Dim Sum Chowdown at Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson St. [San Francisco Chinatown]
Five ‘hounds gathered for dim sum today at Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson St. Not having had many chances recently for dim sum with a group large enough to sample several items, I happily drove past the dim sum paradise in Millbrae on my way up to the City. Five people isn’t many but we made up for it by ordering enough for eight. And we had lots to choose from— Great Eastern offers a surprisingly large variety of dim sum for a restaurant that doesn’t particularly specialize in dim sum.
No carts here— you order off a menu, though there are a few non-menu dishes brought around on trays. We chose—
2. Steamed Spareribs
9. Shrimp Dumplings
10. Snow Pea Sprouts w/ Dry Scallops & Shrimp Dumplings
13. Zhiu Zhou Dumplings
14. Pork & Shrimp Bean Curd Skin Roll
23. Steamed Beef Short Ribs w/ Black Pepper Sauce
28. Deep Fried Minced Meat Turnover
33. Deep Fried Pumpkin and Egg-yolk Ball
41. Pan Fried Bitter Melon Beef Dumplings
42. Turnip Cake
44. Deep Fried Taro Turnover w/ Minced Meat
48. Pan Fried Bitter Melon Stuffed w/ Fish
53. Deep Fried Bean Curd Skin Rolls
55. Rice Noodle Roll Stuffed with Beef
70. Honey Glazed Barbecued Spareribs
75. Soya Sauce Duck Chin
GE’s use of the term “turnover” seems a bit misleading. No. 28 was a deep fried mochi ball with minced meat inside, and 44. was a typical deep fried taro ball.
Once the food started coming the pace was fast and furious. I wasn’t always sure what I was eating, but with a little help from my friends figured most of it out by the end of the meal.
I’ll give others a chance to comment before returning with my own impressions. Many thanks to Melanie for getting us together.
re: Dave MP
I'm probably not a good person to ask since I had two poor meals at Lai Hong Lounge, as posted here, and different from the experiences of most others,
I've had different things at each, but here's a side-by-side of the overlapping items.
Har gao - tied
Teochew dumpling - Lai Hong Lounge is better though Great Eastern's is very good
Turnip cake - LHL
Rice noodle roll - GE
Duck chin - GE
So across these five items, it's a tie for food quality. Where the winner shows itself in my book is on consistency. As heidipie stated, GE had no negatives especially in the meaty dishes. And that's pretty rare. I mean, I was at Koi Palace two days beforehand for dim sum and hit one bad dish there. At LHL, the majority of the dishes I tried were poor and a couple were absolutely inedible because they were so tough and could not be bitten into.
The way to choose is really about which cooking style one prefers. Quoting heidipie again, she found the savoriness limited and dumpling fillings muted in flavor. I don't taste any MSG in GE's dim sum, whereas, LHL's is enhanced with MSG and a lot more salt and fat. That makes LHL's flavors pop more. I don't like that kind of flavor enhancement and prefer a lighter, cleaner taste. I'm an outlier that way. GE is a Hong Kong seafood restaurant at its heart, and the cooking style is fresher and purer for dim sum too.
On other amenities, GE is smaller but the tables have just a bit more space in between them making it easier to squeeze a wheelchair inside. We had an advance reservation and did not have to get in line. As Cynsa mentions, GE validates parking.
I'm with Charlie--there's nothing like fressing with the hounds. I'd say that Great Eastern isn't worth a trip from another county just for the food, but everything was decent at minimum, very good at best, and it was clean and pleasant with attentive service.
The deep-fried items were a pleasure. The oil tasted really fresh. The fillings were pretty muted in flavor, but the astonishing crunch of the bean curd skin roll and the greaseless frizz of the taro made them fun to eat. And the mochi balls stayed tasty even when cold, which almost never happens.
The steamed and pan-fried dumplings were also well-executed while indifferently seasoned, with the exception of the Zhiu Zhou dumplings, whose filling was complex and zippy with pork and dried shrimp, chili, cilantro, peanuts, maybe garlic chives(?), shiitakes, and something white and crunchy. I think these were my favorite thing on the table.
I feel like I'm damning with faint praise here, but again the most distinguishing feature of the meats was how they lacked anything negative. Both kinds of spareribs, the short ribs, and the duck tasted very fresh, not at all gristly, properly cooked--good quality meat. But again, of limited savoriness. The standout here was the beef. These were exquisite, tiny bites of pure salty beefy short ribs that wouldn't have been out of place on a tasting menu anywhere in town.
We really ordered a stupefying amount of food. It completely filled the lazy susan in the center of our large table. We were spread out and it was hard to carry on a conversation, so we just set about making a big dent in the bounty. Would the individual items have had more of an impact if they hadn't all arrived in a ten-minute span? Maybe. Would it have mattered to our overall enjoyment? I don't know. It was a thoroughly great afternoon, all of us enjoying it exactly for what it was.
And now I can say I've eaten duck tongues.
Duck chins give your tongue a workout, sliding braised soy seasoned meat off the bones - loved this treat.
Thank you to Melanie for organizing this return to Great Eastern and for gathering the 'hounds for their convivial company. It is a pleasure chowing with y'all.
My favorites are the bitter melon with fish, turnip cake, and the deep fried taro - not for the boldness of flavor, these are my comfort foods. While the other dishes tickled my palate, these warmed my heart and made me smile.
GE validates 2-hr parking at the Portsmouth Square Garage. Good for groups for reservations; excellent service, reliable+food.
This Chowdown exceeded my expectations, as I hadn’t heard much about Great Eastern. Most of the dishes were at least pretty good and some were very good.
The most interesting for me was the Zhiu Zhou dumplings, which I’d never had before. The filling was crunchy and diverse, with shrimp, pork and peanuts. I enjoyed the more familiar #10 Snow pea/dry scallops/shrimp dumplings even more— perhaps my favorite taste of the meal.
#28 Deep fried mochi balls with minced meat was very good—the moderate sweetness of the filling worked for me. #33 Deep fried pumpkin & egg yolk ball also pleased me but I’m a fool for mochi balls and also for egg yolk. I didn’t see that much pumpkin in the halves of the balls I got and both mochi ball dishes had a higher ratio of mochi to contents than I like (but I always have this complaint). The mochi itself was particularly good—soft and not too chewy.
#44 Deep fried taro was not at all greasy but I found it lacking in flavor— this is another common complaint of mine. I love it when I get really full taro flavor but more often than not it doesn’t happen, and it didn’t happen here. Got to give them credit for virtually no grease however.
I enjoyed #55 Rice noodle roll with beef, but I’m a cheung fun fan and this one was probably about average.
#75 Soya sauce duck chin was pretty good. I prefer the darker and more flavorful fried duck jaws I’ve had at Cooking Papa in Foster City but those are a different concept.
I’m not a big bitter melon fan but I did enjoy #41 Pan fried bitter melon beef dumplings which had good flavor in the filling and not too much bitter melon for me. #48 Bitter Melon stuffed with fish was not as pleasing— less interesting filling and higher bitter melon ratio, though if you’re a bitter melon fan this is the one to go for.
I didn’t find either of the steamed spareribs as flavorful as the best I have had elsewhere but they weren’t bad. I really enjoyed #70, but what’s not to like about honey glazed barbecued spareribs?
All in all I was very pleased with the meal— good food, interesting company, and I learned a new Yiddish word (“fress” = “to pig out”— please feel free to comment if I have missed any nuances here). At $21 each (including tip) for a huge amount of food it was a deal.
Thanks to Melanie for organizing and taking care of ordering, to Cynsa for the great photos, to heidipie for vocabulary enhancement, and to everyone for the pleasant company.