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Posts Tagged ‘Dim sum’

This is, by design, a Sonoma-centric blog. But you’ve got to get to God’s Country somehow, and more often than not (unless you were wise/lucky enough to fly directly into STS) that involves flying into SFO or OAK.

Rincon Center Lobby

I completely understand the instinct to burn rubber straight to Healdsburg the second you grab your rental car, but if you have the time and inclination, there’s a wonderful San Francisco detour to be taken, that could last as little as an hour or so and as long as a day, depending on your schedule. And it’s on the way from the airport(s) so you’re not going way out of your way.

If you arrive in the morning or early afternoon, get thee to YANK SING! Housed in the Rincon Center, a former 30’s era post office, Yank Sing is a dim sum mecca. By 11 am the place is packed with a line out into the unique building atrium (with its own indoor waterfall) so I suggest calling ahead.

Rincon Center mural captioned “Beating The Chinese.” Thank God things have changed for the delicious!

The room would be best described as upscale business hotel conference room chic. Acoustic tile ceilings, blonde wood and strategically placed potted bamboo trees. Even though it’s a large room the noise level is moderate, probably because everyone is so busy eating!

If you’ve never had  dim sum before, it’s basically a  small plates based Chinese breakfast/brunch. Traditional dim sum involves servers traveling around the restaurant with steam tray carts piled high with bamboo steamers filled with various dumplings, baked and fried dishes as well as vegetables. The cart lady (it’s almost always a lady) will explain what all the items are in the steamers and you just tell her which one(s) you want, and if nothing floats  your boat you just wait until the next cart comes along.

A nice twist at Yank Sing, is, you can also order dim sum items off the extensive menu, so if there’s something you don’t see on the cart, just ask the server who brought your drinks and she’ll put in your custom order.

The Mister and I stuffed ourselves silly. Here’s how:

  • BBQ PORK BUN – Pillowy bao, with no strange neon orange sauce to be seen anywhere, just minced chunks of flavorful, warmly spiced pork.
  • SPINACH DUMPLINGS – Far more interesting and tasty than the name might suggest. The dumpling wrapper is shot with bits of emerald green, and the spinach filling itself has an almost meaty density to it. There has to be pork in here somehow, maybe it’s liquified, no wait, that’s next…
  • SHANGHAI KUROBUTA PORK DUMPLINGS – Shanghai dumplings, also known as soup dumplings, are tasty little pillows filled with a dollop of spiced pork surrounded by molten broth. You pick up the dumpling in a spoon, season with red vinegar and ginger  slices, and then, for the timid/wise, bite off a wee bit to allow the steam to escape and the broth to splash into the spoon. For the brave/foolhardy, bite right in and ignore the 2nd degree burns on the roof of your mouth because you’re so transported by the rich, deep, five spice infused pork essence of the broth, followed by the tender, gingery dollop of tender Kurobuta pork that follows. This is one of the most expensive dumplings I’ve ever had ($12.25 for 6) but it is one for the record books.
  • POTSTICKERS – Dense skin with a crispy, dark crunchy layer on the bottom and a bounce back, rustic chew to the skin. The filling isn’t your typical MSG bomb either, more of a nuanced silky, fatty port with complex spicing and a lingering Szechuan pepper finish.
  • SEAFOOD BASIL DUMPLINGS – If there had to be a “meh” in here, I’d give it to these. While the execution is proper, the skin perfectly springy, the tiny dollop of roe on top festive. These ones have a sort of indeterminate seafood flavor and the basil doesn’t really elevate it like I was hoping it would, in fact it was kind of lost. This is the one item we had I wouldn’t order again.
  • SHRIMP DUMPLING (AKA HAR GOW) – This is one of my favorite dim sum items, and my favorite personal quality tests (And according to Wikipedia  it’s the gold standard by which to judge a dim sum chef’s skill. Who says tests aren’t fun?) By every metric, Yank Sing comes through with flying colors. The shrimp are meaty and extremely sweet. The pleated transluscent wrapper has a perfect elastic stretch, and the dumpling doesn’t fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. Really, the only negative is there weren’t about 30 more!

Shrimp dumplings inside steamer behind the chive dumplings with sauce foreground.

  • PAN FRIED CHIVE DUMPLING – Unlike the more common scallion pancake on many dim sum menus, these are more like delicate fried phyllo rings filled with sweet, sautéed chive and served with a beautifully contrasting earthy, sweet, sesame paste sauce. light, ethereal, heavenly.

Whatever you do, be sure to indulge in the house CHILI PEPPER SAUCE. Shot through with dark, resinous, smoky beans and a kick of lingering, burning spice on the back, this chili sauce puts all others to shame. You can pick up a jar on the way out if you’re as haunted by this lil’ bit of hellfire as I am.

Alice Y.H. Chan. My sista from anotha mista!

The house tea is Chrysanthemum, extremely delicate, floral and presented in a large, elegant, glass tea pot; a far cry from the typical heavily tannic black tea served in stainless steel pots at your average dim sum joint. Although, I will admit, just thinking about those stainless steel pots brought me back to the red flocked Cantonese dive of my misspent Boston girlhood where a late night order of “Cold Tea” delivered said stainless steel pot filled to the rim with draft beer, blue laws and ID checks be damned! But I digress…

If you’re familiar with dim sum, you know it’s cheap and often good, but not AMAZING. Yank Sing wouldn’t qualify as the former, but it makes up for it by delivering the latter, in spades. The dishes above which managed to stuff the two of us (hearty eaters both) ran $62 before tip. At our local joint, a similar array would have been more like $30-45, but not nearly as inspiring. One great way to justify your splurge (as if the shrimp dumplings weren’t enough) how about…

FREE SAN FRANCISCO PARKING!!!

Because, The Sonomaist loves luxury, but isn’t made of money (maybe 60% pinot noir, but, alas, not money) she understands that parking in a city like San Francisco can be exorbitant.  The beauty of Yank Sing is, validated parking is FREE, yes, FREE PARKING IN SAN FRANCISCO, dear reader.

How to take full advantage of Yank Sing’s vehicular largesse and walk off your feast will be covered in A HALF DAY IN SAN FRANCISCO PART TWO: FERRY TERMINAL BUILDING.

So, although Yank Sing is somewhat more pricey than the average dim sum house, it makes up for it in quality, top notch service AND parking fees. So whether you’re an old dim sum pro looking to up your game, or a newbie undeterred by the fact that your palate may be permanently jaded, and you’re feeling expansive on your way to God’s Country, give Yank Sing a shot, you won’t regret it!

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