Archive for the ‘Cuisine: Chinese / Dim Sum’ Category

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Ming Tai Wun-Tun Noodle Inc.

March 16, 2007

Tucked away in the Outer Sunset is one of the lesser-known neighborhood districts in San Francisco, centered on the intersection of 32nd Avenue and Noriega Street. The commercial strip is small, but it has a few interesting restaurants and markets. Hidden in this neighborhood is the nondescript storefront that houses Ming Tai Wun-Tun Noodle Inc., a bona fide Hong Kong-style noodle house.

There are quite a few dishes available, but the menu is not especially deep. Along with a collection of traditional appetizers, starters, and smaller dishes, the entrees essentially consist of a slew of noodle dishes and noodle soups, served with various meats. Unfortunately, this restaurant is not the least bit vegetarian-friendly, but if you are on the lookout for some real-deal Hong Kong noodles, Ming Tai is definitely a restaurant to try. We’ve never been to Hong Kong, but on one occasion, we took someone from Hong Kong to Ming Tai, and he verified for us that both the preparation of the food and the feel of the restaurant were quite similar to what one would find in Hong Kong.

Short Exact and a friend started with the lo bak go,

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which is the pan fried turnip cake. One often finds these cakes on dim sum rotations, and they can sometimes suffer from blandness and a boring, uniform texture. The cakes we had at Ming Tai were a good example, though. A subtle sweetness was balanced well by the saltiness of the minced Cantonese sausage scattered throughout the cake, and the crisp outer layer was a nice textural contrast to the soft yet dense interior of the cake.

For our entree, we ordered the shui gao noodle soup,

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which is a house specialty at Ming Tai; on the menu, we think it is listed in English as “shrimp dumpling noodle soup.” As it turns out, the broth is actually the weakest link in this soup. It doesn’t really negatively impact the dish, but the flavor profile is rather one-dimensional. The egg noodles were quite nice, though: light and al dente, with just the right amount of springy bounce. The shui gao dumplings steal the show, though. These are some of the best shrimp dumplings to be found in San Francisco, in our opinion, and the use of melted pork fat gives them a strong and delicious flavor. There are only four dumplings in each bowl of soup, but each dumpling contains a few whole shrimp, so it turns out to be quite filling. Tender, perfectly-cooked, and lightly sweet, these shrimp are supplemented by the subtle earthiness of the wood ear mushroom that is also hiding inside each dumpling. It’s true that the broth in the soup is on the weak side, but the dumplings and the noodles more than make up for it. All in all, this is a very good noodle soup, and it is definitely our go-to dish at Ming Tai.

Ming Tai is justifiably popular, and the restaurant is pretty tiny, so you may very well have to wait for a table. Nonetheless, considering the fact that this is an authentic noodle joint, the service is surprisingly attentive and courteous. Ming Tai’s location may be off the beaten path, but a combination of delicious food, generally friendly service, and very reasonable prices make Ming Tai a hidden gem in the Outer Sunset.

RATING:

COST:

2455 Noriega Street (between 31st Ave. and 32nd Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94122
Phone: 415.681.0430
Hours: Mon, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; Tuesday, 8:00 am – 2:00 pm; Thurs, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; Fri, 8:00 am – 9:00 pm, Sat-Sun, 8:30 am – 9:00 pm. Closed Wednesdays.

Cuisine: Chinese/Dim Sum
Neighborhood: Outer Sunset

How to get there: Ming Tai is directly served by Muni bus line 71. Lines 29, 48, 66, and N are within reasonable walking distance.

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Update on Dim Sum Bar

March 4, 2007

A few weeks ago, we reported about our experience at Dim Sum Bar, a brand new joint in the Tenderloin offering a small collection of dim sum items, as well as some standard Chinese entree plates. Yesterday, we dropped by again to see if any developments emerged, hoping that perhaps there would be improvement as the staff here settled into their new restaurant.

On our first visit, only two types of dumplings were available: a “soupy pork” dumpling (which was supposedly xiao long bao) and the siu mai pork dumpling. The very standard shrimp dumpling har gao was not available on our first visit a few weeks ago. However, on our visit yesterday, we were delighted to see that not only were har gao available, but also a vegetarian dumpling, bringing the total number of dumplings to 4, instead of 2. Still not great, but we’ll take it.

We ordered the har gao and the “xiao long bao.” The har gao were just okay; the wrapper was uneven, messy, and sometimes too thick. Also, the shrimp were somewhat overcooked. We’ve had worse har gao before, but even so, Dim Sum Bar’s rendition is not a shining example. However, we are pleased to report an improvement in the xiao long bao! Last time, our “soupy pork” dumplings had no soup in them, and the resulting dumplings were reminiscent of siu mai. On our latest visit, though, there was certainly soup. Not a particularly complex broth, but soup nonetheless. In addition, the pork this time was considerably more flavorful, while the first time we ordered this dish, the dumplings bordered on bland. By no means are these world-class xiao long bao, but we definitely appreciate the improvement, and we hope that this restaurant continues to improve and expand its offerings.

However, the changes have not been so monumental that we feel the need to re-rate Dim Sum Bar. So, Short Exact is still sticking with our first rating:

RATING:

COST:

Please click here to read our original review of Dim Sum Bar, and for the restaurant hours, location, and phone number.

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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):

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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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Good Luck Dim Sum

August 19, 2006

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Very often (perhaps more than we’d like to admit), Short Exact gets strong cravings for dim sum, but as much as we enjoy the ritual of sitting in a restaurant being surrounded by heavy dim sum cart traffic, sometimes we’d rather just bypass it all and cut to the chase. When that happens, we turn to Good Luck Dim Sum, a small storefront on Clement, in the inner Richmond, that serves up a decent selection of about three dozen dim sum dishes. (They also usually make items that are not on the menu, so if you have a favorite dim sum item that you don’t find on the menu, it’s worth it to ask if they have it anyway.) Good Luck is primarily a take-out joint, although you can also opt to enjoy your delectable choices at one of the tables in the back of the store.

The protocol here is easy: grab a pink sheet, circle what you want to order, and then just stand in line and wait. The most serious drawback to Good Luck Dim Sum is the line, which is actually, quite possibly, even slower than molasses. Even if the line doesn’t seem too long (say, 15-20 people), it can easily take half an hour or more to reach the ordering counter, especially on weekend mornings, during which time Good Luck is pretty consistently full.

On our most recent visit to Good Luck, we ordered the jian dui (sesame seed ball with red bean), along with an order of shrimp and chive dumplings:

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These dumplings were well-formed, and the wrapper had just the right lightness of texture. In the interior of the pouch, tender, fresh, perfectly-cooked shrimp are delightfully contrasted by the brighter flavor of the chive. The jian dui were filled with a smooth, creamy, slightly sweet red bean paste, and, all in all, were excellent. Though we didn’t order them this time, you can’t go wrong with their fun kor (dumpling with pork, peanut, and water chestnut), siu mai (pork dumpling), or the har gao (shrimp dumpling). Although there are some hit-or-miss items, Good Luck generally does a very good job with the standards.

What’s more, this is one of the cheapest dim sum joints in the city, which makes it a good place to experiment with some new dim sum items you might not be as familiar with. On most counts, Good Luck is consistently cheaper than its competitors. For example, the meal pictured above, which left us satisfied for several hours afterwards, set us back a mere $2.70. We’ve generally found that $3-4 of food per person is plenty for a satisfying meal. And, since the quality is also quite good, the quality-to-price ratio at Good Luck could very well be the highest in the city.

Is Good Luck Dim Sum San Francisco’s best dim sum restaurant? Well, no. Does it have the most perfectly-crafted dim sum, and the widest, most varied and eclectic selection? Again, no. But, if you’re looking for another place that combines the convenience of take-out with fresh, delicious dim sum at these inexpensive prices… well, we wish you good luck.

RATING:

COST:

736 Clement Street (between 8th Ave. and 9th Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94118
Phone: 415.386.3388
Hours: Mon, Wed-Sun 7:00 am – 6:30 pm. Closed Tuesday.

Cuisine: Chinese/Dim Sum
Neighborhood: Inner Richmond

How to get there: Good Luck Dim Sum is directly served by Muni lines 2 and 4, and is within a few blocks of lines 1, 38, and 44. Additionally, it is 5-6 short blocks from the 28 line.