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Feb 27, 2013 09:40 PM

Steam - new Chinese in Palo Alto

We're awash in new chinese places in the mid-peninsula.

Steam is on University Ave in PA, in the old Andale space near the Stanford theater. The place a full revamp, now done in hipper wood with a huge kitchen.

It's a new joint by the Tai Pan people, according to sources, and the chefs do know what they are doing, but the menu is a little scattered. They're doing a pan-southern-china thing, from HK to Shanghai. The menu is surprisingly short, if you're used to HKFL or Fu Lam Mum or similar (which I always thought about Tai Pan, too). Short can be good.

Everything was good but not great, and the speed and price was quite good. $20/pp out the door tax and tip (no alcohol). Probably took no more than an hour total, even though the service was a little laggy.

The food is medium-americanized. They've left off lots of "american specialties" - there's no Broccoli Beef or General's Chicken. The south isn't that spicy and bold, and the spices were subtle here (felt like high MSG though).

We had to get the XLB, which was average at best. The skins were fairly good, but the soup quantity was low, and not very flavorful. Even with a serious dipping in the vinager, it didn't have much punch. We got a clay pot tofu dish that was OK, but I prefer the same dish at Fu Lam Mum. The one bottom-fried dumpling was only OK.

With the advent of Fey (reported last week), Steam may hold a spot for a casual lunch, and will be good for office workers in the area - and office workers getting a quick bite before heading home. If you think of it as a less-fusion Wagamama, you won't be disappointed.

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  1. Thanks for reporting in. Wagamama? Damning with faint praise!

    Almost tried it last month but we got too hungry and ended up having bad chilaquiles in the East Bay instead. I'd heard that the dim sum can be decent, but again, I haven't been there myself.

    209 University
    Palo Alto, CA 94301
    (650) 322-1888

    1. i went last friday with some coworkers. we arrived shortly before noon and snagged the last available table (there was counter seating still available). by the time we left less than an hour later, there was a healthy wait and we noticed some people opting to lunch elsewhere.

      it took a while to place our order which we attributed to opening kinks. we sampled 3 dim sum dishes - steamed bbq buns (chicken buns were not available), fried bean curd shrimp roll and spinach seafood dumpling, and also 3 mains: spicy wine seafood noodle soup, taiwanese beef noodle soup, stir fried pea sprouts.

      the dim sum dishes are not bad for downtown PA. the fried roll was not very traditional, but flavors were fine. we got three steamed buns but only two seafood dumplings per order so i didn't taste the latter. i found both noodle soups to be much more satisfying. the taiwanese beef noodle soup had a clean flavor, plentiful and tender chunks of meat although the noodles didn't have the slightly al dente bite that i prefer. serving sizes were generous - would have fed one hearty eater easily. the pea shoots weren't as tender as i would have liked and was the most costly dish we ordered at $12.

      all in all, it's a welcome addition to downtown PA and much better alternative than its predecessor. i would return to try out some of the other dim sum items as well as re-order the beef noodle soup although i probably won't have the patience to wait for a table.

      1 Reply
      1. re: huckleberry

        If you've been to Taipan (I have not tried either), how would you compare the quality of the dim sum?

      2. Yes, you are right about MSG in the Dim Sum. I just got off the phone with the chef at Steam in Palo Alto, and he admitted this to me. Just for the heck of it, I called Sino at Santana Row in San Jose, and they too admitted to using MSG in almost all of their dishes. The person I talked to there was actually proud of this, at least in her voice. VERY disappointing.

        1. Tried this place tonight after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Stanford.

          Pretty good! Better than the first visit. We had things we usually get a Fu Lam Mum, a trio of dim sums and a clay pot. I liked it all better than Fu Lam Mum, and roughly the same prices (dim sum at $3).

          Comparing to TaiPan - I think Steam is bolder and less fussy. Some of the dumpling skins were torn, but all the tastes were better. We had har gow, good, something strange with spinach (skin problems), BBQ Bun Steamed, which had a lot of filling and less bun (yay) and a spicy taste.

          It no longer felt like Wagamama, it actually feels a bit like a chinese restaurant. Slightly american-ized, but an actual restaurant.

          And the prices! We had a decent meal for two and the total bill was $26 (no alcohol). Hard to do that on University Ave; Umami Burger's pricier.

          1. Had dinner at Steam last night.

            Tried a main dish - "Szechuan chicken" - that wasn't really szechuan chicken (5 spice taste and not enough heat?), but was quite pleasant. I would eat it again, especially at that price ($10).

            All the buns were plausible. Nothing would rank on anyone's top 10 list, but everything was decently executed.

            The place certainly ranks on our casual palo alto list. There's never a line, food comes fast, they now do "check box dim sum" with a menu. GF likes it because the Dim Sum menu means less food, smaller portions.

            In a related note:

            Right next to Steam was the Haagen Daz store, which has closed, and the paper on the front says "Scoop: ice cream made while you wait" or something similar. This sounds like Smitten in the city, no idea if it's the same people - I just saw the sign. The font looks a little like Smitten, and there's a lot of PA / SF crossover right now (Tacolicious, SliderBar...)

            And a further related note:

            The "Cream" store still has lines down the block. No let up yet.

            1 Reply
            1. re: bbulkow

              "there's a lot of PA / SF crossover right now"

              Yes, a regional trend, getting publicity in its own right. For example: