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Transplant looking for some Bay area benchmarks...


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Hello,

I recently relocated from Philadelphia and am particularly interested in getting opinions about what are considered benchmarks for the following cuisines (price is not a consideration). I included general opinions about places I've tried myself or from referrals:

1) Sushi - tried Kyo-ya last week and thought it was good but not spectacular.

2) Thai - better quality that Philly in general but still far from truly good Thai. Restaurants seems to always add either bamboo shoots or red bell peppers...

3) Dim Sum - Tried HKFL and Seafood Harbor a week apart I prefer the latter.

4) Kaiseki - Kyo-ya, Kyagetsu or others?

5) Chinese Seafood - Where's a good place to try those huge aussie lobsters, santa barbara shrimp, anything I should look out for?

6) Pho - haven't tried any yet

7) Ritz or French Laundry first?

That's all for now, I am really looking forward to the feedback and thanks in advance.

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3) Dim Sum - Tried HKFL and Seafood Harbor a week apart I prefer the latter.

.....

5) Chinese Seafood - Where's a good place to try those huge aussie lobsters,

Dim sum...

In my opinion, HKFL and Seafood Harbor are in the same class as the following ones:

Hong Kong East Ocean - Emeryville; I had their dim sum before, very good.

Yang Sing - SF Downtown; I went by there but didn't eat there. The dim sum looks good but the surrounding I didn't like (part of their setting in the weekend is out in the atrium inside a business building)

Zen Peninsula - Millbrae; I ate dinner over there. The food was very good. Didn't have their dim sum but I trust it that they would do a good job. Have seen good reviews on chowhound.

Fook Yuen - Millbrae; I date dinner there long time ago. The food was very good. Haven't had dim sum there but also saw good reviews on chowhound.

Koi Palace - Daly City; I went there once on a Saturday hoping to try them out. The reception area was crowded with people waiting. After 1 hour of waiting and still no hope of knowing when we could be seated, we left with an empty stomach. Judging from the patronship (>90% Chinese) and the long waiting time, they are probably very good.

I had been to HKFL about 6 months ago. I think they have totally deteriorated (food quality-wise) from what I knew of them a few years ago. I don't think I will be back any time soon. Saturday at noon - no waiting.

If you go further south to the San Jose area, there are a few that are really good.

May Flower - Milpitas; I had dim sum there about a couple of years ago. It was great.

As for your seafood quest, you may be able to get some in these restaurants too. Especially from Zen Peninsula which I had dined at. Be warned, price-wise: top $$$.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Chinese Seafood: The most decent priced place I've been to is Oriental Seafood Restaurant on Noriega by 32nd Ave in Sunset. Love the succulent spotted prawns, especially @ only $17.99 a pound! There are also a variety of fish, lobster and crabs to choose from.

Sushi: My favorite place is Taraval Okazu Ya. I really nice the large selection of rolls (many more variety of rolls featuring raw fish instead of cooked ingredients) as well as fajita style cooked fish. I also love the agedashi tofu, short ribs (get it as an appetizer instead of an entree), and Okazu Ya clams.

Haven't been to either Ritz or French Laundry, but reservations at FL are taken 2 months to the date that you phone in, so you may have to go to the Ritz first if you don't want to wait.

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Koi Palace - Daly City;  I went there once on a Saturday hoping to try them out.  The reception area was crowded with people waiting.  After 1 hour of waiting and still no hope of knowing when we could be seated, we left with an empty stomach.  Judging from the patronship (>90% Chinese) and the long waiting time, they are probably very good.

Koi is my favorite, hands-down. But you did it wrong. When you get there, you get a number. If you were there for an hour and you heard names/numbers being called, you should have been able to figure out how close you were in line...

I have waited upwards of an hour-and-a-half to sit at Koi. Well worth the wait.

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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My wife and I go back and forth on Yank Sing. I think Yank Sing is over priced and not that great, and she enjoys it. I think Ton Kiang on Geary has some of the best dim sum you can get anywhere. Period. I also love their salt baked chicken and other Hakka delicacies.

In my opinion, a few undersung Asian restaurants include Eliza's, Eric's, and Alice's. There is some sort of familial relationship between these places that I've never quite figured out. Anyway, they are definitely California/Chinese/Asian Cuisine; but, really tasty. I just love their Shanghai Chicken.

I've had good and iffy experiences at Koi Palace. Let's just say, it's not the place to take your somewhat elderly parents, if they are craving Kung Pow Chicken. Waits can be interminable, and the service is not always friendly. They do take reservations, if you are concerned, and the food is really pretty outstanding.

-Erik

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Dim Sum: Don't bother with Yank Sing if you have other options. Very pricey and not all that. As for Koi Palace... Parking is as bad as everyone says, but the wait isn't bad if you time it right. The last time we went, we got there at 9:45, and although the dining rooms were full, we were the only ones waiting. In fact, we could have had a table within 5 minutes if the rest of our party had been there. In all, we ended up waiting about 15 minutes before we were seated. By 10:10, though, the lobby was packed.

Thai: After many years of trying other possibilities, our favorite remains Thep Phanom, on Waller between Haight and Germania. Favorites here include Crying Tiger salad, yok-yor, basil chicken with crispy basil, and anything off the 'specials' menu/boards. Reservations recommended.

Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

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Koi is my favorite, hands-down. But you did it wrong. When you get there, you get a number. If you were there for an hour and you heard names/numbers being called, you should have been able to figure out how close you were in line...

It's funny you said that. Yes I had been paying attention to the numbers called. That didn't help. (1) The numbers were not called sequencially. They had to match us (party of 2 only) with the size of the vacant tables. I asked the hostress a couple of times (and got a rolling eye response after the second). No committed time. I just felt as if she was telling us: if you don't care to wait, just go somewhere else (which was part of why we left on an empty stomach). (2) There was a time period that 15 minutes had passed by without a single number being called.

I have since learned that you can actually call in to the restaurant and "get a number" in the queue. They will tell you roughly how long the wait maybe. You can go shopping in the nearby Serramonte Mall (or just call ahead if you are from out of town before you reach SF). You still need to wait when you get there. But that may be 15 minutes instead of 1 1/2 hour.

Next time, though, if we cannot make it to the restaurant when they first open in the morning I would not bother.

I took a look at the online menu Ton Kiang has posted. 9 items for $39 for 2 persons. I hate being so restrictive. And between me and my wife, we usually only order 6 dim sum items, maybe 7. Sometimes we have a few plates of dim sum and then a plate of fried noodle or something.

I like to have dim sum in some less well known places (but still good food). The one that we go to often is on Noriega and 33rd in the Sunset district (forgot the name). Their dim sum is good, and the prices are not overly expensive as in Koi and Yang Sing.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I took a look at the online menu Ton Kiang has posted.  9 items for $39 for 2 persons.  I hate being so restrictive.  And between me and my wife, we usually only order 6 dim sum items, maybe 7.

You can order a la carte (or off the cart), too. In fact, they will make you dim sum to order most any time of the day. I like to get my favorite, taro root dumplings, whenever I go there.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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You can order a la carte (or off the cart), too.  In fact, they will make you dim sum to order most any time of the day.

Thanks for that tip, eje.

Let me say something about these "make to order" claims. They steam up or heat up the dim sum per the order you placed, true. I hope one doesn't think they make the har gow, siu mei, or whatever you ordered from scratch at the time you ordered them.

Dim sums, especially dumplings like har gow and siu mei, are make in bulk. In quantities of hundreds. When they marinate the shrimps, they can't just marinate 4 shrimps to make you an order of har gow. When they create the skin for har gow from wheat starch, they stir enough to make hundreds of har gow at a time. When they wrap the dumplings, they wrap them by the hundreds at a time.

The dumplings (har gow, siu mei, etc.) cannot be left in raw form after wrapping. They will deform, the skin will crack, the skin will dry up, etc.. They must steam (or fried, whatever) the dumplings right away. Once cooked, the dim sum can hold up much longer.

When you place your dim sum order, all they do in the kitchen is to fetch the corresponding dumplings from the steamer (or where-ever they store the dim sum) and steam them up for you. For fried stuff, re-fry in the fryer.

There is just no way the kitchen can make dim sum from scratch per your order. If they really do that, your wait time will be over 30 minutes and the price will be many times higher.

When they have left over dim sum, some kitchens will store them in refrigerators and sell them the next day. Therefore, sometimes it is risky to arrive a dim sum restaurant when they first open - you may have overnight leftovers reheated.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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After reading this, I think that Ton Kiang actually does make their dim sum from scratch. If you are there on a busy Saturday or Sunday and order something that's not coming around on the carts, it generally takes 20 or 30 minutes for your order to appear.

I would urge you to give Ton Kiang a try. They are my favorite dim sum place, hands down. The menu you see online is just what's available at anytime of day. In the morning and on weekends, most of the items circulating on the carts are not off that menu.

As for Thai, one of my favorites that I don't see listed here much is Neecha Thai on Sutter and Steiner.

Edited by constanela (log)

Erin Andersen

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I like Ton Kiang for dim sum--nice fresh dumplings, in my experience. I had a great experience in my first visit to Koi Palace this summer. Our strategy was to call up and get a number for an early start (10:30 or so) on a Sunday. They have a huge and great selection of dishes. Another nice feature is that you can both order items you don't want to miss off a menu and then supplement this per your whim and the contents of roving carts.

I mention it on this thread, but one of my favorite Thai places is Marnee Thai (2 locations in the Sunset). I've yet to try many of the other good sounding suggestions in that thread but Marnee Thai compares favorably to a bunch of other places I've tried in SF and on the Peninsula in terms of bolder, fresher flavors and the breadth of the menu.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Let me say something about these "make to order" claims.  They steam up or heat up the dim sum per the order you placed, true.  I hope one doesn't think they make the har gow, siu mei, or whatever you ordered from scratch at the time you ordered them.

Sorry, I guess I should have said, they will prepare dim sum for you, if you order it at any time.

Uh, yes, your stay in any restaurant would be quite a bit longer, if none of them started making any of your food before you arrived. I don't really expect Italian restaurants are making the ravioli or tortellini from scratch after I order it, so I don't expect that Chinese restaurants would be making the dumplings either.

edited - thought of better example.

Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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2) Thai - better quality that Philly in general but still far from truly good Thai. Restaurants seems to always add either bamboo shoots or red bell peppers...

Where have you tried so far and what have you thought of them?

I think Thep Phenom is a great recommendation; but, there are plenty of other good places, depending on your tastes.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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About Koi Palace...

My wife and I visited on September 8 for dinner. The waiter spilled a full bowl of soup onto my wife's leg and her very very special "best occasion" handbag.

Management was mildly apologetic, we left without eating.

The spill was accidental (though to be honest, the waiter just wasn't paying attention) but the management reaction was not comforting.

Differnt topic: "Taipan", a new high end Dim Sum restaurant opened in Palo Alto on Friday, where Flower Lounge used to be. Totally remodeled, looks beautiful. We'll be trying it this week.

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If you go further south to the San Jose area, there are a few that are really good. 

May Flower - Milpitas;  I had dim sum there about a couple of years ago.  It was great.

We just came back from a weekend camping trip in Monterey. We dropped by May Flower in Milpitas Saturday morning and had dim sum on the way out there. They were great, just as I remembered.

We had:

Har Gow

Siu Mei

Shrimp Cheung Fun

Nor Mai Gai (sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves)

Beef tripe - steamed with ginger and a bit of curry powder

Seen Jook Guon (steamed minced pork wrapped with fresh tofu sheets)

Daikon Cake

All were excellent! We didn't eat that much as we weren't too hungry. Between the three of us, 7 items, the bill came to US$28.xx (tax included).

Re: Koi Palace - I think while their food might be good (which I have not yet tasted), their workers are very arrogant - as they probably have more business than they can handle.

May Flower:

428 Barber Lane

Milpitas, CA 95035

408-922-2700

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Zen Peninsula - Millbrae;  I ate dinner over there.  The food was very good.  Didn't have their dim sum but I trust it that they would do a good job.  Have seen good reviews on chowhound.

Take a look at Zen Peninsula's website and online gallery:

http://www.zenpeninsula.com/gallery1.htm

If this doesn't attract you to their restaurant, I don't know what will. :smile:

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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