong Kong at the same price point.
At the same time, I should clarify that not all the places in Hong Kong are excellent for dim sum, and even the ones above that I think are just "decent" are comparable to places like Maxims, Tao Heung, etc. So I guess by that measure our choices in the bay area aren't that shabby. :)
I just want to give the background info that you requested (maybe it will help). I'm from NYC, generally eat Dim Sum in Flushing or Chinatown...love 88 Palace in NY (under the Manhattan Bridge) and this place that looks like a diner in Flushing (forgot the name). I am by no means a dim sum expert but have eaten my fair share...in NY Sunday is the best Dim Sum day, but its also pretty crowded and I was trying to avoid the crowds . I'm not squeamish at all, love offal but not a fan of chicken feet...though I had some spicy chicken feet with black bean sauce here in NY that was pretty good. Dim Sum isn't a must, and surely I'm not going to pay the price of Yank Sing even if it's good, it's still Dim Sum and I can get Dim Sum any day of the week so I'm not really going for the "experience". Thick, doughy dumplings are not my idea of good dim sum...mostly it's about choices and service. I don't care if the servers aren't particularly engaging...I just want to make sure that all of the carts (or at least most) come our way, and there are lots of choices, not just standard custard, pork buns, turnip cakes and shu mai. I think I'm looking into HKFL, and Zen Peninsula as well as City View, if we want to stay close...I think I will save Yank Sing for the tourists who can't get Dim Sum back home and the expense accounts...and Koi Palace despite the general consensus that the food is great I don't think is worth all of the other negatives.
Having eaten at a bunch of places in NYC and Flushing with my great uncle who lives in Queens, I think the dim sum in the Bay Area can be a bit better, depending on the place. This is my personal opinion only--City View is about as good as what you can get in NY, but not better. I think that Koi Palace, Zen Peninsula, HKFL, and even Yank Sing have a chance at being a pleasant surprise for you. In an informal poll taken of the people sitting in my living room right now excluding me, the vote goes to HKFL for variety (sometimes they even have vinegared stewed pigs feet with eggs and ginger!).
If you have a sweet tooth, consider Koi Palace which sometimes has dragons beard candy (and I don't think you are going to notice the service if you've been eating dim sum regularly anyway). Actually, if you're looking for something with consistently good food and a relatively nonchaotic atmosphere, I would also consider the main room at Fook Yuen, which for lack of a better word, is very comfortable with nice servers.
For whatever you choose, I recommend going when they open on a Saturday (or a Sunday). Trust me, it makes things much more pleasant, which seems to be what you are looking for. (I remember most of the places in NY as being kind of sloppy and LOUD.) Service is slower and more relaxed at the beginning, so you have time to sip your tea and be more choosy about what you want to try as you stare at the poor souls who woke up too late to get a table.
I actually have never had dim sum in NYC but I have also heard the dim sum in bay area is better. I guess this makes sense since there are more Hong Kong people in the bay area than there are in NYC. In fact, I would think there are more Hong Kong people in the bay area than anywhere else in the country (including LA). Just look at all the Hong Kong pop stars who hold concerts here (aznconcerts.blogspot.com is a good site to keep track of all the events if you're curious) versus LA and NYC.
That said, I still think it makes more sense to go on a Thursday or Friday. You will find the same dim sum chefs in the kitchen on those two days as you will find on the weekend, but because there are fewer patrons the chefs will on average do a better job at preparing the food. And because the economy is so bad right now you will not have a problem getting a table even during peak hours at Koi Palace on a Thursday or Friday.
I've been to all these restaurants many times - HKFL, Zen Peninsula, Fook Yuen - and I have to say Koi Palace still makes the best food if measured by Hong Kong standards. The reason is that a huge part of their clientele are fairly wealthy people who immigrated here from Hong Kong, and those people are very demanding when it comes to Cantonese food (in Cantonese we call it "gong gau").
Also, in general I would go for places where you order on a dim sum sheet so it is made (or at least steamed/cooked) to order. It's okay if some of the dishes are made and carried out in bulk, but that should be only a fraction of the dishes. This is the set up at the top places in Hong Kong and the good places in the bay area try to do the same.
By the way, Koi Palace does a terrible job with the dragon beard candy. It comes out way too chewy and big when it's supposed to be melt-in-your-mouth soft and bite sized. This is especially sad because they make it right on the spot and it's still nasty.
Honestly I think Koi Palace is better at dinner so if you are interested let me know and I'll recommend some of their signature dishes.
The problem with going Thu/Fri is that most of the clientele are non Cantonese doing business lunches. The selection is usually limited to dumplings, more dumplings, fried food, and egg tarts. Early Saturday or Sunday, you get the best of both worlds, fresh food and a decent selection.
The best place to get dim sum on this continent is Vancouver. In terms of sheer AVERAGE quality, it was better than HK when I went three years ago b/c the HK people who immigrated with their Canadian Visas were all almost annoyingly wealthy and extremely demanding. Then combine that with the amazingly clean and fresh Vancouver seafood. The highlight of my trip was when a woman pushing a cart asked "Which type of live clam do you want me to slice into your porridge? We have THREE today."
While I think Koi Palace is OK, I personally don't find it to my taste. I'm a picky Cantonese too, and I think the last straw was when we got ha gow and siu mai that tasted like they had seasoned it with aspartame. The rule in my family is that if you overseason something like that, you're hiding something. Plus, I find their warren of rooms claustrophobic and smelly. That being said, I've got Cantonese friends and family who like Koi Palace, so I tell people to try it and a few others to see what they're into.
I agree about the dragon's beard candy btw, but for someone who can't go to HK, it might be interesting for them to try. It is hard to find a decent version even in HK--believe me, I've tried. I even hunted down a woman who was selling hers amongst the sex toy stalls in the Temple Street Night Market once. (Who knew that asking "Where can I find candy?" could be construed as a double entendre?)
Sfbing and Hong Kong Foodie - I agree with you both completely...I went to a dim sum spot in 2000 with a friend in SF and was blown away (considering I've never gone to HK) compared to what I get in NYC. New York Dim Sum isn't bad but it's definitely better in the Bay area, the last couple of times I've visited SF I didn't get dim sum so I'm hoping to get it this time. I just checked the website of HKFL and like the selection of offal there...how is Koi Palace with offal? Not as impressed with Zen Peninsula...we don't have a sweet tooth so good custard/dessert isn't the number one criteria. I guess I've narrowed it down to HKFL and Koi Palace (despite the service)...definitely leaning towards Thursday but can go on Saturday. Are the offerings really that much less on Thursday? Will they still have a good variety and offal choices? If the answer is no then Saturday it is...If we do choose Saturday is HKFL much less croweded? Thank you both for your advice.
Simply for logistics, I think if you decide to go to Koi Palace you should go on Thursday. (I asked a friend who just went for her opinion and she went on a rant about how insane it was on the weekends and how too many "friends of the restaurant" jump the queue. So I guess it isn't just non Chinese thing.) One additional plus is that it is much closer to SF.
If it works out that you're going on Saturday, I would go to HKFL. It is less of a zoo. Plus, if you don't like it, you could head down Millbrae and check out Fook Yuen, Zen, Asian Pearl, or even Classic Sichuan and Patio Filipino.
As for selection, you probably won't notice!
On my weekday visit the other patrons may not have been Cantonese but they must have represented every other city/province of China. I guess they don't know dim sum. My spare ribs were tasty, my fried squid was perfect and my XLB were good with thin wrappers, and hot and juicy, But , of course, they are from Shanghai and don't count. The non dim sum beef with baby bok choy, my daughter had, was delicious and plentiful. G608, try it, I'm sure you'll like it. Parking is relative ls easy, in their lot or the parking lots on Gellart in front.
The dim sum is really good in Vancouver but I think the best is still in Hong Kong. I don't think there's a single place anywhere in the US or Canada that is comparable to places like Fook Lam Moon 福臨門, Lung King Heen 龍景軒, and the vip floor of Yung Kee 鏞記酒家 in Hong Kong, just to name a few.
I agree that a lot of the immigrants in Vancouver are wealthy, but the really wealthy ones are not "immigrants" but rather "dual citizens" who travel constantly between Vancouver and Hong Kong. Also, all of the tycoons are still based in Hong Kong and they are the ones who truly set the standard for Cantonese food.
In terms of ingredients, I agree that Vancouver sources great seafood but you can get the same stuff in Hong Kong and a lot more as long as you are willing to pay the premium. The same cannot be said for Vancouver or the bay area because (1) not enough people are willing to pay and thus (2) we do not have the infrastructure for importing so much variety of top quality food.
I also don't think the dim sum selection in the bay area is that different on weekdays versus weekend (at least not at places like Koi Palace, for instance). It's not like at Lei Garden 利苑酒家 in Hong Kong where they offer 20+ additional dishes on weekends or Lung King Heen 龍景軒 where they offer a paltry 10+ dishes on weekdays but 30+ dishes on the weekend.
I also don't think it's true that the clientele is primarily business and non Cantonese on the weekdays. It is true for places like Yank Sing in the financial district and maybe a place like ABC restaurant in San Mateo since it's close to a lot of offices, but I don't think it's the case for places in the Sunset and Richmond or in the South Bay.
By the way, if you go to the nicest places in Hong Kong, they would never, ever cart out the dim sum since everything you order would be made fresh. :)
There is no question that the best dim sum is in HK. However, when you average the top drawer places in HK with the many, many mediocre places where the dim sum is just ok or kind of scary (not everybody is importing their seafood from clean waters you know), I think the AVERAGE quality is actually better in Vancouver, which has far fewer options but they're nearly all very good.
Lung King Heen was the bomb, Lei Garden was just ok. Yan Toh Heen once put them both to shame, but when I went last year it wasn't very good. Do you know what happened to the chef? We tried tactfully asking after lunch, but the staff insisted (a little too vehemently) he was still there. I like Yung Kee, but have never been to the VIP floor. Actually, the VIP thing kind of bugs me, but HK is often all about money and status.
Since HK foodie, SFBing and the other poster in the dim sum thread from Canada, have such high standards for dim sum (surpassing even me as I've grown to accept the fact that SF Bay Area dim sum is as good as it can get here and it will never be anywhere close to HK or Vancouver, much like SF Bay Area Taiwanese is never going to be anywhere near Taiwan street food, or SF Bay Area sushi will never match Los Angeles or Taiwan or Japan etc etc), I'm curious to know where you guys think in all of SF Bay Area that has the best
cha siu bao
lor mai gai
cha siu so
cha siu bao (baked version)
book tripe (ngau bak yip)
mix tripe (ngau dsap)
a vote for best unique dim sum item rarely or never seen elsewhere within SF Bay, in SF Bay
etc etc etc.
Best filler dish and where it can be found (i.e. the fried rice and noodle plates you order to fill you up while you wait for more dim sum or if you think the dim sum offered that day no longer has availability or potential and you want to leave on a full stomach)
best dim sum dessert item and where (baked tapioca pudding, yeung chi gum lo/mango pomelo coconut juice evaporated milk sugar pudding, black sesame roll/camera film, tofu fa etc etc)
Because both of you know, even in Hong Kong the best dim sum restaurant doesn't do everything great, like Sai Yuen is known for cha siu bao but you may go to Fook Lam Moon for the baked version, maybe Fung Shing in North Point for shark's fin dumpling soup and for that Shun Tak flavor, or that you go to Lin Heung Teahouse for something old school like pork stomach siu mai, or cheese BBQ pork puff at Maxim's, just for example.
So perhaps at the risk of going off topic and talking about what's good in Hong Kong or Vancouver which is where this is all going, perhaps we can discuss what's the absolute best or top 3 places for a good particular dim sum offering SF Bay Area only, for the benefit of everyone.
My vote for best HK style salted fish and chicken fried rice, as mentioned before in some lost dim sum thread, is Koi Palace. Reminded me of Jockey Club Hong Kong in the 80s but better. Their wet stir fried beef chow fun was horrible. I'd also be interested in knowing which dim sum restaurant has the best dried fried beef chow fun and e-fu noodle.
The defunct Seafood Harbor (where The Kitchen currently resides) had the best shark's fin dumpling in soup, that tasted exactly like the defunct Regent Seafood dim sum in Wanchai (1980s, old school). They also had a rare interesting dim sum offering of stewed fish head/cheeks in black bean sauce a few times. A bit greasy but fantastic. Sadly this no longer counts as they are no longer in business, but you see where I'm going.
re: K K
I think it is fairly hard to separate the SF places on individual items, because it is rare that they are head and shoulders above the others in anything. That being said, this seems like fun.
cha siu so--Joy Luck, b/c the chef has a good touch with the puff pastry
tapioca pudding squares-Hung To (both the green tea and the coconut)
unique items--deep fried custard buns at Fook Yuen, coconut-peanut rice noodle rolls at HKFL, ngau dsap-curry squid at HKFL (well, technically they are two separate items, but if you ask the server, she'll mix them together into a uniquely savory creation)
Sadly gone favorites:
tomato-tamarind spareribs at Asia garden
octopus at the place that used to be in the Embarcadero
flower tofu with preserved eggs and pickled vegetables at East Ocean
Also, as a filler dish, I used to like those little tapioca-rice flour rolling pin noodles. Why doesn't anybody make that any more?
re: K K
Thanks for framing this discussion, as I think this is more productive than endlessly debating which dim sum house is best. Let me mention a few places that I wouldn't nominate as "best" overall, but that shine with a dish or two above everyone else.
Suen jook guen (tofu skin rolls) - Yet Wah on Clement, every element wrapped up inside is cut and aligned perfectly and the sauce is delectable
Hot sauce condiment - Dol Ho on Pacific, revved up with black beans, garlic, preserved vegetables and who knows what other secret ingredients in this housemade sauce
Do see pai gwut fan (steamed black bean pork ribs over rice) - Dol Ho on Pacific, the secret is the guoa pei (dried tangerine peel)
Boon tong gao (big dumpling filled with sharksfin and soup in double boiled soup) - S & T Seafood on Noriega
Nai wong bao (baked custard buns) - Tong Palace on Clement
Macanese egg custard tart - Zen Peninsula, Millbrae
Foie gras and sharksfin siu mai - Zen Peninsula, Millbrae
Sweet taro buns - Zen Peninsula, Millbrae
Steamed XO diced mushroom and pork dumplings - Koi Palace, Daly City
Zen Peninsula report
Koi Palace report
Dol Ho report
I think Yank Sing should be on any visitor's list of dim sum spots. I have tried the others you named, plus about two dozen other places in the bay area. Yank Sing has proved to be consistently good, and user-friendly -- few other places compare for "total experience." Reservations, free parking, attentive service
If I had to eat dim sum every day (my not-secret wish), I would be more concerned about the price of a dim sum meal. As a rare exploration, the cost of an extravagant dim sum lunch is less than lunch at any one-star or "A-list" white tablecloth restaurant.
You will find great food and good times all around the city. Enjoy!
Agree 100% except I believe parking is only free on weekends & at a "reduced rate" on weekdays. When my parents (not Asian) visit, we happily treat them to Yank Sing as they really enjoy dim sum & love everything there. And sometimes, they treat us. We DO NOT take mom & dad to Gary Danko, Michael Mina, etc or as anyhow puts it, "A-list" white tablecloth restaurant." They're just not the spendy type. BTW, two visits ago, we went to Zen Peninsula due to time constraint & were disappointed. Service was spotty, food was greasy, & some items were thick & doughy.
Hate to say it, but the dim sum in the bay area is still leagues behind what you get in Hong Kong--SIGH--which I know is not answering the original question, but I wanted to get that out there right away to manage expectations (so if your experience turns out bad, don't swear off dim sum for the rest of your life because it really is a lot better in Hong Kong). That said, the best place is still Koi Palace, and love it or hate it, it is still the place that all the Hong Kong transplants go to if they want the best HK-style Cantonese food here.
I think you should only go to Koi Palace for dim sum on Monday or Thursday, and possibly Friday. It's too crazy on the weekends so even if you can get a table and don't mind the service, the food is going to be subpar. This was the case once when I went twice in the same week, the first time on Thursday and the second time on Sunday. We ordered almost the same dishes and the quality was substantially below par on Sunday. For instance, the rice noodles were a lot thicker, the skin on the shrimp dumpling broke more easily, etc. Of course, this is only a sample size of one but I think it makes sense since the kitchen is overwhelmed on the weekends.
I've had dim sum at Yank Sing a few times over the years and actually think the quality is pretty good. I think they do a better job at quality control and is substantially more hygienic than Koi Palace (with the latter I really hate the stench coming from the carpet the minute you walk into the restaurant, not to mention the restroom is just gross). But there are two huge problems with Yank Sing: (1) it is RIDICULOUSLY expensive and (2) the dim sum variety is reminiscent of what you found back in the 1980s and reflects none of the evolution in dim sum in the last 20-30 years.
Just to give you an idea, the dim sum at Yank Sing is so expensive that it is either the same price as or MORE expensive than what you find at Fook Lam Moon, Lung King Heen, Lei Garden, etc, which are some of the best places for dim sum in Hong Kong, the very capital of Cantonese food and dim sum by extension. The quality might be good at Yank Sing, especially compared to what you can find in the bay area, but it is nowhere near the quality of the food at places aforementioned, and to pay so much is a huge turn-off.
The variety at Yank Sing is also really limited and outdated. Last time I went they were serving walnut prawns (which is an American invention) and peking duck (which is not Cantonese food, and definitely not a dim sum by Hong Kong standards).
I guess some places that are passable for dim sum and not too expensive or gross include: (1) Mayflower on Geary and 27th out in the Richmond (2) ... hmm I can't think of other places!
We, my daughter and I, went to KP on a week day, as I said in a previous post. We were in the minority. We waited 10 or less minutes at lunch time. perhaps not the best table but service was attentive and professional. My daughter thought one of the young ladies circulating with the food was giving her the evil eye because she didn't want what she was carrying, but otherwise no problems. While it has been suggested that you may not get all the choices on a week day, there were enough for us.
Whether you are Chinese or not does not matter with Koi Palace, as most of us Chinese plebs have to wait anyway (unless you have an "in" with management and staff, or are some big VIP golfer spendy type which I suppose are a lot more rarer these days, then perhaps you get better service). I've been to lesser dim sum joints where the service is mostly horrible, but then again when a place is packed to the gills like a zooyard, getting a teapot refilled with hot water by asking only once is considered professional ;-).
re: K K
it's also the service once seated. i have been going to koi palace for years and years (native san franciscan), but after my last visit i swore i would never go again without asians in my party, preferably cantonese or mandarin speakers. service was so abominable that it was the first time in my life that i didn't leave any tip.
i realize it's only fair to offer specifics and frankly i can't remember if i posted on this or not, but issues included carts and trays that never came by (but circled all the asian tables), ordering off the menu to compensate for said missing carts and being informed 45 minutes later and only upon our asking that the kitchen was not making the requested dim sum so they would not be forthcoming, issues getting tea refilled (and yes, i know how to position the lid for "more tea please"), and making another 40 minutes to request the bill, get the bill, and get the charge draft. i think in 2.5 hours, i managed to get four plates. stunning.
koi palace has absolutely the best dim sum but i can't go back without a speaker.