Yank Sing - San Francisco, California
Some people call Yank Sing, the best dim sum restaurant in San Francisco. Others believe that it never lives up to the hype. One thing is for sure -- Yank Sing has some unique dim sum offerings and at premium prices too. Is it worth it?
Stepping through the doorway into Yank Sing find me in some dim sum parlor in Hong Kong, nor does it make me feel like I'm in Chinatown. Instead, I'm confronted with a sleek, modern interior that looks and feels like fine dining.
As we slowly make our way to the table, a server stroll past hawking her wares -- steamer baskets full of tasty treats like har gau and siu mai. Once seated, we wait as the procession of carts begins.
Before any carts arrive a server approaches our table and asks if we would like some xiao long pau. Shortly thereafter, we are presented with a steamer basket filled with six pieces of xiao long pau (Shanghai pork dumplings).
Taking a dumpling out of the basket, I slowly put it in my mouth and awaited the explosion of flavor from the steaming broth as I bit into it. Sadly, there wasn't much broth here. The skin was a little thick and just a bit chewy, while ground pork filling was quite tasty.
As our server set the basket of xiao long pau down on the table, I asked if I could have an order of braised chicken feet. Speaking into her headset, she placed the order for me and in a couple of minutes, the basket of braised chicken feet arrived at the table.
Tender and succulent, if you can call them that, the chicken feet had a hint of spiciness to them. The skin and tendons, practically melted in my mouth. After finishing half the basket, I wanted to order more, lots more -- they were that good.
Just as I was about to ask for another basket, a server approached our table and asked if we would like to try the baked sea bass.
As she held out the plate for me to look at, I immediately said yes and smiled hungrily. Slightly sweet, and a little sticky, the fish flaked nicely once my chopsticks touched it. The flesh was smooth and kind of reminded me of misoyaki butterfish, which I absolutely love. Nevermind that this was just a small chunk of a huge fish, I enjoyed every bite.
With a bit of sea bass in still in my mouth, a server approached with a plate of shrimp with honey walnuts. Since my mouth was full, I couldn't say no (could I?), so I just motioned for her to put the plate on the table with everything else.
There were seven or eight medium-sized shrimps on the plate and they sat next to a pile of honey-glazed walnuts on a bed of shredded head lettuce. The shrimp were a little soggy -- almost as if they had been cooked a while ago. The sweet walnuts contrasted well with the shrimp, though I was wishing that the shrimp were hot and crunchy, and that there were just a little more mayonaisse on them.
Finally, this cart here stopped at the table. The served told me that she was preparing lettuce cups. Since I had seen this cart stopping at quite a number of tables around the restaurant, I wasn't about to refuse the offer of a serving or two.
The lettuce cup shown here is filled with a mixture of ground chicken and lup cheong which has been sauteed with chopped water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Its finished with some hoisin sauce and a generous sprinkling of green onions and pine nuts.
The filling is a bit dry with a texture similar to that of larb. The crisp texture of the lettuce helped to enhanced this dish, but there was little flavor here. I felt like this needed some chilli or some more hoisin sauce.
Shortly after we had eaten our fill of lettuce cups, we were presented a plateful of chicken wrapped asparagus (I think that's what our server called it).
Ground chicken was wrapped around tender asparagus spears before being batter coated and deep fried. It was served with some sweet sour dipping sauce on the side. This was an unusual flavor/texture combination that didn't really work for me -- the asparagus didn't really go well with the sweet-sour sauce.
Just as I thought I was full, this cart pulled up to the table. Now I could have gone for one of the desserts -- either the egg tarts or the creamy mango pudding. Instead, I chose a plate of shrimp toast.
Tiny rounds of hard toast (think stale bread that has been toasted or fried!) was topped with some shrimp paste then decorated with the tiny tail of a shrimp.
Our server told us to use the sweet-sour sauce with these and I thought the flavor combination for this dish was perfect -- sweet, sour with a touch of saltiness -- excellent. The crunchy toast and the "springy" shrimp ball made this dish interesting texturally as well.
Overall my experience here at Yank Sing was good, though not exceptional. What I liked was the clean, modern space and the interesting variations on dim sum. I actually wanted to be "wow'd" by the selection and by the flavors -- neither really happened. And when you're dining without knowing what the prices are (no menus are given), you might be in for a surprise when the check arrives. The 7 dishes here plus a pot of jasmine tea (US$3.00) was almost US$60, not including tax or tip. Though nothing here was done poorly, in fact some of the dishes were excellent, maybe next time I'll skip the glamour and enjoy my dim sum in more "traditional" surroundings.
One Rincon Center
101 Spear Street
San Francisco, California