State Bird Provisions (San Francisco, CA)

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
Dining date: 12/28/12

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This was one of the restaurants I really wanted to try while I was in San Francisco (probably #1 on my list). Opened on the last day of 2011, it was named to numerous lists for best new restaurants of the year, including being the number one best new restaurant in America according to Bon Appetit. Stories of hours-long lines (yes, multiple hours) and consistently strong reviews fueled the buzz throughout the year.

Not surprisingly, reservations are still very difficult to come by, probably one of the most difficult in the city. I checked their website multiple times per day for a couple of weeks, and the best I could do was a party of 2 at 5:30 (looking for any availability over a week span). The day before, some cancellations yielded a 10:30 table for 4; very late, but it allowed our whole family to dine together.

One of the distinctive features of the restaurant is its use of a dim sum-like cart. It’s loaded up with a variety of dishes and pushed through the dining room, letting diners get a glimpse of the dishes before choosing.  And, if you don’t see what you want, anything can be ordered off the menu to be directly delivered to your table. It’s a fun concept that really works with a small plates restaurant, one I would expect to see duplicated…and not just in Chinese restaurants.

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Lunasia (Alhambra, CA)

Lunasia
500 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
Dining date: 8/27/12

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Dim sum is something that I often enjoy as a weekend lunch. It’s a very ‘social’ meal always involving the sharing of a variety of small plates. The multitude of flavors and textures is something that’s pretty unique, and it has become a sort of comfort food even though I didn’t eat it all that often growing up.

I’ve been going to the Lunasia spot for a few years now, the first time being when it was Triumphal Palace. Ownership/management changes have resulted in some name and chef changes, but I’ve enjoyed meals here pretty consistently. Long lines on the weekends tell me I’m not the only one.

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Lunasia’s ordering is menu-based; you order off a menu and the plates come directly from the kitchen. It’s not quite as playful or curiosity-inducing as the cart-based places, but I find the food to come to the table much fresher. Turnover is usually pretty quick at popular joints with the carts, but you never know how long it takes a dish to get from the kitchen to the table. My favorite “delivery model” is actually a combination of both; some places are menu-based with a handful of carts coming around – the best of both worlds.

Pictures of each dish and English descriptions is key in choosing what to order!

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Scallop Taro Cake

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A crispy exterior hid a hot filling of taro, scallop and what I think was ground pork. The sweet-salty combination was a good one, and it was fried just right.

Steamed Chicken Feet

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Hong Kong Roasted Duck

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I thought this was a well-executed roast duck with a crispy skin and succulent, moist meat. A sweet soy glaze provided extra depth in flavor.

Crispy Shrimp Roll

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This was a different one for me; small chunks of shrimp, complemented by parsley, were fried in a light batter. Loved the textures, and the shrimp and parsley were balanced well.

Shrimp Har-Gow

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A dim sum standby, I found these to be a good example. The noodle had a nice sticky chew and was packed with plump shrimp.

Pork Siu-Mai

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Another dim sum staple, these came out piping hot. I thought these were very flavorful, though a bit heavy on the fat-pork ratio.

Shanghai Dumplings

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The next thing to come out of the kitchen were these dumplings, which I found to be on the doughy side and devoid of the characteristic juicy filling. Not sure what happened here.

Pan-fried Potstickers

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I thought these simple potstickers were a disappointment too. The dough was sort of soggy and easily broke apart, not to mention being kind of oily too.

Shrimp Rice Noodle

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We rebounded with one of my dim sum favorites. Soft, glutinous noodles were wrapped around individual shrimp and drenched in soy – this simple dish was done well.

Egg-roll Rice Noodle

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This was another new item for me – shrimp paste was fried in a dough, covered in rice noodle. I liked the crispy texture that the fried dough provided, while the shrimp/rice noodle/soy combination had already proven to be a winner.

Located in the same plaza, milk tea from Tea Station was an ideal cap to the meal – always a plus when dining at Lunasia!

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There were a few misses, but due to vast menus, it’s hard to find a spot that does everything well. I found the food to come out fresh and hot from the kitchen, and the ‘highs’ greatly outnumbered the ‘lows.’ In my opinion, Lunasia remains a strong bet for dim sum in LA.

Hong Kong Lounge II (San Francisco, CA)

Hong Kong Lounge II
3300 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118
Dining date: 12/24/11

6597884759 fb82b59781 Hong Kong Lounge II (San Francisco, CA)

Hong Kong Lounge (formerly Hong Kong Flower Lounge) has been a popular dim sum option in San Francisco for decades. I haven’t been there in a long time (maybe over a decade), but it’s a consistently popular place capturing much of the Richmond district dim sum market. Just earlier this month, they opened up an offshoot a few blocks from my parents house where the old Straits Cafe used to be. It was time for a return.

After a breakfast of porchetta from the Roli Roti truck and a cheeseburger from 4505 Meats at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, I awoke from a long nap hungry for something  a bit lighter. Some steamed dumplings sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

There are no carts here; everything is ordered off the menu upfront. It was just me and my dad for lunch and we ordered many of our standbys.

Shrimp Dumpling

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The skin was a bit thicker and denser than what I was anticipating, but the shrimp was plump and juicy. I prefer a thinner skin, but these were good dumplings.

Siu Mai

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In my first bite I thought to myself “these are really tender and moist.” My second thought was the realization that there was a high level of fat content, much more than I usually see. I didn’t really like this – I wanted more meat. Also, there was hardly any shrimp.

Juicy Pork Dumpling

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A little doughy but I appreciated the fact that these were quite soupy. Presentation-wise not so hot, but the porky flavor was right on.

Baked Pork Bun

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These were interesting. I usually see the crispy stuff on the top on sweet buns filled with a cream or custard or something. Here I thought it added a nice textural element to the BBQ pork and onion filling. Not too shabby.

Shrimp Noodle

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Similar to the ha gow, the noodle was good…but a little thick and dense. The shrimp pieces were pretty large and cooked well.

Fried Pork Dumpling

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This wasn’t as flavorful as other examples I’ve had. It needed more pork filling; the glutinous skin dominated in both texture and flavor.

Fried Chicken Wings

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These were quite good, juicy with a crispy skin. The chilies and scallions added much of the complementary flavor.

It’s been too long since I’ve been to the original so I can’t compare them, but this was pretty close to my expectations. The dim sum was good, but nothing was particularly noteworthy in the world of dim sum. All of this food was thirty dollars after tax, so I thought the price was pretty good. I suspect if my parents ate dim sum on any regular basis, this could be the spot for them out of sheer convenience. However, I’m sure they would agree with this assertion – Koi Palace is worth the drive.

 

Yank Sing (San Francisco, CA)

Yank Sing
Rincon Center
101 Spear St
San Francisco, CA 94105
Dining date: 11/26/11

Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t eat a whole lot of dim sum growing up (it’s a pretty regular occurrence nowadays). I’ve tried a limited number of dim sum spots in the city and unfortunately I can’t say I’ve found one I’ve really liked (Koi Palace is not in the city). However, I’ve heard from a number of people that the best is at Yank Sing, perhaps the most expensive dim sum restaurant I’ve been to. I’m talking $1.50 per shrimp dumpling (ha gow), $2 per Shanghai juicy dumpling (xiao long bao), and $5.40 for one slice of Peking duck. Goodness. I’ll admit I was in sticker shock.

Located in the Rincon Center, this location of Yank Sing is actually the second one. The restaurant itself is decent in size, but it’s huge when considering it spills out into the atrium of the building. Must fit hundreds. And it was packed (always a good sign!). Given the prices and sheer mass of people, this place must be making a killing.

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The service is cart-based, but ask for any menu item and someone will bring it out to you ASAP. And the servers are conversational in English. Probably the easiest, best service I’ve had in a dim sum place.

Nice teapot.

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Shanghai Kurobuta Pork Dumpling

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Pretty good actually. Nice skin and juicy on the inside, these were quite tasty. Given the price, I’m glad it was kurobuta pork but honestly I didn’t notice a difference.

Shrimp Dumpling

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Pork Siu Mai

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Both were not bad. Nothing special but decent variations.

Peking Duck

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I thought the duck was quite tasty and the skin was crispy too. I liked that the bun was fluffy and warm. Worth $5.40? Not so sure about that.

Pork Spareribs

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A rather typical variation. The pork was pretty tender and the black bean sauce was a classic, yet tasty accompaniment.

Half of our party were vegetarians, so we got a selection of veggie dumplings too.

Mushroom Dumpling

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Spinach Dumpling

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Chinese Broccoli

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Mushroom Rice Noodle

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I tried the mushroom rice noodle. The noodle was pretty well done, translucent and sticky. The mushrooms added their characteristic earthiness, but I thought it needed some soy poured over.

Honey Baked Seabass

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The fish was dense and  flaky but just a little bit overcooked. The sweet, gingery sauce was a good combination, but not worth $18.

Typical dessert-ish items came around on a cart and we opted for a few.

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Tofu Soup

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Egg Custard Tart

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Sesame Ball

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These were all pretty good. The tofu was light, silky and sitting in a warm gingery soup. Both the egg custard tart and sesame balls were served pretty hot and were good variations.

Compared to what I’ve become accustomed to in Los Angeles, Yank Sing was good (not great) but rather egregiously priced. Hell, I might as well have dim sum at WP24 for those prices. Still, I’d have to say this may have been the best I’ve tried in San Francisco Nothing was bad, and a number of items were quite good. Plus, it’s one of the cleaner dim sum places I’ve been to and the service was excellent. I could see this being a very viable option for a special occasion or for a large party (they take reservations) that was too lazy to make the trip to Koi Palace. Just don’t park in the underground lot; the Rincon Center garage is the most difficult parking lot I have ever seen. The spaces are incredibly small and it’s difficult to even navigate without hitting anything. The irony still amuses me.

Koi Palace (Daly City, CA)

Koi Palace
365 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA 94015
Dining date: 11/28/11

When I try to think of my favorite place for dim sum, a number of places come up. I really enjoy Sea Harbour, Elite and Lunasia in SoCal, but I think of only one in the Bay Area: Koi Palace. I’m not saying it’s the best in the Bay Area (I really haven’t tried nearly enough to make that sort of statement), but it’s a really good one. Heck, Jonathan Gold even recently said it might be the best HK-style restaurant in America.

My dad was craving Koi Palace so we dropped by on a Monday morning (there’s always lines on the weekend so a Monday was actually a very good time to go).  This would be my last meal in the Bay Area over the Thanksgiving weekend; given it’s on the way to SFO, it was an ideal stop.

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I’ve been to Koi Palace a number of times, located in Daly City just south of San Francisco. Most of the dim sum places in SF are cart-based; I prefer ordering from the menu. I think the food comes out fresher and allows for better planning…but you do lose out on the spontaneity of the carts. Koi Palace has a combination of both, a menu to order from while servers come around hawking other items. Perfect!

The restaurant’s stance on shark’s fin is quite clear. At the front entrance is an advertisement offering the fins for sale – $550/lb.

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Love this teapot setup! I’m not sure why I haven’t seen this elsewhere, but it’s such a practical idea to have a candle underneath keeping the tea warm.

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Steamed Shrimp Dumpling

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These dumplings, or ha gow, are one of my standard-bearers at any dim sum restaurant. It’s so simple and easily comparable across restaurants. Kind of like a margherita pizza at a pizza place. The skin was translucent and slightly glutinous while the shrimp plump and moist. Passed the test!

Shrimp, Pork and Mushroom Dumpling

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These siu mai were good as well, served piping hot. Flavorful chunks of pork and shrimp made up the bulk of flavor.

Shrimp Rice Roll

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The noodle here was good, not great. It wasn’t quite as…sticky and glutinous as I was looking for, but the shrimp was spot on.

Deep Fried Crab Claw with Shrimp Paste

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These were fried to a nice crisp and I liked the moist shrimp filling. The small crab claw on the inside was slightly overcooked, but I find that’s true almost everywhere.

Shanghai Style Juicy Dumpling

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These were embarrassingly bad. The wrapper was mediocre – soggy and mushy, and the juice was leaking from many of them. The meaty interior wasn’t particularly memorable, either. Not sure what happened here.

Dried Scallop and Meat Sticky Rice, Lotus Leaf Wrap

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A good lotus leaf rice dish, albeit nothing special.

Glutinous Dumpling with Pork

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This is one of my dad’s favorite items. I liked the fried, sticky wrapping in tandem with the salty pork.

Tofu in Sweet Ginger Soup

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Soft, silky tofu in a warm lightly sweetened gingery soup. Not bad.

Hand Roasted Suckling Pig

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This was outstanding. I’m not sure how they prepared this, but I think they removed the skin beforehand, skimmed off much of the fat, and crisped it up separately…then put it back together. What resulted was relatively lean pieces of really flavorful and moist pork with extremely crispy pieces of pork skin. Wow. Packed with a porky flavor and a very subtle sweetness (I think from some beans on the bottom), if there was one flaw it was that it was served lukewarm.

Sugar Egg Puff

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These were served fresh and warm, and were light, airy and covered in sugar. The interior was so soft and moist while the outside was sweet and yielding. It was basically like a fresh sugar doughnut. A really nice way to end the meal. My mom had three.

I thought this was a good meal and typical of my past visits. It wasn’t perfect (I’m looking at you, xiao long bao), but everything was quite good with some very high ‘highs’ (the pork was phenomenal).  Everything was served rather hot and fresh (aside from the pork, intentionally) with rather clean flavors. Pretty tasty and satisfying. I’d have to say this is my favorite in the Bay Area from my somewhat limited experiences, and compares favorably to some of the best I’ve had in SoCal.