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Dim Sum Bar

February 12, 2007

UPDATE (March 4, 2007): A few weeks after writing this review, Short Exact revisited Dim Sum Bar to see how the restaurant makes progress in these crucial first few months in operation. To read about our second experience at Dim Sum Bar, please click here. Our original review follows below.

The Tenderloin, for all its dirt and grime, drug-dealing, and crazy people yelling and moaning on the street, remains one of our favorite neighborhoods in the city. As one of a fast-decreasing number of as yet ungentrified enclaves, the Tenderloin is filled with hidden treasures, and from Short Exact’s perspective, there are few hidden treasures as good as some delicious, cheap eats. This area has no shortage of Indian/Pakistani, Thai, and Vietnamese joints, but there is a very striking lack of decent Chinese food. In particular, while some parts of the Richmond district seem to have dim sum in every other storefront, nary a one could be found in the Tenderloin. So imagine our surprise when we realized that not one but two brand new dim sum joints were opening in the Tenderloin, within a very short span of time.One of these two new joints, the Emperor’s Kitchen, is located on Larkin, right on the border with Civic Center. The other joint, Dim Sum Bar, is more properly located in the heart of the Tenderloin, on O’Farrell. It is the latter of these two restaurants that Short Exact visited on this last very rainy Saturday.

Interestingly, Dim Sum Bar offers xiao long bao, the Shanghai soup dumpling, which ranks as one of Short Exact’s very favorite dishes of all time. One quirk of Dim Sum Bar is that the menu, rather than using traditional names, opts instead for odd English names, so here at this restaurant, xiao long bao is called “soupy pork.” “Soupy crab and pork” is also sometimes offered, along with other “soupy” dumplings involving chicken and veggies, but not when we were there. The menu consists of a pretty basic list of dim sum items, including a short list of dumplings, and a list of baos (buns). When we visited, there were only 3 types of dumplings listed on the menu, of which only the two involving pork were available. It was quite surprising, because we don’t think we’ve ever been to a dim sum place unable to supply your basic har gao shrimp dumpling, but we suppose there’s a first for everything. Dim Sum Bar also offers a few vegetarian dim sum items, and it repackages its dumplings and buns into combos; for example, one could order an all vegetarian combo, or a lunch combo for $3.96, which inclues a bun, a few dumplings, a beverage, and a side salad or soup. Despite these combos, though, the menu is pretty limited. Very good dim sum restaurants will have dozens upon dozens of offerings, but Dim Sum Bar carries less than a dozen such items — a fact we hope will change as the restaurant gets more settled into its operations. In addition, the menu actually includes more than just dim sum. There is also a list of “Chef’s Specials”, which include very familiar, standard items like mongolian beef. These dishes can be found at so many lackluster restaurants, so we did not try any of them. Instead, we were much more eager to investigate the dim sum, given the previous lack of dim sum in this neighborhood.

An individual bao runs $0.92, while an order of three dumplings costs $2.07. These are definitely not the cheapest prices in the city, so we were hoping that perhaps the slightly higher price would translate into better quality. This turned out not to be the case, and since better dim sum can be had for less money, this restaurant does not provide the best value. But the prices are still reasonable, especially for a quick lunch on-the-go. For $4.25, Short Exact ordered a char siu bao (the barbeque pork bun), a sweet lotus bao, and an order of three xiao long bao “soupy pork” dumplings (along with a small bottle of mineral water, not pictured below):

tb_dimsumbar_xlb_charsiu_lotus.JPG

The food was entirely average. The xiao long bao, despite being called “soupy”, really did not contain any soup; this was just another version of the siu mai pork dumpling. The wheat wrapper was decent, if not particularly refined or delicate, but we would have preferred it to be slightly thinner. In addition, the flavors were pretty muted and uninteresting. An excellent xiao long bao is a delight, both in terms of a complex broth and the texture and sensation of the wrapper and the soup, but these dumplings did not live up to this ideal. It was a very similar situation with the baos. The bun itself was reasonably light and fluffy, but the contents were fairly bland, lacking a convincing texture or flavor. By no means were these the worst examples that we’ve seen of these dishes, but they were not excellent either: merely run-of-the-mill.

Clearly, then, Dim Sum Bar is not a destination. Chinese food in the Tenderloin area is unimpressive, and Dim Sum Bar only barely improves the situation by providing a bit more variety. However, if you happen to be in this dim sum-challenged part of town, the Dim Sum Bar will come through in a pinch. This restaurant has very all-encompassing hours, so if you’re having a dumpling craving at breakfast, lunch or dinner, any day of the week, Dim Sum Bar is on it — just as long as your craving does not require anything particularly authentic or “exotic.” As a plus, the dining area is pleasant enough, and the restroom is probably one of the cleanest you’ll find in any dim sum restaurant, excluding Yank Sing. Despite the average quality, the Dim Sum Bar does provide quick and convenient dim sum in a location formerly devoid of the same, so in that sense, it’s certainly not a bad addition to the neighborhood.

RATING:

COST:

620 O’Farrell Street (between Leavenworth St. and Hyde St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.839.7366
Hours: Daily, 7:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Chinese/Dim Sum
Neighborhood: Tenderloin

How to get there: Muni bus lines 2, 3, 4, 19, 27, 31, 38, 76.

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5 comments

  1. Shucks, when you said “xiao long bao,” I thought maybe we had found a place that made them well. I am looking for one of those in the city.


  2. Yeah, I was disappointed too, to say the least. For XLB, if you haven’t already, you should definitely try Shanghai House or Shanghai Dumpling King. Probably my favorite places in SF proper for XLB.


  3. Wow, thanks for the great suggestions! And I’m relying on “Short Exact’s word,” so I’ll expect the perfect proportion of ground meat to soup in those XLBs! I’m going to bookmark your post and I’ll let you know how my visit to Shanghai House or Shanghai Dumpling King goes!


  4. Cool, please do let me know how you like them! Hopefully one day I’ll even get a post up about one or both of these places, too…

    Also, please keep in mind I haven’t been to Shanghai or anything. I’m sure one can find better XLB there, but to my taste anyway, these are good spots. 🙂


  5. I love this place. It’s neat and clean and good. The prices can’t be beat.



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