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Apr 18, 2014 10:52 AM


WARNING. NOTHING IN THIS PICTURE was offered on the Church Key's carts. THIS PIC is not mine, but came from Travel & Leisure's website. I went last night. In fact, I didn't see anything on The Church Key's carts that remotely resembled anything like dim sum. NOTHING.

Travel & Leisure had this as one of the 17 best dim sum restaurants in America?

It's not that their dim sum isn't good, THERE IS NO DIM SUM. NO DIM SUM AT ALL. NADA. RIEN. Now I'm pissed off at Travel & Leisure. This isn't, say, a "contemporary spin" on dim sum, or "modern": dim sum. These are simply carts with stuff on them. Putting small plates from, say, Clifton's Cafeteria on a cart would be as close to dim sum as The Church Key. NO. NOT DIM SUM.

Nothing on the menu is close to dim sum either.


I didn't see ANYTHING like this. There was some sushi and sashimi (sushi and sashimi on a cart? Now there's a aggravatingly bad idea!)..

Bread on a cart? That's a fucking BREAD CART! Not dim sum. Not a dim sum cart. (Yeah, they had bread on a cart. I've been to Joel Robuchon at the Mansion - now that's a bread cart of the Gods. This cart? Like a bread cart I would imagine in a nice prison.)

I've heard of bait and switch, but this is bait and go fuck yourself. Not a dumpling or dumpling-like item within a mile. No buns (oh, pretzels on a plate. That's as close as I got. Hm. Pretzel is made with flour, and dim sum wrappers made from flour. So it must be dim sum!


Never got any complimentary truffle popcorn either.

(Service was friendly and helpful. Place is nice. Bustling, young crowd. This place could likely merit a decent review had I not been led there under false circumstances. Not even sure it's their fault, but they do offer a card that gets stamped when you get something off their carts - which is in some way emulating a small, meaningless component of the dim sum experience)

I apologize if this has been said before, I just felt it needed to be stressed. Travel & Leisure needs a spanking.

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  1. This is interesting.

    I am sure you know this, but "dim sum" is the phonetic translation of the Cantonese phrase for 點心 (or loosely translated, "snacks").

    Relatedly, dim sum (or snacks) was eaten when nurturing some tea and doing a bit of group tête-à-tête amongst friends, hence "yum cha" became the phonetic translation of the Cantonese phrase for 飲茶.

    So distilling those two ideas, or concepts, there's really nothing about dim sum, or more precisely, yum cha, that requires a specific type of food.

    Traditionally, as you so rightfully mention dim sum oftentimes consisted of dumpling-like creations (e.g. har gow, shumai, etc.) but no where in the canons of dim sum ukase does yum cha actually require the service, and partaking, of dumpling-like creations.

    Nowadays, whether you want to call it contemporary or modern or whatever, many of the very finest dining halls in Hong Kong (Michelin starred, no less) and Vancouver/Toronto serve a panoply of dim sum items during yum cha -- from things like Salted Custard Bird Nest Glutinous Rice Balls, Baked Whole Abalone Puff, Prawns in XO Chilli Sauce, Watermelon Jelly, Ginger Souffle, etc. -- that would defy conventional wisdom, and expecting and ordering something like har gow (a dumpling-like item) would be considered as antiquated and out-of-place as asking for change for the public pay phone in the middle of LA Live.

    Dim sum -- the actual food items -- has never been strictly confined to dumpling-like items (even though those were the most prevalent) and the yum cha experience has never been about limiting oneself to eating just things from a cart or from small plates - those were just traditionally the most convenient (and practical) ways of delivering the dim sum comestibles.

    People partaking of yum cha dined on dim sum, which could run the gamut of soft-boiled peanuts to little pastry snack items like crullers or turnip cakes to just about anything sweet or savory that whets the palate for more tea and even more conversation.

    Dim sum / yum cha is an experience, let the mind wander, and the stomach will be all the better for it.

    14 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Literal translations vs common sense. I'm choosing the latter here.

      I just knew if I posted this rant/review someone would come up with exactly what you came up with. No problems. I don't even think we're in disagreement.

      But Leisure & Travel called this a dim sum and it just isn't what you would expect. You could call the place a BBQ restaurant because they serve ribs with a sweet sauce. Or Italian because they have pasta dishes.

      It's more than misleading. I think it does the restaurant a disservice to put it in the top 17 dim sum restaurants in American when it isn't even a dim sum restaurant. There are other, more deserving restaurants. I suspect that assessment had a lot more to do with a publicist or someone's friend than any real taste testing.

      BTW - at a dim sum restaurant you have have a whole meal off the cars. You can't really do that at The Church Key.

      Also - a dim sum restaurant one expects dumplings. I'm all for being creative, but you can do a lot of with dumplings. And no one in sight at this restaurant.

      Can a dim sum restaurant have no dumplings on their menu?

      1. re: foodiemahoodie

        They did have dumplings, maybe some buns, and other (slightly more) dim summy fare, on the carts when they opened but they weren't very good. For me the cart food was nowhere near as good as the kitchen food, which I really enjoyed.

        I think though your issue is more with the magazine than the restaurant. The "dim sum that isn't really dim sum concept" has got them loads of attention. In that sense it worked. But now that they got this high-profile write-up, that is more of a wrong-up - so, they probably need to figure out a way to keep folks from getting "biat[ed] and fuck[ed]" as you did.

        It is quite helpful when places like Zo and Sushi Park, that serve only No Substitution Omakase, inform their diners about their policies when they reserve a table.

        ???Maybe Church Key needs to tell folks they do not really have dim sum when they call or come in?????

        1. re: foodiemahoodie

          Actually the best dim sum restaurants don't have carts, my opinion as a Cantonese man who has spent time in Hong Kong. I don't see why you're so angry in today's age you could have gone to Yelp and looked at pictures.

          What's the deal with your obsession with dumplings anyway? Did you write the rules/norms for dim sum restaurants because as far as I've been going to dim sum (for over 20 years) nobody in my families gave a shit if there were dumplings or not. Good food is important but just as much so is the experience of sitting down with friends and family and catching up/shit talking about whats in the newspaper.

          1. re: Johnny L

            The Travel and Leisure article is a crackup. They feature 17 of the "top" dim sum restaurants. I went through all 17, and it was a combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly, with some sorry-looking pictures of crappy looking dimsum for some of them, some joints with their "noveau" take on dimsum which doesn't really cut it for me, and some of the old stalwarts which generate much heat here in CH.

            They ranked Yank Sing #1. I like Yank Sing, and eat there everytime I am in San Francisco. It is my favorite in the US. Maybe it is the #1 dimsum restaurant in the US (and I am "right"), but I would be surprised. By Hong Kong standards, it is probably in the bottom half of what's possible, and maybe the bottom third. It reminds me of Maxim's City Hall, great fun place, great atmosphere, view, and room. Great dimsum? Not so much, maybe good dimsum. A destination, but the food isn't the main draw.

            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              Yank Sing isn't even #1 in the Bay Area IMO.

              1. re: Porthos

                Just like the great old (true or apocryphal??? anyone????) Beatles story: John Lennon was asked if Ringo is the greatest drummer in the world. His answer: "Greatest drummer in the world? He's not even the greatest drummer in the Beatles!"

                1. re: Porthos

                  Never been to Yank Sing. Koi Palace and Hong Kong Lounge which I both liked. (Koi more).

                  How would you rank Yank Sing? Have I been missing anything?

                  1. re: foodiemahoodie

                    Nope. I rank Yank Sing a solid notch below Koi Palace.

                    I would consider Koi tops in US.

            2. re: foodiemahoodie

              This isn't a "bait and go fuck yourself"; you just got snookered by a magazine's (and a shitty one at that) listicle.

              "Common Sense" - Did you not look at the website? Or Yelp? Or CH? Or anything?

              Methinks your ire is misdirected.

              1. re: a213b

                Ire is directed at the magazine and CNN.

                Common sense would assume that when you go to a dim sum restaurant, it would include food you commonly see at dim sum restaurants.

                1. re: foodiemahoodie

                  You know what they say about assuming...

                  1. re: ns1

                    I complain about a dim sum restaurant that has no dim sum and I get an argument?

                    1. re: foodiemahoodie

                      Here's an honest, non-loaded question. Did you do any research outside of Travel & Leisure and CNN before going?

                      Not to put it on you - as the description of what was on offer would've pissed me off, too - but both of those sources are decidedly unreliable.

                      1. re: JeMange

                        Yes, checked Gayot guide and found it mention as top 10 (new) restaurants of 2014. And a cursory look at Yelp.

          2. "I've heard of bait and switch, but this is bait and go fuck yourself."

            Funniest thing I've read on Chowhound in a *very* long time!

            1 Reply
            1. I guess if they can call that dim sum, it would only be fair if Chinese restaurants can refer to chow mein as "pasta". Now, I must go to my local Vietnamese boulangerie to purchase some baguettes.

              1 Reply
              1. So many awesome chowhound quotes/replies in this thread

                1. I agree. Dim Sum seems misleading. But then again, I think most SGV regulars knew there was no "dim sum" at this place.

                  Should probably call it a la "cart" tapas.

                  Get thee to Hakkasan in Beverly Hills for Westside dim sum.