Chowdown: All Season Restaurant (SF)
A group of nine Chowhounds gathered at All Seasons Restaurant in Diamond Heights for Sunday dim sum. It took about 45 minutes to get our party seated after "we" grabbed numbers (thanks to those who got there earlier than me!).
I lost the menus, but there's a big fold out menu of standard stuff, and a two sided menu with lots of pictures with less familiar items. There's also cart service, but there wasn't much of interest on them.
=Two-sided menu items=
Shredded pork puffy rolls
Beef shank with chicken feet (removed from the table by the server before most people could eat it!)
Duck bills with basil
Hand pulled rice noodle rolls with string beans
Taro roll with minced pork and shrimp
Beef pancake rolls
Zhongshan dumplings filled with char siu
Salty egg yolk yams and pumpkin
Taro paste filled pancakes
=Fold-out menu items=
Deep fried "lobster" dumplings
Shrimp and spinach dumplings
Portuguese egg tarts
Regular egg tarts
Black sesame dessert
Bean curd skin wrapped shrimp
The bill came to $20/person and that included multiple orders of several dishes, chrysanthemum tea, tax, & tip I'll let others chime in first with comments, but I'll preface my future post by saying that I had a great time and enjoyed the food quite a bit.
First, I didn't even notice the arrival of the sliced beef shanks over chicken feet. Did the menu actually state that the rice rolls were actually hand-rolled, because that's exceptionally rare, even in Hong Kong? With that said, I had so much I couldn't try some of the dim sum. The quality was really solid for the Bay Area standard. Easily comparable to the best of the Millbrae restaurants. Yank Sing is still a level or two above but at a higher $$$ level too. I also think the Koi Palace dim sum chefs are still a tad more skilful. What sets All Season from places like Great Eastern is that their chefs are willing to (and capable of) make a variety dishes that are not traditional. All Season absolutely ranks within the Top 10 in the Bay Area. And at under $20 per head after tip & tax.
The fold out menu has 12 steamed rice noodle dishes under the category "hand pull rice noodle" but the Chinese is simply cheung fun 腸粉 . It also has the XO sauce rice noodle roll, which is chopped in segments and pan-fried (damn good last time I was here). The two sided menu has green beans with rice roll and a (Sichuan) spicy rice roll, both of which are chopped in segments and pan-fried.
I see. I wonder if they hand-pull these rice rolls on premise, like Cooking Papa, or they just buy the rice rolls hand-pulled in advance somewhere else, which is the common practice even in Hong Kong. From my experience, and perhaps this is too obvious, rice (or wheat, etc.) noodle/pasta tastes best when made on the spot, followed by the properly-frozen version, and then the dry stuff that is rehydrated. Remember the soft rice flour balls filled with sweet black sesame at this dim sum gathering that I didn't try because I was so full? (By the way, why do people use the word mochi to describe this? It's not Japanese.) Years ago I was visiting a buddy in LA, and his wife served me these traditional soft rice balls with sweet black sesame paste served in hot (sugary) water. The texture was phenomenal; they were soft and al dente at the same time--very hard to describe but you know how fresh pasta tastes compared to frozen and dry stuff. I asked, and the wife was surprised that I could tell the balls were fresh. She went on to tell me their grandma from Taiwan had made them from scratch. In fact the grandma would make hundreds of these for them each time before she returned to Taiwan. But the kids didn't care about them since they all grew up here in the States, and so they would just dump all the food she had made with love before she came back so as not to hurt her feelings. I asked if "from scratch" meant she had made the balls from the rice flour herself, and the wife explained the grandma made her own flour by milling the rice grains! My other friend joked that to be really making the balls "from scratch," the grandma would need to grow rice in her backyard. ;-)
Thanks to all who joined for a fun (and loud) time!
Like Charliemyboy, I left with a positive impression, but as I go through each item, there were issues. On the plus side, everything tasted fresh and the overall quality was better than the cheap take-out places and what I recently had at City View.
=Two-sided menu items=
Shredded pork puffy rolls : my favorite item. The crackly rice powder topping, like in a pineapple bun or a dutch crunch roll, gave the bun a nice texture and went well with the pork.
Salty egg yolk yams and pumpkin : I liked these a lot. The salty egg yolks were balanced enough to add salt without too much of a sulfurous edge. When they were hot, I didn't find them too greasy.
Beef shank with chicken feet (removed from the table by the server before most people could eat it!) : the shank was a little dry, but had a good flavor. I've never had a server steal a dish from the table before...
Hand pulled rice noodle rolls with string beans : A big disappointment. Good string beans, but the rice rolls were overcooked and pasty, and the layers didn't maintain their individuality like the last time I was here.
Taro paste filled pancakes : not as crisp or lathered with taro as the last time I had these, but still good.
Zhongshan dumplings filled with char siu : the char siu was just okay, and would be better showcased in different wrapper
=Fold-out menu items=
Deep fried "lobster" dumplings : There was a piece of shrimp, possible crawfish, in these so I don't know if there's any lobster there. Good either way!
Shrimp and spinach dumpling : too much MSG
Durian pasty : pastry wasn't too heavy and the durian was surprisingly not disgusting
Pork ribs & Bean curd skin wrapped shrimp were both good.
That all said, at that price level, I haven't had a better overall dim sum experience in SF proper outside of Lai Hong Lounge. Based on some recent reports, I've got to try Great Eastern sometime.
Side note: the take-out window downstairs looked horrible
On the whole this was solid if unspectacular dim sum.
Shredded pork puffy rolls - Great combo of crunchy, savory, and slightly sweet. They looked to me like Chinese zeppoles. Never had these before and will look for them now.
Salty egg yolk yams and pumpkin - crunchy, salty, creamy goodness. These rocked and I couldn't stop eating them.
Hand-pulled rice noodle rolls. It's hard to get the texture on these right and these did not succeed. They did have some nice char on them but the gummy mouth-feel earned these a skip
Zhongshan dumplings with char siu - plenty of deep savory flavor but lacked balance. Needed some bright acidity. Pass.
Black sesame dessert - Mine was too sweet. I've had much better versions at Zen Peninsula in Millbrae which, sadly, has gone downhill of late.
If I was in the neighborhood I would return but not worth a drive from other parts of SF or the Peninsula. Very nice to see some old and new faces. Thanks for organizing, hyperbowler.
Loved the company...liked the food!
The most interesting thing for me (as people who know me will attest.. (remember when a tray of boiling hot chicken feet was accidently dumped on my head at one of our chowdowns) was the chicken feet...they were perfectly cooked and could be sucked right off the bone...these were not in black bean sauce,...but a more refined, delicate abalone sauce. They are definitely better in the mouth than on the head!
I really liked the egg coated pumpkin and yams, because they had an additional crunchy deep fried coating..never had it that way before.. my other faves were the Shredded Pork Puffy Rolls, the deep fried lobster dumplings ( these were probably stuffed with crayfish..it seemed,) Durian Pastry and Black Sesame mochi..it came with a lot of sesame..perhaps a tad too sweet.
Not that we're any kind of experts but All Seasons is our go-to place for Dim Sum as we live near by. Very happy to have them close enough to go regularly.
I'd love to try some of their sea food dishes for dinner, but not sure if I'd get to try some of their better dishes as we don't read/speak Chinese. Not to clear how their menu system works.
Their menus are all bilingual, so I think you'd be okay. We had a few issues with our servers, but the barrier didn't seem to be language as much as communication/confusion--- they forgot a few items and removed a dish from our table that we'd started eating with no explanation.
There was a banquet menu that was English on one side, Chinese on the opposite side. I believe it was $288.
Thanks to hyperbowler for organizing another successful Chowdown. The company was very engaging and I got so involved in the conversation I didn't pay as much attention as usual to all the dishes. Here are my comments on the dishes that left an impression on me—
Cashew pastry—quite good
Duck bills with basil—these were the least satisfying duck jaws I've had so far—somewhat overcooked and dry, less flavor and more issues with small bones than the much better duck jaw offerings at Cooking Papa (Maggi) or Great Eastern (cold soya sauce).
Hand pulled rice noodle rolls with string beans—the string beans were done perfectly--nice crunch. Needed more or better sauce on the noodle rolls
Zhongshan dumplings filled with char siu—I'm usually a sucker for char siu, but wasn't impressed here. I guess the char siu was OK, but it doesn't work for me in dumpling form. A few days earlier I had char siu in rice noodle rolls at Cooking Papa in Foster City and was similarly disappointed. Give me a bao any day.
Salty egg yolk yams and pumpkin—the coating was a little greasy and not as puffy or eggy as I like but the kabocha was decent and the yam pieces were a nice addition. I'd order it again.
Deep fried "lobster" dumplings—there was some discussion if they were actually lobster but regardless they were excellent, one of the best tastes of the meal.
Shrimp and spinach dumplings—usually one of my favorite dim sum dishes, but not this overcooked rendition—not much flavor and the shrimp was mushy.
Portuguese egg tarts—small, lots of crust for very little custard, not especially flavorful
Durian pasty—Having enjoyed these whenever I have had them before, I was feeling brave and sniffed deeply before eating. That may be why they seemed to have more durian sulphurous odor than usual, and more than I like. They were not as light & custardy as I like but if you like intense durian and consider this type of pastry to be durian for wimps you might enjoy the somewhat stronger than usual taste.
Black sesame dessert—a tad too sweet but otherwise very good—big enough to have lots of black sesame, and a reasonable sesame/mochi ratio. A winner.
Fish balls—pretty bland but still mildly pleasant.
Bottom line—My overall impression was better than the sum of my comments above. I enjoyed the meal and would come back if I lived nearby, but if I'm going to drive all the way to the City I'd prefer Great Eastern for quality+value or Yank Sing for quality. Still, it was good value and good enough quality that I wouldn't hesitate to return.
re: Dave MP
I've never mastered the Chinese name, but that looks like the steamed mochi balls with black sesame filling. It usually is dusted on the top with a mix of ground peanuts and sugar. It's one of my favorite dim sum items. This doesn't look like a particularly good version, though, because the skin looks quite thick. It should be served warm and the mochi shouldn't be so thick that it's firm to the touch.
re: Ruth Lafler
>peanut and sugar covering.
>Would have to try it before know if it good
i tried it; it was good.
i believe it did have the peanut dust ... if they are the one which came which came in the little foil cups.
the outside was a bit thick but the total mass of sesame filling was pretty high, so i think the ratio worked out fine.
The ones I have had in the past (dim sum is something no longer on my list of things I can now eat) were steamed and rolling in a peanut sugar mixture and placed on a plate. These seems to be steamed in a foil cup (I have seen that done for xlb's but I like both without the tin cup).
I have also heard called something like "flowing lava buns" before but do not remember that Chinese name for that.
Is that like a steamed bun filled w/ black sesame? Or a baked bun?
Actually, steamed buns filled w/ black sesame were pretty common in the Guilin area when I was there, and I was hoping the Guilin restaurant in Oakland would serve these. So far, there are no buns on that menu though.
When you ate them and they were still really fresh, the sugar/sesame mixture inside was indeed a lot like flowing lava.
re: Dave MP
re: Dave MP
Dave, just for your future eating I saw frozen steamed black sesame bun (steamed bread) in the freezer in Foster City and I am sure they will available in any Chinese Supermarket.
Not freshly made but at least it is a start. Next I do a Chinatown walk I will see if any take out dim sum place have it.