Chowdown @ Brother Seafood 10-22-13 [San Francisco-Irving & 19th]
About 16 of us met up at Brothers on 19th & Irving for lunch today. We took over two tables & I was at the smaller table.
Off the Dim Sum menu:
(S-04) Steamed Chicken Feet w/Black Bean Sauce
-This was a nice, fresh rendition of classic paws, good texture-cooked nicely. No claws.
(S-10) Deep Fried Meat Turnover
(S-12) Crispy Taro Turnover
(M-01) Stuffed Green Peppers
(M-02) Stuffed Eggplant
(M-03) Shrimp with Parley Dumpling
(M-04) Shrimp with Spinach Dumpling
(M-05) Chiu-Chow Style Dumpling
(M-06) Bamboo Shoot with Oyster Sauce Roll
(L-01) Har Gow
(L-04) Vegetarian Crepe Roll
(L-10) Fried Shrimp Dumpling
(X-07) Beef Shank with Five Spices
(X-09) Sweet Rice
(X-15) Fried Stuffed Jalapenos w/Salt & Pepper
- This was by far the most delicious dish on the table. Almost a Maldon salt texture on top with more bright green, sauteed, jalapenos and green onion on top. Stuffed with shrimp paste and barely fried, no breading. I'd have ordered two of these, had I known their magic.
(X-16) Satay Squids with Pork Rind
- Sounds great, right? Yawn. So bland and the textures were too close between the squids & rind.
(X-21) Tofu Skin Ginko with Pea Tendrils
- Mmm-mmm. This dish was delicate and cleanly prepared. Every taste was unique but it all worked nicely together. Ginko nuts and whole garlic cloves! I got the leftovers on this. Whoop.
(X-24) Pumpkin with Salted Egg York
Not on the Dim Sum menu
Lobster Lo Mein
- Lobster was well prepared. Too much noodle, not enough taste. Really bland.
Would I go back? Maybe. I didn't try everything. I wouldn't bother with the dumplings, rolls or noodles on a next visit, average at best.
I was at the other table.
Dishes I liked best were the tofu skin gingko with pea tendrils, siu mai, and chicken feet. Spareribs, a dish I don't usually like, were juicy.
We had some kind of mushroom-stuffed beancurd that was tasty if messy. Turnip cakes were fluffy but bland.
Thomas shared a last bite of the crunchy sweet rice, and my table didn't get the fried stuffed jalapeños.
If I were nearby, I'd give it another try. Our total came to $15 each with tax and tip.
Potstickers had tasty filling but were too thick and nearly burned. Pumpkin with salted egg yolk was so dreadful looking I didn't try it. (I get this at S&T on Noriega all the time.) Baked pork buns were sticky and too sweet.
Overall they do not have a light touch with dumplings or buns. Dinner might be a better choice.
Enjoyed this place - best of the recent trials on the N side of the City. Compares well with All Season Restaurant on Diamond Hts for dim sum, but not in Koi's class.
Best was the surprising Fried Stuffed Jalapeños, nicely balanced salt pepper taste. Also the Sweet Rice got my attention as a nicely balanced and interesting rendition.
Pumpkin was just in a fried batter with no hint of Salted Egg Yolk as in the definitive Hakka Rest. version. Poor. Lobster Lo Mein was boring. Never a fan of the Stuffed Green Peppers, this seemed even more overcooked than usual for me.
It was interesting how the table seemed to agree on the winners and losers except with regard to the various steamed dumplings. I think mostly people were happy with the various fillings, but some thought the wrappers too thick. I was surprised by this as my first impression was how light and thin the skins were. I think Melanie remarked that she noticed various thicknesses on the two steamers of one of the items. I now suspect that may have been what happened. I got ones with thin skins and so was happy with them. Maybe it is a quality assurance problem.
Some interesting options I haven't seen before were on the list. The Squid and Pork Rind was not worth the bother. The Tofu Skin Ginko [seeds] and Pea Tendrils was nice but parsimonious with the apparently luxurious Ginko.
Better dim sum on the Peninsula, but in SF this is not a bad choice and is a pleasant place with good service that can handle large tables.
I was the designated reporter for the "other table" (let's call it "Table 2"). Here's what we had—
S-01 Siu Mai
S-02 Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce
S-04 Steamed Chicken Feet w/ Black Bean Sauce
S-06 Egg Yolk Bun
S-07 Pan Fried Turnip Cake
S-16 Pan Fried Pot Sticker
L-02 Shrimp Crepe Roll
M-02 Stuffed Eggplant
M-04 Shrimp with Spinach Dumpling
M-07 Sesame Seeds Dumpling
M-08 Bamboo Shoot with Oyster Sauce Roll
M-10 Baked BBQ Pork Buns
L-08 Crispy Lobster Turnover w/ Salad Sauce
X-06 Haslet with Turnip
X-08 Seaweed with Beef Shank
X-13 Squids with Salt & Pepper
X-21 Tofu Skin Ginko w/ Pea Tendrils
X-24 Pumpkin w/ Salted Egg Yolk
My favorite dish was the Seaweed with Beef Shank, a cold dish with great pickles and tasty beef slices. I'll give the others at my table a chance to comment before adding additional impressions.
I was also at "table 2". The beef shank with seaweed and picked vegetables, the first of the dishes to arrive, was my favorite of the day as well. The contrast between the sweet pickled cabbage and the salty five-spice flavored beef made for a great combo. The bamboo shoot with oyster sauce roll, which was rolled in tofu skin, was a surprisingly tasty dish, although I had no idea what the filling was when I tried it. Other dishes I liked were the siu mai, the spareribs, the pot stickers, and the sesame seed dumpling (covered in glutinous rice and dusted with crushed peanuts).
I was not impressed by the shrimp and spinach dumpling (it seemed bland), salt and pepper squid (a little overlooked and under seasoned), the lobster turnover (deep fried in a pastry crust seems a waste of an expensive ingredient, if it really was lobster, as I couldn't tell), the haslet (tripe) with turnip (the tripe tasted a little too much of barnyard for me, although I like the idea of pairing it with sweet turnip), the turnip cake (usually a favorite, was a little bland), and the pumpkin with salted egg yolk, which just tasted like deep fried pumpkin, with no hint of saltiness.
The rest of the dishes were either OK, or I hadn't tried them elsewhere to compare. I would not go out of my way to have dim sum at Brother Seafood, and their preparation of the seafood dim sum dishes I tried makes me wary of trying it for dinner, despite enthusiastic CH recommendations.
The shrimp with spinach dumplings were better than the mushy version at All Seasons but still not very flavorful. I'm the guilty party who keeps ordering this dish, thinking I had a great version of it in the past, but I may have been confusing it with shrimp and pea sprouts dumplings, which often contain conpoy and can be wonderful.
The siu mai were plump and fairly flavorful, good value for $2 on the small dim sum menu. The shrimp roll had an unusual sauce that I couldn't figure out or decide if I liked. It was interesting but I think I prefer the more standard treatment.
The egg yolk bun was quite small (but priced accordingly) and had a nice flavorful filling, though I prefer fried versions to this steamed white bao. The BBQ pork buns didn't have much pork flavor, perhaps because the pork was diluted by crunchy vegetables which added texture. The texture wasn't that interesting and I wouldn't order this again.
Pumpkin with salted egg yolk should have a crispy eggy coating but this rendition was wet and mushy with little salted egg flavor. The squash was decent quality and the right doneness but that wasn't enough to save this loser.
The service was friendly and attentive except that I had to ask twice to get mustard.
I was at table 2..I was disappointed with most... if not all of the offerings...I found most tasteless and bland..although some like the chicken feet had good texture..I kept chewing on things hoping to extract some taste but for me it was hopeless....loved the company as usual!!!
On to the next one...!
Clearly there’s some unevenness at play here from the varied reports. At our table I found enough that I liked that I would return. I’d like to emphasize the low prices here, essentially the same as the City’s inexpensive take-out places but cooking at a higher level with less salt, grease or MSG and offering comfortable table service. Comparing prices per dish now with the menu from our chowdown at Hong Kong Lounge II, they’re 20% to 50% lower. For such a small place, Brother Seafood offers remarkable variety. The diverse offerings and low prices place it in the niche that Y Ben House used to fill without the crowds and grunge and with better food.
(S-04) Steamed Chicken Feet w/Black Bean Sauce – Not that puffed up, tasty and tender, can’t ask for much more than that.
(S-10) Deep Fried Meat Turnover – Greaseless, freshly fried hom sui gok, relatively thin and nicely bubbled shell, good job.
(S-12) Crispy Taro Turnover – Missed trying the wu gok, but they looked good with non-greasy and frilly exteriors.
(M-01) Stuffed Green Peppers – Didn’t try this dish either, black bean sauce was thick and pasty.
(M-02) Stuffed Eggplant – Quite bad and lacking freshness, seemed like it had been cooked days earlier and then refried to heat up again.
(M-03) Shrimp with Parsley Dumpling
(M-04) Shrimp with Spinach Dumpling
Don’t know which is which. Tried the purse-shaped one with the thicker wrapper (vs. the elongated dumpling with the see-through wrapper). Wrapper was a bit stiff and the filling too soft and underseasoned.
(M-05) Chiu-Chow Style Dumpling – Oddly, this one had a thinner than usual wrapper instead of the thick and flubbery/chewy style that even had some small holes and lack of structural integrity. Filling too finely minced for my taste and missing peanuts.
(M-06) Bamboo Shoot with Oyster Sauce Roll – Nice job on the tofu skin rolls though my piece was refrigerator cold in the middle. (no photo)
(L-01) Har Gow – Weird to see the two baskets side-by-side with dramatically different appearances, one with opaque and thick-looking skins and the other more translucent. Flavor was not bad, but shrimp were too mushy.
(L-04) Vegetarian Crepe Roll – Vege turned out to be a delicious saute’ of assorted mushrooms, good seasoned soy sauce, thickish rice roll. Not as delicate as Cooking Papa but better than Lai Hong Lounge for a fraction of the price.
(L-10) Fried Shrimp Dumpling – Nothing of note.
(X-07) Beef Shank with Five Spices – Good version, flavorful not dried-out slices of shank with crisp gristle. Inspired to make my own daikon and carrot pickles.
(X-09) Sweet Rice – Very good example, chewy individual grains of glutinous rice, not ruined by too much soy sauce, green onions properly sautéed to release fragrance
(X-15) Fried Stuffed Jalapenos w/Salt & Pepper – Fully concur with MMerino, most delicious and most unique pick. First time I’ve run into crunchy finishing salt treatment at a local Chinese restaurant, really sweetened up the dish. Loved the crispness of the chiles, crunchy fried garlic bits, extra chopped jalapeño on top, very well thought out composition.
(X-16) Satay Squids with Pork Rind – Soggy, indistinct.
(X-21) Tofu Skin Ginko with Pea Tendrils – My other top pick. Could’ve used more gingko nuts (and less garlic cloves) but done beautifully with a light hand and gossamer thin bean curd sheets.
(X-24) Pumpkin with Salted Egg Yolk – Not good.
Not on the Dim Sum menu
Lobster Lo Mein – Wide (cho) noodles were overcooked and lacking the firm al dente texture.
Baked BBQ pork bun – Tender and airy bread as soft as a baby’s bottom, honey-glazed, good example of sweet style even if not what I prefer.
Taro and shrimp paste fried rice – Rice was too wet, but well-flavored with bits of taro, egg, and lop cheong, as well as hom ha.
Corkage was $5 per bottle and wine glasses were supplied for the 2012 Laurel Glen Vineyard Crazy Old Vine Rosé I brought.
That's a stunningly long list of dim sum offerings for a relatively small restaurant. Melanie and I suspected that the dim sum chef came from one of the top dim sum houses in the area. I tried to fish for more information on the chef from the servers...no luck. All the deep-fried items were greaseless, showing the skills of the kitchen. The dishes are not in the same class of Koi or Yank Sing, but certainly deserve a solid B+ or A- grade, with truly great prices. The steamed dumpling skins are not as thin as those from the award-winning restaurants in Hong Kong, but are definitely better than the majority of dim sum places here. Now if they could do something with the $2/hour street parking (16 quarters for 2 hours!)...
You might be an easier grader than I am. :)
I'm not sure I could give a B+ overall to a dim sum house that can't make better steamed dumplings than we had, as I consider those the heart and soul of the dim sum experience. Yet, there were a few stellar dishes and those raised the average considerably. I think this place is a find for a dim sum bargain and I thank "possumspice" for telling us about it.
re: Melanie Wong
I've not yet ordered dim sum here, but I did have a tofu/fish clay pot for a late dinner that I thought was excellent. A subsequent try of the beef stew noodle soup was pretty mediocre, so I'm probably sticking to seafood dishes from here on out. They are also open till at least midnight most nights, which is a big plus in the Sunset (only Chabaa is also open this late on this stretch of Irving, I believe).
Thanks for pointing out the late hours. I think I'd like to try dinner here next. While waiting for the ladies room, I noticed the flank of live seafood tanks. They were not at their best on a Tuesday afternoon, but the number of tanks was impressive for such a small restaurant. The same owner has New Hing Lung that had gone downhill somewhat when I was last there within this year. Maybe this spot is where the attention is now.
re: Melanie Wong
Yeah my sister keeps telling me my scoring standards keep getting lower and lower over the years with me living in the Bay Area with "so-so" food. When she visited me from Hong Kong, I took her to countless restaurants, and I remember she kept saying neither Benu nor Baume deserved 2 Michelin stars. Perhaps time for Vincent to go back to Hong Kong to see what kind of magic they have been conjuring up there in the restaurant scene. By the way, Brother is still light years ahead of all the dim sum restaurants around Oakland (except perhaps the 2 East Oceans). Legendary Palace and Peony are just really bad. Tao Yuen is just laughable, literally as I picked up an dumpling to show my buddy how bad it was, with almost half an inch of skin, and we both burst into laughing.
re: Melanie Wong
Yeah, I guess we went really light on the steamed dishes and somehow lucked into ordering a large proportion on the dishes people seemed to like, including the yuba with pea sprouts and fried jalapeno. To me, what's much more compelling than the prices is that there is a much shorter wait time than other, more popular spots, and if you know what their strengths are, similar or better quality. Glad it was a semi-successful find! :)