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.
Terrific work, my trusty dim sum dining companions! And it was indeed work to slog through so many dishes, but I can’t really pinpoint a single one that I wish we hadn’t ordered. Our reserved table was sized for eight, then one of our six participants had to cancel, and we still went to town on ordering. The dim sum check-off sheet has 83 numbered items, plus 12 additional ala carte dishes to choose from. And we didn’t even crack open the regular menus also placed on our table. I started off by checking off the dishes I felt we should try, and for dumplings portioned in three’s or four’s, I doubled them, bringing us up to 20 plates. Then I circulated the list and had others mark off what they wanted, and that’s how we arrived at the mega-order. Still for the five of us, the tab came to $21 each with tax and tip, and we each had a box worth to take home. Ordering a regular amount of food per person would likely be around $15 or so. Not shabby at all in the value department.
I’ve matched up each item number with a link to Cynsa’s photo.
2. Steamed Spareribs – Very good version, not quite as complex and aromatic as Dol Ho’s but made with cleaner tasting pork and cooked thoroughly to tenderness but not falling apart. Liked the slivers of spicy hot red chiles and salty bits of fermented black bean seasoning.
9. Shrimp Dumplings – Har gao were served piping hot, and with a touch of a chopstick the fragile translucent wrapper disintegrated. The gentlest of vibrations bumped the adjoining one and made it fall apart too. But once I managed to parcel out and scoop the appropriate pieces onto my plate and taste them, this was quite good. Whole sweet shrimp, no taste of MSG, very tender wrappers. The remaining ones seemed to hold together better once they cooled down. GE continues to price these as a medium size plate ($3.50) vs. the large size that most dim sum houses charge, making it an especially good value here.
10. Snow Pea Sprouts w/ Dry Scallops & Shrimp Dumplings – Favorite of the day, spring-like pea shoot green freshness combined with sweet firm whole shrimp and the added umami savoriness of conpoy in a delicate wrapper.
13. Zhiu Zhou Dumplings – AKA Teochew fun gor, very good version with somewhat thinner and therefore less chewy/flubbery wrapper texture, lots of good things inside burst on the palate but low on fermented notes.
14. Pork & Shrimp Bean Curd Skin Roll – Probably the least of the dishes on the table. This was the steamed/braised roll, tender and bathed in gravy. Suffered from a warmed-over weariness and not as fresh as the rest of our meal.
23. Steamed Beef Short Ribs w/ Black Pepper Sauce – Not sure why I ordered this dish, as I’ve disliked it everywhere. But I’m glad I did as this was more than tasty. Just enough tenderizer to make the fatty meat easy to bite through without imparting any off flavors. Kind of remarkable that beef prepared without any Maillard reaction could be so flavorful and, well, beefy. Could have been better trimmed of the blobs of white fat but they were easy enough to eat around.)
http://www.chow.com/photos/937041 (in the bamboo steamer between the condiment platter and the deep fried pumpkin/yolk balls
28. Deep Fried Minced Meat Turnover AKA hom sui gok – To give Charlie an idea of why these are translated as “turnover”, they can also look like this,
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-DBLi-up9Sl8/TmaCQeOTjvI/AAAAAAAABSM/-sRn3BW0STk/s1600/DSC_3029.JPG , though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any like that. Mostly they’re the football-shape served at GE. Not really “mochi”, as besides glutinous rice flour, the typical recipe includes wheat flour and baking powder to create those air bubbles for crispness.
33. Deep Fried Pumpkin and Egg-yolk Ball – My other favorite though no kabocha/pumpkin that I could discern. I was surprised when this turned out to be sweet and not a savory dish. No matter, it was our one dessert item. Crackly golden-brown panko-like crust, thick and chewy mochi layer, and very rich, molten egg-y custard core provided plenty to love.
41. Pan Fried Bitter Melon Beef Dumplings – Chewy glutinous rice dough encasing gravied chopped beef and bitter melon steamed and then crisped and bubbled by pan-frying. If I liked bitter melon at all, I’d be crazy about these. Still, I could appreciate the execution.
42. Turnip Cake – Average, not enough daikon and too starchy.
44. Deep Fried Taro Turnover w/ Minced Meat – Made with real taro root, not powdered stuff. Not as fluffy on the outside as the best, but extra points for such greaseless frying.
48. Pan Fried Bitter Melon Stuffed w/ Fish – Quite attractively done with the melon cut horizontally like sections of a tube and the cavity filled with fish paste and lightly glazed. Tastier than gefilte fish, but then there’s that bitter melon issue again.
53. Deep Fried Bean Curd Skin Rolls – Beautiful shrimp encased in very fine crackly layers of bean curd skin.
55. Rice Noodle Roll Stuffed with Beef – Very soft style of rice noodle roll, a bit thickish and wet, good but not more than that. Tasty seasoned soy sauce that was not candy sweet.
70. Honey Glazed Barbecued Spareribs – Less honey’d than typical. Surprised at the thick width of the bones but plenty of meat on them.
75. Soya Sauce Duck Chin – The version here does not include the beak, leaving the tongues sticking out for quite an odd sight. Pleasantly chewy and not overly soft, requiring some effort to work the edible bits from the bones. One piece was enough for me. Good master sauce.
The pictures are making me drool. So now I'm torn since I'm coming to San Fran and can't decide where to go for dim sum. I've been to YS many years ago and thought it was pretty good (for reference, I grew up in Vancouver eating dim sum every weekend). Seems like the short list if I'm staying in downtown SF is YS, GE and Lai Hong? Any thoughts on who has the best phoenix claws (aka chicken feet and not the rubbery white ones) please?
If YS had been open at 9 am, we would have gone to YS. I think GE is a very good choice for economically priced dim sum in Chinatown. If the opening time wasn't an issue for me when I was in SF, and if I was looking for the best in SF(without driving to the burbs), that comes with a higher price tag and fancier surroundings, I would have gone with YS.
Sometimes, I'm just in the mood for the more economical Chinatown type of dim sum, rather than upscale dim sum or innovative dim sum. I thought the food at GE, on the whole, was better than recent dim sum at Rol San, which would be is equivalent in Toronto's downtown Chinatown. I've also had economical dim sum in Richmond , BC that is roughly equivalent. While some hounds are always looking for the best, I've realized lately that I'm someone who is happy when I find something that is pretty good or better than I would've expected.:-)
So glad to hear you are heading back to SF, bdachow, though you really need a trip to Vancouver too (and drop me a line at the email in my profile, won't you, as I lost yours in a recent computer update snafu).
Agree with what prima said about Great Eastern. We thought the dim sum we had at GE was more than solid, despite being sucked into ordering siu mai by a badly worded description and misleading photo, LOL. It certainly hit the spot for us anyway, as visitors from Vancouver.
But for the record the best (and most expensive at $40 US per person when the exchange rate was beyond lousy) dim sum I've ever eaten was way back in 2003 at what I deduced later with help from local Hounds (this was before I started using the Internet to plan eating trips) was Ton Kiang. It was all wonderful but the dim-sum sized version of Peking duck was just stupidly good. No idea if they still have it but I'd pay that amount again if they do.