Very pleasant and better than expected dim sum experience, ABC Foster City
With all those debates that have been going on of late of "which place has the absolute best dim sum", I think it's time to chime in on a personal report.
I'm not saying ABC is the best, but during a Sunday lunch today in which hopefully DST caught most diners off guard today, getting a table pre noon wasn't too bad, although relegated to the back room.
I recall a first dim sum visit after the remodeling was less than stellar (but a superb pineapple baked bun with taro inside).
Today, the overall experience was a whole lot better, with two superb standouts that hopefully the nitpicky (you know who you are) will enjoy.
With that said, there were also a few "not bad but not excellent" type items.
Started with a pot of chrysanthemum tea (caffeine free safe choice). $1 per pot. The flavors came from the bottom of the pot, and grew stronger as we got near a water refill. Much better than last time
Cha Siu Bao - Light, airy, fluffy exterior dough. The cha siu was finely chopped into very small pieces, and luckily did not contain much or hardly any giant chunks of fat [like China Village in Belmont], yet was soft and juicy. These came 3 per order and were not that big, but of very good quality overall. Almost as good as when Joy Luck Place in San Mateo nailed it only once out of many visits.
Beef cheung fun - better than China Village and Diamond Harbor's visits. Not super slick smooth as The Kitchen made it one time, but above average
Seen Jook Guen - A good rendition of the fried yuba roll (with some veg, pork, shrimp inside) and the delectable sauce
*Steamed pork spareribs over rice in a tin container in a mini wooden bucket with a handle - for lack of better translation, this is "pai gwut jing fahn" but I believe it to be more like "zhong fan" (zhong as in container). This would be kind of like clay pot rice but without the clay pot. In parts of Hong Kong, this was considered "blue collar worker's" dim sum breakfast, where locals would get a pile of this zhong fahn (steamed rice with some dim sum items on top) as a quick fix and energy boost. Anyways the pork spare ribs were not greasy and paired really well with the steamed rice, of which the server poured some seasoned soy sauce inside to bring out the flavors. Inside the rice were two pieces of very tasty and moist preserved sausage.
*Chinese herb chicken feet (Yerk Choy Gai Gerk) - this is only available on the weekends. Never seen this item before at any dim sum restaurant. The chicken feet were not deep fried like the common prep with black bean sauce, but simmered for a long time in a Chinese herbal broth that has a wonderful sweet aftertaste (I didn't catch all the Chinese herbs that went in when I asked the pushcart lady, but goji berry was in there for sure, and maybe wai san). So imagine the best dim sum chicken feet you've had, but not gooey brown deep fried and greasy. The chicken feet was a light shade of brown, with the broth being a much darker shade. The pushcart lady told us that this has been a quick seller today. She was nice enough to give us an additional scoop of the chicken feet herbal broth upon request. One order of this may be $5, as I believe it was marked as a special item. I'm not saying this will be a big hit with all the hounds, but certainly those who aren't put off by herbal flavors, will find this to be a very refreshing take. But bottom line is that the chicken feet were cooked the way we liked it, not meat falling off the bone, but enough toothy bites and good texture.
Fish congee - supposedly from fresh fish filets. They sliced it up into very tiny small pieces, and definitely no bones. At $7.50 this was a better value than China Village's (which although CV gave whole chunks of boneless fish probably from frozen, ABC's congee was generally a better texture). Still a notch below the best when Joy Luck Place nails it, but overall not bad.
Tofu fa - really smooth and silky. The ginger syrup was not as strong but not diluted like some other places either. Our stomachs almost burst but I had to finish this up. Almost as good as 100% Healthy Dessert's tofu fa in Millbrae, but definitely better syrups.
Also looked good but did not try
- mango pudding
- black sesame rolls (ji ma guen or "fei lum" as it looks like old school rolls of camera film), not easy to find a place that sells this, or at least does it good
So I'm glad that ABC is at least going back to basics, so to speak by offering the standouts which I've marked with *
I know it's not fair to compare based on one or two visits, but at this rate ABC seems ahead of the game in going back to basics and doing it well vs Diamond Harbor down the street.
The BBQ pork puff at ABC Foster city (cha siu soh) was the definitive version I've ever had circa 2003 to 2005. Afterwards they never managed to reproduce that taste and texture. I forgot to mention I had it on Sunday, which while was not bad, was definitely not the same. Still very decent.
We stopped going to Joy Luck about 6 to 8 months ago after a really bad experience (where previous visits were quite prime at the time), that they charged us for a pot of hot water, in addition to the dim sum not even meeting the mark (including fish congee). Perhaps and hopefully they are on the upswing.
But I'm curious to know if Joy Luck has been offering anything different recently aside from the common lineup or things not listed on the menu and don't need to be "special" or "custom" ordered through the dim sum restaurant's pit boss so to speak.
One week later we returned and got to the restaurant around the 11 am mark today.
Bottom line, quite consistent overall and I think this place has a lot of potential.
Chrysanthemum tea - Not as flavorful as last week's pot for some reason.
Cha Siu Bao - A tad bit dry out the onside, which quickly became a lot more chewy and less appealing when cooled to room temperature. The insides were excellent, small pieces of lean cut yet juicy and tasty cha siu.
Beef cheung fun - Now these guys speak my language. Trumped last week's batch. Skins were smooth and slippery the way they should be. A true taste test of cheung fun is to eat the top piece of the trio (where it has the least amount of sauce). If the texture is good and the skins steamed right and at the optimal thickness (or thinness rather) then sauce absolutely enhances the experience. In today's case it did.
Seen Jook Guen - fried yuba roll. Much tastier than last time. This time I noticed the more delicate knife work of the contents which I noted shreds of bamboo and woodear.
Chiu Chow dumplings - nice rendition. Someone knows how to pair finely diced pork, chopped cilantro, peanuts, dried shrimplets and other ingredients to make the end result flavorful moist with a good chewy skin (but not chewy and dry)
Yerk Seen Gai Gerk 藥膳雞腳 (herbal chicken feet) - previously called "Yerk choy gai gerk" 藥材雞腳 by last week's pushcart lady. A tad bit saltier this time but still very good. Much healthier than deep fried then steamed phoenix talons.
Bitter melon slices with what appears to be a light in house XO sauce - a big plate of these served on the cold side, sliced at an angle, lightly blanced and de-skinned. Had the crunch and moisture of celery, the flavor of bitter melon (for reals). On the top, a small layer of light oil, dried shrimplets, red peppers, and finely diced Chinese smoked ham. Very interesting. Great to combat the heaviness of dim sum (and cholestrol). I'm glad to see something unusual yet makes a lot of sense.
Saw the spare ribs steamed rice in tin container, but did not get it this time.
Hope the quality keeps up.
I was there about a month ago, on a cold rainy Sunday. We were late (1:30 or so) and there was still a wait for tables. Interestingly, fresh food did continue to come out, so this is a good stop if you're on the late side.
Food was decidedly mixed. I wasn't thrilled with most of the dumplings (wrappers too thick), but sauces were good. I liked the fried tofu, a vegetarian dumpling with spinach and water chestnuts(?), and the turnip cakes. Steamed pork buns were good.
One of my friends is allergic to seafood, and even though we asked which items were vegetarian, she ended up detecting shrimp in almost everything. We gave her an extra sesame ball.
I also wasn't sure about the ordering, complicated by how late we were. They weren't willing to put in special orders, so if it wasn't coming around on the carts (and we were far in the corner), we didn't get it. The turnip cake was an exception.
Pots of pu erh tea were available, if you could figure out how to ask for it. I didn't see a check.
I frequent ABC about once a month for dim sum and for the past few years have thought it's been very respectable -- it's my go-to dim sum on the mid-Peninsula. It's MUCH better than Diamond Harbor which was a huge disappointment to me. Not sure why ABC has been looked down on this board -- it was disappointing 5+ years ago but has been solid since then. Their steamed spare ribs aren't as good as usual (haven't tried the one in the tin container, though) -- I think they got a new dim sum chef a year or so ago so it's been a tad downhill but still decent.
On a slightly different note, tried dim sum at Asian Pearl in Millbrae for the first time yesterday and it was better than expected. We really enjoyed our dishes -- pan fried chive dumplings, beef balls, haw gau were esp. good -- and would definitely go again. The only disappointments were the steamed bread items -- the steamed bun with custard inside had overly runny custard, the chau sui bao was a bit tough, and the malaysian cake wasn't as moist or flavorful as it could be.
"Not sure why ABC has been looked down on this board -- it was disappointing 5+ years ago but has been solid since then."
We need to hear from you more! Thanx.
Peninsula Asian Pearl
1671 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030
ABC Sea Food Restaurant
973 E Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404