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Mar 24, 2010 08:55 PM

Dim Sum at Champagne Seafood Restaurant, San Mateo

Three hounds in search of dim sum delight ate today at Champagne Seafood Restaurant in San Mateo in the space formerly occupied by the gone but not forgotten Joy Luck Place.

The remodeled space, while not ornate, has a much warmer feel than JLP’s spare furnishings. The conversion of two rooms into one plus the high ceilings, ample natural light, and generous spacing between tables add a pleasant openness. Some JLP staff have stayed on with Champagne, including the hostess with the sort of spiky hairdo who was friendly and attentive.

Our meal included—

603. Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce
612. Tofu in Cane Sugar
614. Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (har gow)
615. Beef Ball in Broth
629. Egg Yolk Lava Bun
635. Baked Crispy Portuguese Egg Tart
642. Scallop Dumpling with Parsley
655. Rice Noodle Roll Stuffed with Fried Dough
Combination of Suckling Pig and BBQ Pork (not on menu)

The chicken feet were soft and tender but the flavor was milder and not as satisfying to me as at Oakland’s Restaurant Peony, the scene of most of my recent dim sum meals.

The har gow was tightly wrapped and nicely shaped but the texture was too uniform and the flavor lacking. The scallop dumplings scored better on both counts.

I enjoyed the suckling pig a bit more than what we had last week at Koi Palace ( It was a different part of the pig with larger bits of soft meat, lots of juicy fat, and a good solid after-taste. The BBQ pork served with it was at least as good.

The beef ball in broth had some nice crunchy parts and pleasing flavors.

The noodle roll stuffed with fried dough (my first ever) was light and airy but not flavorful enough to make me a convert to this dish.

The desserts were all very good. Wanting to save the sweets for last, I let my egg yolk lava bun get cold, so the dough was harder and the filling cooler than it ought to have been. In this state it wasn’t as enjoyable as the similar steamed egg and custard bun at Asian Pearl but I suspect it might have been just as good if eaten warm. There is also an “egg custard bun” on the menu at Champagne. If anyone has tried both of these please let us know the difference. I have uploaded (I hope— it’s my first time trying this) images of the two menu pages so perhaps a Chinese-speaking hound can advise of the difference between no. 629 and no. 631 based on the Chinese names.

The tofu in syrup at first seemed clearly inferior to Peony’s version, which has a softer, more melt-in-your-mouth texture and a purer, stronger sugar syrup taste. But by the final mouthful I was beginning to think that Champagne’s less sweet but more complex flavor might actually be better, though the texture and overall effect were still not as good.

The last may have been the best. The small Portuguese egg tarts had a light, crispy crust and flavorful custard which was slightly burnt on top.

The service was the best I’ve had recently. The hostess recognized Pia and came by to say hello. She remained very attentive and brought us clean plates. When I mentioned I liked mustard she brought me my own portion. We did have to ask a second time to get our bill, however.

Less than a week after my prior dim sum experience I was privileged again to enjoy good food and good company. This could get addicting!

Koi Palace Restaurant
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

Peninsula Asian Pearl
1671 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

Restaurant Peony
388 9th St Ste 288, Oakland, CA 94607

Champagne Seafood Restaurant
88 E 4th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

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  1. Good report charliemyboy. I glad that you have taken up the quest for great dim sum. I wish I was able to join you but now I have to carefully watch what I eat.

    I will when I have time list all the dim sum houses for you and your pack to try. I fear that it will be too addicting for even for someone who has just started this quest. I wish you and you fellow hounds the best of luck and look forward to reading you post.

    3 Replies
    1. re: yimster

      Thanks for your words of encouragement, yimster. Your informative dim sum posts of 2 or 3 years ago helped guide my early explorations.

      I admire your fortitude-- if I couldn't eat a type of food I loved I don't think I would have the heart to read about others enjoying it. Hopefully you will get medical clearance to join us at some future engagement.

      1. re: charliemyboy

        Believe it or not I not a real fan of dim sum. The later Mrs. yimster was the real fan, late in her illness she would not eat much else so I took her to enjoy her favorite meal. My dim sum post was longer than 2 or 3 years ago more like six or seven years ago.

        What I like to eat is something else. I like simple comfort Chinese or American food something hot on cold days or something cool on hot days. I am easy to please and I will eat my own cooking. So what can I ask for.

        But when traveling in China a couple of years ago I did eat a lot of new style dim sum for breakfast but that was then this now.

        Next week I hope to post my list for you and the other hounds to try. I look forward to reading your post. I have eaten a lot of dim sum in my life so I am not missing it that much.

      2. re: yimster

        Hi, Yimster! You are not alone in being concerned about health and dimsum not always going together. Would you join us if some of us (I, specifically), agreed to park at least 1 mile away from the restaurant, so we'd be able to justify eating all that good food?

        At the rate we are going (so many dimsum restaurants + so many things to try = repeat visits = 15 lbs, at least) I'm going to have to start doing more than pruning rose bushes.

      3. Thanks for the excellent write up! You neglected to mention that your fortune cookie forsees a brilliant future for you as a dimsum reviewer.

        This was my second visit to Champagne Seafood, and although they've been around for 4 months now and have gotten mixed (i.e., rather negative) reviews thus far, I think there's some reason to hope that they will get better. I think that Joy Luck San Mateo in its prime was definitely better, but Joy Luck took time to get its groove, too. So much depends on finding a really good dimsum chef.

        The bright glimmers of hope: the Portugese egg tarts with their exquisitely light, layered crusts. A kitchen that can produce such fine pastry must have someone with considerable skill. The suckling pig and char siu were nicely flavored, and the suckling pig skin was very thin, though not as crisp as at my first visit.

        Weighing down the performance, the wrappers on the hargow and scallop dumpling were too thick. (This seems to be a consistent problem with dimsum in the Bay Area.) Unlike most of the other too-thick wrappers, however, these were sturdy. not paste-y: the dough is correct, just rolled too thick. The hargow and scallop fillings, while I personally liked the consistency--as the minced seafood held together nicely in a ball, was on the bland side. A bit of ginger and salt, a dash of rice wine, and a tiny bit more pork fat. . .

        The beef balls in broth didn't do anything for me. The watery broth added nothing to the dish. The Chinese donut wrapped in cheung fun could have been crisper, and I really missed the old Joy Luck version with the shredded turnip that Yimster introduced us to (lo bak see jar leung, right?)

        The braised chicken feet were okay, but still not as tender and tasty as Joy Luck's, which I think had one of the best versions in the Bay Area. Darn, I sound like one of those people who is always comparing the past to the present, to the disadvantage of the present.

        Bottom line: I would go back. In part because it is close by, but also because I think it may be possible to mine the menu for enough things to make a pretty good meal once I've figured out what's really good; and because I am still hoping that Joy Luck's old chef and his lo bak see jar leung and chicken feet will make a comeback.

        Joy Luck
        327 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

        Champagne Seafood Restaurant
        88 E 4th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

        2 Replies
        1. re: pilinut

          keep mining that menu and posting your findings! we live really close by and were big joy luck fans, but had a ghastly experience opening week at champagne seafood. the so categorically refuses to return until a chorus of hounds make strongly uphill reports.

          1. re: artemis

            My experience last month was better than Joy Luck, and I was a fan of Joy Luck. More unusual dishes, better made. I think it's time to return. Or don't - I'd rather not wait for a table.

            Joy Luck
            327 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

        2. Nice to hear they are doing better.

          They have carved out a spot for some high end Cantonese Chinese food at dinner and have some solid offerings.


          1. I was there during a weekday last week. Service was attentive but the food was only okay. Had the tofu, chicken feet, XLB, chicken Choqing sauce, and one other dish I can't even remember.

            I was most disappointed with the XLB and the chicken with Choqing sauce. Not that I had high expectations for the XLB, but it was worse than I expected. The wrapper was very thick and the meat was like a dry little nugget. And I'm not sure what it said in Chinese for the chicken with Choqing sauce but it was a poached yellow chicken with siracha sauce on the side. Chicken was moist and tasty. But how is siracha related to Choqing?

            Had a better experience at King Wah in Daly City over the weekend instead. It was packed and the food came out slowly, but prices were gentle on my wallet and the food tasted better. They had a lot of small plates for $2.50 like cha su bao, tripe with ginger and peppers, and a very generous portion of taro cake with preserved meat toppings.

            209 Southgate Avenue
            Daly City, CA 94015-3164
            (650) 756-9700

            King Wah Restaurant
            209 Southgate Ave, Daly City, CA 94015

            1. Maybe this should be a separate thread as it doesn't address strictly dim sum, but here goes:

              Stopped by with a friend for lunch last Wednesday with mixed results. As there were just 2 of us we opted for the Whole Lobster Congee $20.80. This was terrific and I would order it again. It was served with a plate of minced preserved turnip and sliced green onion; these added pleasant notes to an already well flavored dish. We ate every drop, though it's a bit messy to remove the succulent lobster from it's shell - the pieces are chopped into fairly manageable chunks and it was a good lobster.

              A successful dessert was Coconut Pudding in a Coconut - this is on the "large plates" section of the dim sum menu @ $5.50. It was a young coconut filled with coconut pudding and steamed; reminded me of haupia. Our waiter scooped the pudding and the young coconut meat into our bowls for us. This was delicious - and after ours was served we saw several others come out to other tables.

              Unfortunately 2 other desserts were not that successful. In particular, the Portuguese Custard Tarts - previous tastings of these at Champagne were very positive but these were not great. The pastry had an almost rancid taste as though the shortening used wasn't fresh or they'd been sitting around for too long. This spoiled them for me, especially after having them before and enjoying them very much.

              The second failure was the Egg Puff - normally a light airy ball of goodness. These were heavy, leaden unfortunate versions. Ever been served beignets that looked great but tasted like they'd been made hours and hours before? That was what these were like... Again, maybe they had been riding around on the trays too long that day.

              1 Reply
              1. re: RWCFoodie

                FYI Champagne Seafood is opening up a location in Millbrae near The Kitchen, as if there were not enough Cantonese Chinese restaurant in Millbrae! They are also opening up a Japanese restaurant in Millbrae.

                Champagne Seafood Restaurant
                88 E 4th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401