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Dim Sum Club (Russian Hill, San Francisco)

Just noticed the “Grand Opening” banner flying on the restaurant in the Da Vinci Villa on Van Ness and Filbert and walked over there this evening to find out the story. It opened a couple weeks ago and features dim sum night and day. The menu shown is available from 11am to 3pm. It’s also served from 5pm to 9pm except for the rice noodle rolls and the taro dumpling. More items will soon be added to the dinner time menu. I asked if the evening dim sum dumplings were frozen from lunch service and the man I spoke to said they’re made fresh and waved toward the two cooks in the open kitchen. The restaurant also serves Western breakfast to hotel guests.

I noticed his logo polo shirt and commented that it was the same as the staff wear at Guangdong Barbecue Tea House on Irving Street. Bingo! Same owners and the Cantonese roast items will be sourced from there. I learned that large party orders such as roast pigs can be ordered a day ahead and will be transported to the Van Ness locale in the morning for pick up. Finally, something authentic (and hopefully good) closer to home.

Let’s hear some reports on the food.

Dim Sum Club
2550 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 529-2615

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  1. ...hopefully delicious!

    1. Very comfortable place with tablecloths, relaxing. Was initially disappointed that they were not serving bbq pork or spareribs, which they said were not up to par that day. Tried the fish w/ yellow chive rice noodle roll and beef w/ cilantro rice noodle roll, both had unusually delicate, elastic and fresh wrappers and ample filling. Salt and pepper (butterflied) chicken wings likewise had a very light delicate batter and light touch on the seasoning. I would probably go back for dinner sometime ( different menu but does include some dimsum).

      1 Reply
      1. re: barleywino

        Thanks for checking it out. I'm still in disbelief that there's a real Chinese place in the neighborhood. Sounds so promising.

        Here's your photo of the dinner menu.

      2. I too am in disbelief. That place has been thru so many reincarnations. The hotel is essentially dorms for AOA and some tourists who do not know better.

        Looking for a few more reports before I go...Im totally suspect

        3 Replies
        1. re: smatbrat

          I'm going back tonight but I don't think i'll bother reporting back if people are going to be so skeptical

          1. re: barleywino

            Please understand that our skepticism is not of your reporting but that this area has been devoid of decent Chinese food for so long this still feels like a mirage. Do let us know what you've been trying.

          2. re: smatbrat

            Heheh, I was there last night. Believe it. Very good now though I fear the neighborhood and motel visitors will dumb it down soon.

          3. When my dinner plans fell through on Friday, I was able to return here sooner than expected to see for myself. Seated in a comfy booth by the windows lining the streetside, I was the only customer at 6PM. From this perch I could observe the guests of the motel eyeing the posted menu as they passed by, and one or two cracked the door to ask about egg foo young (not available) or lo mein (guided toward panfried noodles).

            Favorite dish was Stuffed Eggplant with Black Bean Sauce, $3.95. Three big sandwiches of sweet and soft non-oily Chinese eggplant with a thick filling of high quotient shrimp forcemeat shimmered in a crisp coat of sheer batter. Doused with black bean sauce and then strewn with Thai bird chiles, scallions and cilantro, this was as good a rendition as I’ve ever run across.

            Salt & Pepper Chicken Wing (sic), $4.50, was excellent too, and interestingly, a completely different prep than found at Guangdong. I was intrigued by barleywino’s description of them as “butterflied”, remembering the chicken wing “lollipops” of childhood. These turned out to be not exactly either of those. Both drummettes and flats were used, four pieces to an order. The small bone in the flat was removed to leave just one “handle”. The meat’s pushed down to the end of the bone but not inverted into a lollipop ball. Since the skin was not removed, this method worked better as the cut edges splay out in the fryer crisping the skin. Very juicy meat with a golden brown eggy-tasting batter, the wings had little in the way of salt and (Sichuan) pepper seasoning. A generous scatter of minced raw garlic, scallions and jalapeño peppers revved up the taste. The paper doily allowed for more drainage of oil that pooled on the plate.

            Wanting to order some kind of steamed dumpling as they’re the real mark of a dim sum place, I hedged by choosing Steamed Homemade Dumpling, $3.50. These are a variety of fun guo and harder to mess up than the more delicate types of dumplings. No idea what they’d be, they turned out to have the chewy and thick wrapper of Teochew style but were not as overstuffed nor robustly seasoned. These had chopped pork bits rather than the ground pork often seen in non-Teochew fun guo. There was no doubt as to their freshness as I saw a cook bring out the raw dumplings from the back, holding two in each hand, to plop into the front kitchen’s steaming station. Adding a dab of chile sauce, these were pretty good.

            Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce, $3.50, divided into halves and garnished with a slice of jalapeño, demonstrated good prep work. Steamed soft enough and well-flavored, they tasted a little stale as if reheated more than once. Similarly the Bean Curd Roll with Oyster Sauce, $3.25, filled with pork, shrimp and glass noodles, had the same tired feeling. Maybe as business picks up, higher turnover will ensure more freshness. I was happy to see that restaurant is using bamboo steamer baskets and not steel.

            On the other hand, Steamed Spare Ribs with Plum Sauce, $3.25, featuring meaty pork ribs were not cooked long enough and wound up too chewy. While seasoned with garlic and scallion, there was nothing plummy in evidence.

            Beef Tomato Pan Fried Noodle, $8, featured a fried-to-order noodle cake. Many higher volume restaurants make them in advance for faster service. I could see the cook tossing the noodles in a spider to drain and hear the sizzle as the noodles hit the oil. However, the noodles themselves seemed of generic quality with little intrinsic flavor. They did fry up nicely to a well-browned crispness. Normally, I like this dish with a little Madras curry powder added but I forgot to request this when I placed my order. So to me, the flavors seemed muted compared to my usual. The beef was tender, maybe over-tenderized, but not very meaty tasting. Extra points for using fresh, ripe tomatoes, and I admired the knife work in cutting diamond-shaped lozenges of fresh ginger. No discernible wok flavor in this dish, perhaps the wok is too new and unseasoned at this early stage.

            With tax and tip, this came to $38 and was plenty to feed three people with a bit leftover for lunch the next day. More photos here,

            Peeking at the front kitchen, there appear to be three wok stations with a running water back splash. One has a warming tray over it, another is set up as a steaming station, and one had a dry wok resting on it. The range top next to it had two skillets resting on the burners. Unless there are more cooking stations in the back kitchen, things could get backed up as the place fills up.

            I confirmed with the manager that the owners of Dim Sum Club and Guangdong Barbecue Tea House are ex-Mayflower. He recommended ordering the soy sauce stir fried rice noodle next time. It’s depicted on one of the wall posters. I’d also like to try the cheung fun (rice noodle crepes) that barleywino reported on. And probably the pan fried turnip cakes since they’re so good at Guangdong and more dumplings.

            By the time I left an hour later, there were two parties of two eating in and a couple take-out orders. One asked me questions about my dinner and wound up ordering eggrolls, sweet and sour pork, and the beef tomato chow mein (because there’s no lo mein on the menu). The other party wanted to know what dim sum was and ended up ordering lemon chicken and chicken chow mein.

            Believe it, there is real potential and cooking chops behind Dim Sum Club. I can only hope that the neighbors can embrace it and not force a dumbing down. The dinner menu is still in flux, and I suspect that the manager is paying attention to what’s selling and what people are requesting. I’m going to make a point of returning a couple times in the next two weeks and ordering/asking for authentic dishes. Join the campaign for a real Chinese restaurant in this neighborhood!

            4 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Augh, so wish I was going to be back before fall, if only to have the eggplant dish! It is my favourite at dim sum, and increasingly hard to find. Thanks for the intel. Perhaps the SO will make it up there on one of his business trips. Chinese food of almost any kind for one is a bit difficult but dim sum can work.

              1. re: grayelf

                That's curious that it's disappearing from dim sum houses in BC, wonder why.

                The version here had it all: sweet and thoroughly cooked eggplant but not falling apart, light and crispy batter, tasty filling that had a high proportion of shrimp and not filler. Saucing was not as goopy as some, and the garnishes were fresh and vibrant.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Stop, you're killing me! I'm just back from dim sum with a couple o' local Hounds and we were discussing this very dish and the difficulty of finding it in any form. When you do find it, it tends to be made strictly with fish "mousse" instead of the delectable shrimp filling, which I find inferior. Perhaps it is more authentic (sorry to use the A word) but I prefer the shrimp.

                  1. re: grayelf

                    We had stuffed eggplant this morning at Lai Hong Lounge. Each of the 4 eggplant pieces were as large as I have ever seen, but were stuffed with a disproportionately small amount of filling. The sparse filling was ground something - we could not determine if it was fish or shrimp. Three of the four eggplant pieces were cooked perfectly, being neither too soft nor underdone, with a good amount of sweetness. The fourth piece was underdone a bit but the flavor was sufficiently good that I ate it anyway. The sauce was not traditional black bean and in fact was quite gummy. . . . Overall, this dish has gone downhill since my last LHL visit about a year ago.

                    On the other hand, LHL still makes the. best. siu. mai. ever.

            2. tried them for dim sum sunday. seating is only 15 tables/booths,
              no hostess/buspersons on duty. 2 associates running around delivering entrees checked off on a list.

              panfried potstickers(4/3.75)
              -undercooked, sent it back
              bbq pork bun (3/3.25)
              -doughy bun texture, sparse bbq meat tastleless, loaded with msg
              shrimp noodle crepe(5.25)
              -crepe skin fell apart, large crunchy shrimp semi-tasty
              beef chow fun(8)
              taste from fat and oiliness, little meat flavor
              -order forgotten, caught it immediately, came out tasteless, beef tender

              take outs:
              -food pricey, dimsum portion small
              -food same out fast
              -service ok when we got any.

              22 Replies
              1. re: shanghaikid

                Could you define your grading system please for those of us who don't know it? TIA.

                1. re: c oliver

                  my full report is on y,,p. this is just the generic food version. btw, wouldn't repeat.

                  factors in grading food:
                  -comparative value of food to similar dish in similar eatery
                  -subjective judgment whether it fits my food preference
                  food may be fably prepped. but i don't like it that way.
                  (no penalty, just not a high rating)
                  -food consistency
                  -(AB)use of msg, salt, additives, seasonings or lack of flavoring.
                  -seldom rate on service/decor/seating unless it's an aggravating factor. (possible + for imaginative decor...)
                  -imaginative touches merits higher marks, same old, same old, gets an average rating.
                  mostly it, some minor items may be left out.

                  1. re: shanghaikid

                    I remain confused. could you provide the link to you blog?

                      1. re: shanghaikid

                        okey dokey. So you gave how many you got and what the price was. Am I missing your evaluation of each dish?

                        1. re: c oliver

                          my evaluation is the written remarks under the description of pieces and pricing. no grade given.

                          only a subjective end grade of repeat or not is given or inferred.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              it was a thin line. i didn't hate it. but more importantly i didn't like it.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            most memorable line from victor's full review, "worst eating experience in a while with SO, she keep reminding me, so 2 stars." (on a 5 star scale) the Shanghai gourmand enjoys/endures a plethora of dining spots, so my guess 'worst eating experience in a while' is not derived from a small sample.

                            1. re: moto

                              I'll never denigrate anyone's opinion of a meal/restaurant but gotta say that my tastes align with Melanie Wong's.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                you are fortunate indeed. ms.wine's palate is much more finely calibrated than mine, with dietary and financial budgets further limiting my options. helpful to me, for Chinese food the Shanghai gourmand always notes the saltiness and m.s.g. he discerns.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      gourmand : 'lover of delicate fare ; judge of good eating'

                                      1. re: moto

                                        "a person who enjoys eating and often eats too much.
                                        synonyms: glutton, overeater, big eater, gobbler, gorger

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      The real question is: did she demean shanghaikid or me?

                                      <cue the rimshot>

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Neither, dear. I pay a huge amount of attention and respect to your posts. And the things you wrote about this place were no different. I said everyone's entitled to their opinion but I'll stick with your rec , who I've followed for years, vs. someone I've only just come across. If that came across as demeaning to shanhaikid that wasn't my intention.

                      2. re: c oliver

                        Those look like number of pieces per order and the prices.

                      3. re: shanghaikid

                        I've had the shrimp rice noodle roll three times now and it has been perfect in texture. One time I did have leftovers that I refrigerated overnight and then resteamed the next day. Though it returned to its former softness, it did break apart. So it sounds like what you were served might have been reheated.

                        I didn't have good luck with the steamed spareribs either. Though they were meaty, not much in the way of seasoning, not even salt. Here's the photo:

                        Did you order the steamed or the baked pork bun?

                      4. Thanks for the heads up! I'm equally amazed there is a decent cantonese restaurant in the neighborhood...saves time driving to Koi Palace or the Richmond.

                        It was good enough that my parents and I went there twice in one week.

                        The winners we had:

                        1. Taro dumpling (芋角)- I can't remember when I've had such a good rendition. They were smaller than usual but four to an order. The taro was not at all heavy, but more like a delicate shell around a tasty pork filling. Usually I don't like these too much because they are too heavy and can taste of old oil but these were excellent both times.
                        2. Shrimp rice noodle roll (蝦腸粉)- quite good. Noodles were translucent and see through with a nice slightly chewy texture. The shrimp were large sized with a nice snap.
                        3. Spareribs steamed on rice noodle rolls (排骨蒸腸粉) - excellent, tender, black bean spareribs on rolled cheung fun noodles.
                        4. Stuffed eggplant (釀茄子) - very very good, a highlight of both trips. large pieces of chinese eggplant, split and stuffed with a mostly shrimp mousse filling. Black bean sauce actually had flavor. Not nearly as greasy as at mediocre dim sum joints.
                        5. Steamed cake (馬來糕) - excellent. Not too sweet, ethereal texture. Almost ate the whole thing myself
                        6. Shanghai soupy dumplings (小籠湯飽)- really enjoyed these, comparable to Din Tai Fung

                        Just ok:
                        7. Shrimp dumplings (蝦餃)- the filling had a nice snap and pleasing sesame oil/white pepper taste but my skin wasn't translucent and fell apart when I picked it up
                        8. Beef noodle roll (牛肉腸粉) - the beef filling is texturally correct but rather bland. Maybe needs more orange peel?

                        Overall pretty pleased with the meals. My one piece of criticism is some of the dishes leaned on the sweeter side.

                        It was pretty empty both times at lunch so service was excellent.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: DiggyK

                          Please do let us know what you've been trying here and I'll do the same.

                          Last month I stopped by the sister restaurant, Guangdong BBQ Tea House on Irving, spotted this ad for Dim Sum Club on the counter and talked to one of the principals there. She said that DSC has a lot of tourists and if I wanted the authentic Chinese food, I should come to the Irving St restaurant. I implored her to keep it real on Van Ness Avenue! So let's keep ordering the good stuff and maybe we can keep this at bay.

                        2. Believe it or not, my otherwise perfect wife does not enjoy dim sum. I see a mention of "western breakfast" and wonder if I could get myself around some of those yummy eggplant thingies while she chows down on ham and eggs. Any idea? I can't find a breakfast menu on their web page.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: little big al

                            My sense is that the western breakfast is a continental breakfast for hotel guests. On the sideboard are cereal dispensers, waffle irons, fruit bowls, etc. and I doubt that ham and eggs would be available. The menu for Dim Sum Club says it opens at 11am, which would be after breakfast time. That said, the manager seems to be receptive to ideas that would boost business, so you might talk to him. His name is Kevin.

                            1. re: little big al

                              I asked the next time I was in. Western breakfast is served from 7am to 10am. It's $12.95 per person for the breakfast buffet. The only eggs are hard-boiled. I asked whether it would be possible to order dim sum then, and no, it's not.

                            2. As promised, I’ve been back three more times. Three weeks ago for Visit #2, I dined in a little earlier and was the only party in the place until the “lo mein” couple I’d talked to my first time returned as well. Earlier they’d told me that living in Florida, they eat as much Chinese food as they can when visiting family in the City. They had eaten here almost every day of their San Francisco vacation.

                              This time, Soy sauce rice noodle rolls, $3.95, emerged as the favorite dish. The manager cautioned that this dish was meatless. None’s needed, as the dish’s character comes from the delicate soy sauce and the high heat of the wok. Each chewy log of rolled up rice noodle had a singed crispy patch. A bit of chopped scallion added lift, and some hoisin dipping sauce was served on the side but no need to gild the lily. This might be too esoteric a dish for the nabe, but we loved it.

                              The manager said that more types of ingredients were being purchased each day. He suggested that I tell him what I wanted to eat and the kitchen could probably make it for me. When I asked what fresh vegetables were available, he offered snow peas, yu choy and choy sum, as well as the gai lan on the menu. I picked yu choy, $6, and asked for it with oyster sauce. Unfortunately, rather than stir-frying it, the kitchen poached it and in the process overcooked the leafy vegetable making it too soft and waterlogged.

                              The other custom dish I ordered was Sweet and sour fish filets, $10. I’d wanted it stir-fried with greens but the manager suggested sweet and sour instead. After he assured me that this would be Chinese style and not Americanized saucing, I went for it. Not bad at all. The fish was cooked on point with a thin soft batter. The pineapple was fresh, not canned. The saucing was not that sugary and on the whole, pretty well-balanced. The one criticism would be that the peppers were too close to raw and thus, not that flavorful.

                              Another stand-out turned out to be Boiled pork and shrimp with chive dumplings, $4.95. I was surprised not to see the thin machine-made wrappers that other Cantonese restaurants use. Instead, these skins were hand-rolled with fluttery edges and a bit thicker toward the middle. I only used a few drops of vinegar to spike the dumplings, preferring to enjoy the triad of simple, clean flavors of the stuffing on its own. The wrappers were a skosh thinner and more delicate than typical of boiled dumplings at non-Cantonese restaurants.

                              Pan-fried turnip cakes were very good, $2.95. They’re studded with plenty of Chinese sausage and diced lobak though missing dried shrimp. And they’re actually browned and crusty.

                              The Steamed sponge cake, $2.75, was a good version though not quite as ethereal as the finer-grained rendition at Dol Ho.

                              Shrimp dumpling (har gao), $4.75, tasted fine with firm sweet whole shrimp, but fell down on the brittle skins. These seemed reheated. Perhaps ordering these at lunch time would be better.

                              Then the big dud was the stuffed eggplant that had been my favorite the first time. This was partially rectified by a re-firing, but still makes me wary. When this was plopped in front of me, I immediately asked my server to have the manager come over.

                              Besides the eggplant being overfried to hard and brown, the batter was much thicker and dense. The sauce was completely different, a darker shade and made with pureed black bean rather than a light brown and thinner sauce with a few whole beans. The garnishes of scallion, jalapeño and garlic had been cooked in the sauce, rather than a raw addition at the end. And the cilantro and Thai chile pepper were missing. I pointed out the problems to the manager who said that they were no longer adding the same garnish but that it was otherwise the same. I whipped out my camera to show him the photo of the dish my first visit to illustrate the deficits. He said that this dish would be complimentary for me to take home and he would have the kitchen make another one. Then I heard some raised voices in the kitchen. The manager returned to my table and asked if he could borrow my camera to show the staff. Here’s the second attempt,

                              The black bean sauce was pretty close to the earlier version and the shrimp forcemeat was the same though not applied as thickly. The batter was still heavier and not as well-drained as before, but perhaps the kitchen had rushed this dish to the table. At least it wasn’t cooked to the point of burning the sugars.

                              To end, a plate of complimentary orange slices.

                              Despite this setback, I’m still liking Dim Sum Club very much and am on my way to becoming a regular there.

                              1. Two weeks ago I clocked in Visit #3, finally managing to get over here during lunch hour. An updated dim sum menu was in force and I was jazzed to see that porridge (jook) had been added. Since I was feeling under the weather this was the perfect comfort food.

                                Fish porridge, $5.50, was a full-blown jook service including lengths of fried crullers and a side dish of chopped scallions, cilantro and spicy preserved mustard. No stinting on the cooked-to-order thick fish filets either, this was a big bowl of creamy jook with more than a quart’s worth.

                                This was my opportunity to try the cheung fun (rice noodle crepe) that’s only offered from 11am to 3pm. From my window seat, I could see the lady line cook in the open kitchen stretching out the linen cloth to steam them to order. Shrimp noodle roll, $5.25, was dreamy. The translucent and very thin wrapper offered the slightest toothy resistance below the tenderness enveloping firm and sweet large shrimp. The dipping sauce was notably less salty and not as sweet as most and could have been revved up a notch. A couple stalks of tender greens added color to the plate. The version here outguns Lai Hong Lounge by a mile and rivals the top notch offering at Cooking Papa.

                                Also very tasty, the spinach-green colored Vegetarian dumplings, $3.25. The beautifully pleated chewy wrappers encased a mince of mostly shitake along with carrot, onion and other plant-based flavors.

                                And for dessert, Mango pudding, $2.95. Dense with mango puree and not too much stiff gelatin, a good version though next time I’ll request without the float of evaporated milk.

                                1. Last week’s Visit #4 aimed for the lunch-only Deep fried taro dumpling, $3.25. I agree with DiggyK, these are top form here. Smaller in size, but four to an order, and absolutely greaseless. One of the ways we judged this item during the Dim Sum Civil War chowdown series was to turn them over and check for excess oil saturation on the bottom. These had none at all to weigh down the fluffy crust. They’re made with fresh taro for true flavor, well-seasoned pork filling, and tasted just wonderful when dabbed with a bit of chile paste.

                                  As good as the taro dumplings were, the other fried item I tried, Salt & pepper spare ribs, $6.00, missed the mark. The batter was much too thick and greasy. Yet, the meat was tender and the blend of garlic, jalapeño chiles, scallions, and salty bits, addictive.

                                  Seafood porridge, $5.50, was brimming with whole shrimp, fish fillets, and fresh local squid (bodies and tentacles). Same creamy textured base as the earlier fish jook, but not quite as tasty as that one.

                                  Shrimp noodle roll was re-ordered to test consistency of execution, and it passed with flying colors. Steamed salted egg yolk custard buns, $2.95, were a bit low on the quantity of custard in relation to the fluffy cake-like bread. But eaten warm, these made for a good sweet to end.

                                  1. We popped in about 8:30 pm one weekday last month; the room was really institutional looking and we were the sole customers. There was a steam table-like set up in the middle of the room, though not operating. Two parties came in after us. Plus one Asian group that seemed to be getting take-out.

                                    I regret I was too distracted at the time to take any notes, but on the whole there was little evidence of anything being made to order other than the wings, which I liked best. We tried a couple of dumplings--turnip and char su bao (pardon sp), which were not all that well filled--i.e, were doughier than we like.

                                    We were trying very hard to like this place--we too live in the nabe.

                                    It seemed like it was not really geared to evening dining, which is not surprising for a dim sum house, but it was open, so don't know what to make of that.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Fine

                                      What's the turnip dumpling like? Did you order the baked or steamed barbecue pork bun?

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        As I said, there was a whole lot going on in our lives at that moment and I pretty much blanked, except for an overall feeling of disappointment. I would have surely ordered the buns steamed.
                                        Another thing I did recall after posting was that the XLB were completely dry, sigh.

                                        1. re: Fine

                                          No sweat, just trying to get clarification so that your experience might guide others. I asked because there's no turnip dumpling on the menu and there are both baked and steamed pork buns offered.