Yum cha is the ultimate meal for me; tiny surprise morsels that fly by, a thousand tastes to share and a new surprise every time. When I heard that there was a James Beard award winning dim sum restaurant in San Francisco I just had to go.
On a Sunday the place is thrumming with customers, the restaurant is decked out in the atrium of the Rincon Centre an upmarket shopping mall near Divisadero. Despite the many extra tables and our reservation we still have to wait 25 minutes with a motley crew of ravenous looking customers. A healthy number of eager looking Chinese mothers are in attendance - always a good sign at a Sunday dumpling event.
My approach to yum cha is to get as many dishes as possible so I can try everything; even at the risk of leaving things behind. To be honest this isn't ideal at Yank Sing which is a good 3 times more expensive than any yum cha I've been to outside a casino. Still now I know what is worth separating me from my dollars and next time I'll come in with targeted ideas of what to choose.
Szechuan green beans
A good rendition of this dish, the garlic is roasted and chewy but nothing extra exciting.
Peking Duck with wheat buns
I don't understand the use of Vietnamese wheat buns in Chinese food in the US, but the sauce is delicious and the duck is crispy and sweet.
Xiao Long Bao
These are good, the juices are warm and delicious and the dumpling is turned with spectacular care. Unfortunately spoilt by years of Din Tai Fung in Sydney we are a little disappointed that the skin isn't a little more dainty.
Green Onion Pancake
Light, delicious, morish. The flakiness of the pastry makes me suspect they use lard, when it's this good it's worth it. I would come back for this dish alone. The cake is accompanied by a sticky satay sauce that sticks to the roof of your mouth in a satisfying fashion.
Beef ho fun
The texture on this noodle could have been better, it felt like it had been in the steam trays too long. The filling is nice and peppery though.
Fried pork breakfast bun
This is one of those dishes I look out for but isn't always available at every dim sum place. Instead of the white soft mantou style bread that Hong Kong made famous in the west with the char sui bao these Shanghai style baozi are made with a thick pastry skin more like a dumpling. Fried crisp and steamed to perfection, worth looking out for.
Combination Taro dumpling
This is always my favourite yum cha dish and if I can't find it I'll order it. Soft taro mash is filled with a meat and vegetable filling and then deep fried until the taro puffs up like a crisp cloud. I order these and they come out piping hot and wonderful, another 'must have' order on a return trip.
I passed on the tarts but the boy managed to finish the plate despite crying full, which is a good sign.
My weakness are the creamy squishy desserts and they have a mango pudding so I'm set. My only wish was that they served it with evaporated milk as you get at home.
Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the menu and my bill was in Chinese; so what do I mean when I say it was expensive? We went for brunch with 3 people and drank mostly tea and soft drink and the bill was over $200. I admit that I ordered a lot (not everything got photographed) but even still the same meal at home would have cost $90 and been of similar quality. When you compare to other dumplings in the Bay Area I can see why it gets such smashing reviews - good quality and authentic Asian cuisine can be very hit and miss. That being said I've enjoyed meals of $12 in tiny bakeries in Inner Richmond must as much.
The service is what you expect at a yum cha restaurant; fast paced, a little rushed and a little pushy. You can see the occasional American diner who is confronted by this but a lifetime of eating in hole in the wall Chinese eateries and I expect nothing less. Yum cha is always best observed with someone who either speaks Chinese or recognises the food; otherwise you can get some interesting surprises. I am happy as larry though, they have all my favourite dishes and at excellent quality.
Not an every week brunch, but definitely a good spot for visiting guests or celebration meals.
101 Spear St, San Francisco, CA
Ph: (415) 781-1111
Upmarket yum cha
Watch what you order and make your dollars count