Dim Sum Chowdown at Hong Kong Lounge II [San Francisco]
Two tables full of 'hounds sampled the dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge II today. Many thanks to our leader Melanie Wong for organizing our exploration of the ins and outs of a menu that, based on prior reports, has produced both highs and lows. Hopefully today's report will provide a useful expansion of the knowledge base.
There are no carts at HK Lounge II—ordering is exclusively from the menu. There is a fairly large selection of 92 items. They don't number the dishes, so I'll list what we ordered at Table #1 by menu section—
-Salt & Pepper Calamari
-Coffee Pork Ribs
Noodle & Porridge—
-Teriyaki beef rice noodle in clay pot
-Shrimp noodle roll
-Shanghai Dumpling (XLB)
-Steamed fish ball
Fried & Baked—
-Baked Pork Buns
-Steamed Egg Yolk Buns
From the regular menu—
-Pork spareribs w/ rice claypot
-Salted fish with pork and rice claypot
It was a lot of food for $17pp with tip. I found it very chow-worthy but didn't think it was up to the level of the food at our Great Eastern Dim Sum Chowdown in May. I'll wait until others have had a chance to comment before adding my observations on specific dishes.
re: Charles Yu
re: Melanie Wong
Well, a Singaporean aunt's mother-in-law, Cantonese lady in her nineties, used to talk about how her 2 older brothers left their home village in Toishan county (Guangdong province, China) to go find work in Mexico, way back in the 1920s. In those years, the Cantonese-Chinese were already the 2nd-largest immigrant group in Mexico after the Spanish. It actually took a long while before my aunt realised that the foreign land, "Mak Sai Ko", which her mother-in-law was talking about was Mexico :-D
The old lady did recount about how some folks who worked in Mexico brought back new foods and cooking techniques to their home villages.
One of the buns in a Chinese bakery is called a "Mexican" bun looks like the "pineapple" bun in the it has a topping on top. I like the "pineapple" one better but had it once. I think for bake goods Chinese bakeries copy there good from someone else. My Mother used to say that their family kitchen did not have a oven only a wok with a steamer so she never bake anything at home.
Filipino cuisine is extraordinary unto its own. A Filipino-American friend once told me that Filipinos "hated" vegetables so much, all the Filipino words for vegetable items came from the Chinese: pechay, sitaw, kinchai, kutsay, wansoy, etc. She was pulling my leg, of course :-D
She has a point. We do tend to overcook our veggies.
On the topic of Chinese-Hispanic-Filipino vegetables, and for your entertainment, here, in musical video form, is a Filipino children's song listing some common vegetables grown around a humble hut (bahay kubo). I think some of the derivations are fairly apparent, like singkamas, sibuyas (jicama,cebollas, from Spanish), bawang (garlic-but onion in Malay), the aforementioned sitaw is there, etc. You'll probably be able to figure out the vegetable origins better than I can! Oddly, kangkong (ongchoy) is not on the list, though it may be the most commonly eaten vegetable.
In Mexico City, there are Chinese bakeries that are renowned and serve these kinds of buns -- custard inside, "pineapple" topping on the outside. My Mexican guide explained to me that Chinese immigrants brought them to Mexico, where they are imitated. (I am Chinese and was fascinated to see them there.)
Chinese are everywhere! :) And "fusion" cuisine is really old ...
Thanks again to Melanie for organizing and to my table mates for the good company and insightful conversation.
My favorites of the meal—
—Salt & Pepper Calamari- perfectly fried
—Teriyaki beef rice noodle in clay pot- nicely caramelized
—Steamed Egg Yolk Bun- competent execution of a dish I like
Other dishes I liked a lot—
—-Steamed fish ball- nice flavor and texture. Might have made the favorites category if the server had brought me some mustard as I requested. For certain dishes I really prefer mustard to chili sauce and their chili sauce was nothing special
—Baked Pork Buns- good filling and interesting outside coating but too high a bread-to-filling ratio
—Pork spareribs w/ rice claypot- pretty good flavor and some crispy rice on bottom, though I would have liked a little more crisping
Not so good—
—Shrimp noodle roll- the portion I got seemed to have only one (quite large) piece of shrimp in it and I didn't get much flavor from the sauce.
—Shanghai Dumpling (XLB)- they didn't even look right—not plump enough to have much soup. Though I carefully peeled mine off the paper and made sure there were no tears I could not detect any soup at all, or much flavor for that matter.
—Coffee Pork Ribs-
I seemed to be the only one at our table who thought the coffee spare ribs were sub-par. I have mixed feeling about Koi Palace's version but at its best it gives you a very pleasing hit of strong coffee & sweet cream that works well with the umami of the pork and the unctuous fat. It can be pretty cloying as it's hard to get the proportions right, but at least you will get ample coffee and cream for the amount of ribs, which I didn't get at HKL 2. I took care to pour some extra coffee sauce off the serving plate onto my rib and took perhaps a little more than my fair portion of the whipped cream but still didn't get either the intense coffee flavor or enough cream to really hit that high note, and after consuming the outside I was left with pork that tasted a little off. The best version of this dish I've had was at (the now closed) South Sea Seafood Village in Millbrae—they managed to find a balance that hit the right notes without being cloying.
HKL 2 has too many stinkers among the good stuff. They should drop the dishes they don't do well from their menu. They also have a lot of room for improvement in their sauces and condiments. I like mustard on some items and usually it's provided without asking, but not here—even after I asked it didn't show up. Their sauces weren't all that good and some dishes that contained sauce had too little for my taste.
Clearly it's critically important at HKL 2 to order well but that still doesn't fully explain to me the differences in perceptions between the tables. I have shared many dim sum meals with pilinut and have come to respect her astute judgments of food, so I'm surprised she liked the shrimp cheong fun that I thought was pretty weak. Perhaps I just got a piece that had only one shrimp and she got a piece that had plenty, but that doesn't explain how she could rate HKL 2 as being in the same league as Asian Pearl Peninsula. I humbly acknowledge that pilinut's culinary knowledge is far superior to mine but I must respectfully disagree.
Asian Pearl's best dishes are not necessarily any better than (or maybe even as good as) the very best the competition has to offer. Where Asian Pearl excels is in its consistency. The best kabocha fries I ever had were at Zen Peninsula, and the worst kabocha fries I've ever had were also at ZP. Returning to Tai Wu for a third time after two extremely successful visits, one of our favorite items was served nearly burned on the outside and totally dried out in the middle—it was hard to understand how it could have gotten out of the kitchen or not been intercepted by the server. I've had similar experiences at most dim sum places.
It must be really hard to keep the quality consistently high while offering a large variety of dim sum, since so few places are able to do it. Asian Pearl has its occasional failed dish and service sometimes falls short, but over the last several years it is the only place besides Yank Sing where I can depend on consistently good dim sum. At either place if you threw darts at the menu to choose your dishes you'd probably do OK. IMNSHO HKL 2 is just not in the same league. Maybe if I'd eaten at the other table I'd feel as I did at Great Eastern where, in a meal of many dishes ordered without prior knowledge, there were no losers, most were very good, and some were excellent. Though I only have a single meal to go by I still have some confidence in GE's consistency.
Perhaps my estimation of the meal was tarnished by the fact I was in some pain from sciatica. Since I forgot to order the pipa tofu which had previously earned Cynsa's high praise I might return for that and a re-evaluation based on better menu choices, but I think Great Eastern is a much better bet for dim sum in SF.
Very enjoyable meal. Always fun to come out and sample dishes with fellow Chowhounders. I’ve come to HKLII on weekdays several times and it’s the total opposite of the usual weekend crazy, loud, crowded dim sum experience. (Weekends may be a different story as I have seen long lines outside this restaurant).
At table 2, we did not order much of the usual suspects but like sfbing I prefer to let people order whatever catches their fancy, and in this way we tried many items that are not found on a typical dim sum menu. For instance, I probably would never have ordered the fish ball but found it quite to my liking, tasty and not bland as I often find fish balls to be.
Salt and pepper calamari was spicy and flavorful. The coffee pork ribs were a bit sweet, but perhaps because I put too much of the sauce on my bite. I quite liked the teriyaki beef rice noodle rolls; the teriyaki sauce caramelizes in the pot adding a nice layer of flavor to the dish. Did not sample the shrimp noodle roll.
The filling for the shanghai dumpling was a bit bland. The baked pork bun was a decent rendition; I detected no gristle or fat in my filling. The eggplant did not have much flavor.
I liked the pork sparerib rice, portions were mixed for us and I got a good flavorful gravy/rice ratio. The salted fish/pork rice was less successful; I think sauce was not added and while the pork patty tasted good, it did not balance out the mound of completely white rice it came with. Kudos to HKLII for the excellent crisp pot crust.
I got a side piece of the sponge cake and the outside was mushy from having absorbed a fair amount of steam/vapor. The lava bun was not something I would order again; it was properly executed but I’m not in general a fan of sweet buns.
All in all, not necessarily the best dim sum out there but some dishes were quite good. Adding in the relatively tranquil atmosphere and attentive service, I’d definitely return here for dim sum.
I thought, as a regular of HK Lounge I, that the reservation policy and the service were both huge improvements. Anyone who has been to HKLI knows what a zoo that place is on the weekends starting at 9am.
The fish balls, one of my favorites, were done quite well here. The calamari were fresh, although I could do without the sauce. The XLB were pretty average for a Cantonese place, in other words, not very good. Avoid.
However, I do think that this branch is a notch below in terms of cooking. The cooking lacks the crispness and urgency that the original has to have in order to deal with weekend rush.
HKL's hallmark BBQ pork buns were a little too bready and could have used more filling. The filling was as good (brown, not pink, with fresh cha siu), just skimpy.
And they were a touch timid with the seasoning. The waitress stopped me from adding soy sauce to the pot and portioned it out too early, which might explain why some people thought it bland. At HKL I, it comes out smoking hot and they let it go with the soy to further caramelize.
The salted fish pot wasn't funky enough for me, unfortunately and seemed more like mom's cooking with scraps of salted fish and minced pork. It seemed very different from what I remembered at HKLI, which had a lighter crisper savory mixed minicakes of meat and fish.
The lava buns were good, the malay sponge cake was a little gummy/soggy in comparison to the original.
In retrospect, our table ordered perhaps a little oddly without steamed dumplings for ex. Partially b/c we assembled late and were pressed for time. Also perhaps it may have been my fault. I vaguely recall Melanie assigning me the duty of guiding ordering. I am a believer in people ordering whatever intrigues them with little regard to the overall gestalt (my relatives find this tremendously irritating), and therefore failed to insure the proper balance of steamed dumpling, to fried, to offal, to ribsticking porridge etc, etc. Next time, perhaps I should send my father in my place. ALso, forgot to take photos.
Hey, no falling on your sword, I'm so glad you could be there to offer a comparison with the original HKL and navigate the ordering.
To offer my own comparison, I've been to HKL three times or so. I've not had much luck with ordering there, always ending up with a few dishes that are spectacularly bad. I've found even the better dishes at HKL to be over salted/MSG'd and too greasy. The choice in cooking oils doesn't agree with me here leaving me queasy each time.
So for me, HKL II is better simply by virtue of not suffering any discomfort in the two times I've eaten there. But I did observe a difference between my two visits. The menu was slightly different. The second time the dishes were even less salty and oily with a cleaner/lighter feel to them. No way of knowing whether this was just chance happening or the new way here.
My first Chowdown in many years; nice to see Melanie again and to meet new friends. I was at Table 2, and also enjoyed the plum ribs, pi-pa tofu, sea bass, pork belly, and egg yolk buns. Coffee ribs were interesting but didn't quite work for me, being large, breaded and deep-fried; had they been prepared like the plum ribs, they would have been a winner. Much of the rest of the food was decent but not exceptional. Our Chinese sausage claypot was uninteresting; I was glancing enviously over at Table 1's choices there! Some of the dumplings were a bit oversteamed and some of the wrappers a bit thick. Still, there were enough winners to make me return and try more from the extensive menu.
re: Prabhakar Ragde
My fault on the claypot rice. I thought our server asked me if she should serve it up in individual bowls. I declined because I wanted the rice to have more time in the pot to develop a crust. But I neglected to add all of the seasoned soy sauce to help it along. when I looked over at Table 1's and saw our waitress flip over the fully formed crunchy bottom crust on their pots, I knew I'd made the wrong decision.
I was at Table #1 which seemed to have ordered less food than #2 though I was full by the end of the meal. It was great to have two Chinese women - Brenda and Susan - at our table to help us through some complexities.
We had 3 claypots 2 w/rice 1 w/noodles
Salted fermented fish - tasty fishy gooey and good.
Pork spareribs - bland tasteless not worth it thumbs down
Teriyaki beef w/rice noodle - tasty and flavorful
Shanghai Dumpling (XLB) - a favorite dish of mine but sadly not so great here. Little soup in it and no spoon to eat it with.
Steamed fish ball w/fermented cabbage (?) - tasty and fresh probably cod one of the best dishes we had
Baked Pork Buns - they had a crusty brown exterior which I did not like ( I prefer the regular Ciao shu bao) bun) but the pork inside was tops.
Salt & Pepper Calamari I love fried calamari and make it myself often so I loved this dish - crunchy and crisp
Coffee Pork Ribs - call me old-fashioned but I like my coffee in a cup so did not even try this dish!
Malaysian Sponge Cake - failed to excite. nice texture but little tastel
Steamed Egg Yolk Buns (Lava Eggs) a bao w/a sweetish duck egg inside that flows out - hence, lava- when opened. a new taste to me. what's next ? ostrich eggs? emu eggs?
All in all I was not so pleased with this place. Service and ambiance were excellent but I have had many other more exciting Dim Sum experiences.
Thanks Melanie for organizing. Great conversation at our table (1), and some interesting choices, but I am not sure we ordered all that well, certainly not as completely as that other table (with a bill 50% larger than ours). I think we missed out by not ordering basic steamed and fried dumplings. So, my reaction to the place , “meh”, may not be entirely fair, but then again I think it is.
steamed fish ball, tasty and starting toward a little sophisticated complexity of flavor;
clay pot rice with spare ribs, a canonical flavorful dish, very well executed, lots of crispy rice at the bottom of the pot
Coffee pork ribs. Very nicely done. Maybe better than Koi Palace. (I will comment more about this dish in another post).
Steamed ego yolk buns. Well executed. Duck yolks with sugar are too rich for me (and that’s saying something).
baked pork bun (actually better than decent, very good, but not quite very very good ...) A baked bun with a good, better than average filling, and a crispy coating on top that added a bit of texture contrast.
Teriyaki beef rice noodle in clay pot. Lots of mushrooms and beef flavor. Pretty good.
Clay pot rice with salted fish.
Forgettable or worse:
Shrimp noodle roll. OK shrimp, pretty bad mushy noodle roll. Go to Cooking Papa to see how this sort of thing should be done (e.g. fresh to order….)
Stuffed Eggplant. Stuffed with what? Mushy. Verging on ghastly.
JMN commented that it wasn’t nearly as good as Y-Ben in its better days (at an even lower price point), but, I would add, HKLII’s bathrooms were enormously cleaner! Thinking about it, this is a good comment. There were all kind of surprising things, revelatory, when we went to Y-Ben, on the carts that rolled by. This meal makes me miss that place. Highest quality dim sum per $.
Thanks for a great turn-out, 'hounds. With two large tables, we were able to enjoy the new side dining room. Calm and quiet with a separate entrance, and our server was wonderful providing extra chopsticks for serving and a change of plates.
Our order at Table 2 was somewhat inflated because we chose many dumpling and bun items that come three or four to a plate and thus needed to be double orders to make it 'round the table. I'll note that when we arrived there were no lazy susans on the table. When we asked for them, the staff expressed some concern about whether our food would fit. SFbing at Table 1 assured them that we'd handle that and our dish juggling skills were tested through the meal. We wound up with enough food to easily feed two more people and each of us put together a box of leftovers to take home. Our bill with tax, tip and $1.50 per person tea charge came to $25 pp.
Here's what we tried at Table 2 in order of the menu section along with a photo of each plate.
CHEF’S SPECIAL -
Braised pork belly, $8.00
Pork ribs in candy plum sauce, $4.25
Salt & pepper sea bass, $6.95
Salt & pepper pi-pa tofu, $6.50
NOODLE & PORRIDGE -
Shrimp & chive dumpling x 2, $5.95
Shrimp noodle roll, $5.75
BBQ pork noodle roll, $4.95
Shrimp dumpling (har gao) x 2, $4.95
Pork & shrimp siu mai x 2, $4.25
Chiu Zhou dumpling x 2, $3.95
Steamed chicken feet, $3.50
FRIED & BAKED -
Baked pork buns x 2, $3.95
Deep-fried taro dumpling x 2, $3.50
Pan-fried shrimp & chives dumpling x 2, $3.95
Pan-fried turnip cake x 2, $2.95
XO stuffed eggplant, $4.95
FEATURED EXTRAS -
Honey glaze BBQ pork, $6
Lop mei claypot rice, $9
Deep-fried water chestnut cake, $2.75
Steamed egg yolk buns x 2, $3.95
Dim sum check-off menu:
re: Melanie Wong
We passed around the check-out menu list for each of us to mark off what we wanted to try. There was a little bit of awkwardness for me when I saw that XLB had been picked and I wondered out loud what the etiquette might be for rejecting someone else's choice. When I explained that few dim sum houses make them as well as a Shanghainese restaurant can, everyone agreed that we could leave them off.
For future ordering for a table of this size, now we know that double orders aren't needed for the daikon cakes which are plenty big, fried taro dumplings that are four to an order and easily cut in half or the shrimp/chive dumplings that come eight to an order. The baked pork buns turned out to much larger than I'd expected and a half or quarter piece per person would have been plenty.
As noted in the discussion of the water chestnut dessert, that was an error on my part. I thought I had checked off the steamed malai go. Luckily Table 1 had the better sense to postpone ordering dessert until after all the savories so the table wasn't even more crowded early on and picked up the steamed cake.
I forgot to order the request water spinach (ong choi) which would have been the only real greenery on the table. After this lunch, Mom and I had a vegetarian dinner later. :)
With a normal amount of food, I think it would be very easy to get out of here for $20 or less per person. Wish you were here too!
re: Melanie Wong
That’s whipped cream… Koi Palace serves the ribs in a coffee cup with whipped cream on top.
I believe this dish originated in Singapore at what was then Sam Leong’s flagship restaurant, Jade at the Fullerton Hotel. We had an incredible many course meal there a bunch of years ago. Leong was (is?) a celebrity chef in Singapore, somewhat along the lines of Wolfgang Puck. He was taking traditional techniques and modernizing them.
One of the dishes on his menu was the spectacular Pork Loin with Latte Coffee Sauce. He provides a recipe and photograph of this dish in his very interesting cookbook “A Wok Through Time”. As the photo shows, there is no whipped cream or coffee cup, and the meat is loin not ribs. Yet, somehow this evolved into the pretty good version at Koi Palace where it is served with a bit of humor in a coffee cup with whipped cream.
Other places, like Hong Kong Lounge have evidently picked up on the KP idea. I thought the HK Lounge version was quite competitive with KP, though the point of the whipped cream is lost without the coffee cup.
re: Thomas Nash
You're right, Thomas, Sam Leong claimed to have invented the dish, which is much copied by other Chinese restaurants in Singapore, and subsequently around the world.
I believed Sam mentioned in an interview with the Singapore media many years ago that he also added cocoa powder to the recipe, as he felt that it enriched the overall flavor of the dish, when paired with coffee (which lent the aroma).
But serving with whipped cream and such - that's an American addition.
re: Thomas Nash
We requested a fork and knife to cut up the coffee ribs, and pilinut did the carving. I was surprised that the meat was not fall-off-the-bone tender, expecting the spareribs to be boiled or steamed to tenderness then battered and fried. They were quite meaty. And, I'm not quite sure if I liked them or not.
re: Melanie Wong
The "original" coffee pork-ribs in Singapore (invented by Sam Leong at Jiang Nan Chun restaurant, Four Seasons Hotel Singapore) are not battered. The ribs are cooked till quite tender but *not* fall-off-the-bone, the way Shanghainese stewed pork-ribs are. The ribs are then gently rolled in a sticky, intensely-flavored coffee-cocoa sauce.
re: Melanie Wong
Thanks, Melanie, for organizing the Chowdown. I sat at table 2 with Melanie and her mom. We definitely over-ordered, but we got a good feeling for their menu. All in all, I was impressed. Everything was well prepared and flavorful, with a few dishes that were especially memorable. Fried foods were not too greasy, nor were the steamed dishes too gummy.
My favorites, in the order they are listed, were:
pork ribs in candy sauce, which were not too sweet, and had a nice spice that someone else thought was cinnamon and I thought might be star anise;
Coffee pork ribs, a flavor combination I hadn't tried (though challenging to split!);
Salt and pepper PI-pa tofu, a dish I'd never tried that was very delicate and perfectly fried;
The baked pork buns had a delicate crunchy exterior that contrasted nicely to the sweet pork inside;
The deep fried water chestnut cake was another new taste sensation for me, with sweet gelatinous interior and delicate crunchy
Other dishes that I like a lot and would order again (although there was nothing we ordered that I wouldn't eat again!) were the braised pork belly, the Chiu Zhou dumplings, steamed chicken feet, deep fried taro dumpling, pan fried turnip cake, and steamed egg yolk buns.
It is nice to know that there is another excellent dim sum option in the City!
I was also at table 2.
My favorites were the pork ribs in candy sauce, salt and pepper Pi-pa tofu (which was something I had not tried before), the baked pork bun and the water chestnut cake (also new to me).
I am not generally a big fan of either deep fried taro dumplings or pan fried turnip cakes, but enjoyed both. In general, I thought they did a very good job with the deep fried items.
Although they were the item I requested, I thought that the pan fried shrimp and chive dumplings were the weakest item.
Note: as expected, my daughter was a big fan of the leftover steamed egg yolk buns.
It just dawned on me that I'd not offered an opinion yet.
We're in alignment on favorites --- those four preps are quite unique to HKL II. When I saw plum candy sauce on the check off menu, I thought that it might be the fanciful way of referring to another hoisin (which is not plum but often mislabeled). Instead it turned out to really be plum with all its tart-sweet character. The spareribs were similar to Teochew dishes seasoned with plum that I'd not had often enough to say much about other than that I like them.
Thanks to Cynsa, who had to cancel at the last minute, for uncovering the pipa tofu here. Good find, and as I mentioned pipa is a stringed instrument or lute, as mirrored in the shape of the molded tofu.
I liked the baked pork buns though I might prefer the baby butt tender ones at the place next to Ton Kiang more.
The fried water chestnut cake was a surprise. And was another dish to show off the kitchen's skill at deep-frying.
re: Melanie Wong
I was fortunate enough to be at Melanie's table, too. And since I get hungry just re-reading the list of what we ordered, I really don't think we over-ordered :-)
Overall, I liked HK Lounge II at least as much as Asian Pearl. In fact, on the basis of this one visit it seems better than AP in terms of service, parking, and ambiance. I'd be happy to hike up to the city to dine there again!
What would I order? Among the standards, the excellent baked BBQ pork buns, har gow, siumai, chicken feet, thin-skinned shrimp cheong fun, and flavorful pan fried turnip cake. Among the more unusual dishes, the pork ribs in plum sauce and the excellent deep fried waterchestnut cake. (The advantage of over-ordering at a chowdown like this is you come away with a long list of really good dishes--no need to blunder around the menu over several visits.)
While nothing was bad, there are inevitably some dishes, like boiled dumplings, that I would sacrifice in the interests of trying something new. And perhaps it was the wrong day of the week, but the char siu on the platter, as well as in the cheong fun, could have been fresher. The braised pork belly slices, though meltingly tender, didn't come up to the same flavorful standard as the dimsum.
And firmly on the fence for now, the coffee spareribs. I really like the combination of sweet and savory, and the intrigue that coffee adds, but the instant coffee taste may have been a bit. . . too obviously instant coffee.
The dumpling wrappers suffered the usual flaw of being too thick, which was a pity because their preparation was otherwise very good--with the Chiu Zhou dumpling skin exhibiting an uncommonly good clear, chewy tapioca quality.
Thanks to Melanie, I have another delicious dimsum option!