711 Town and Country Village, Sunnyvale
Most Elegant Dim Sum Palace
It's only about three years old, but Bamboo Garden (not to be confused with the vegetarian Chinese restaurant in the city) has become a South Bay mainstay on the strength of its elegant decor, upscale, mostly Asian crowds and reliable executions of standard favorites like siu mai, cha siu bao, har gow, scallop no mai gai and gai lan with oyster sauce. Also offered are non-dim sum entrees like chicken and tofu pots, all topped off with delightful desserts. An effort is made to keep dishes as light and un-oily as possible, which some dim sum lovers may find unsatisfying. Another selling point is the availability of accurate menus for ordering directly from the kitchen.
1146 S. De Anza Blvd, Cupertino
Best Mandarin Style Dim Sum
Loon Wah originally opened as a Mandarin-style place and only recently made a concession to popular tastes by serving up Cantonese style as well. It can do both by having customers order off menus instead of carts. The 57-item Mandarin menu (in addition to the 28-item Cantonese menu) is a real treat for those wanting a change of pace from oily shrimp-based Cantonese flavors. Northern-style potstickers, fried rice cakes or scallion pancakes provide a nice flavor and texture contrast to the more familiar har gaw and siu mai. Thanks to the menu-ordering system, Loon Wah easily crosses the line into full-fledged entrees like General Tso's chicken, Peking duck or honey walnut prawns. Expanding the dim sum envelope is paying off — lines have become reliable fixtures on weekends.
JOY LUCK PLACE
10911 N. Wolfe Rd., Cupertino
Most Popular Dim Sum Palace
Cupertino has become a Bay-Area dim sum center the past few years and the teeming epicenter seems to be Joy Luck Place. It may have something to do with the location next to a Ranch 99 Market. No doubt the upscale presentation doesn't hurt. Despite routine 20-40-minute waits and crowded tables, but the wait staff takes the time to do the little things right, like asking your preference in teas and filling up the array of tiny dipping sauce dishes. The more traditional dim sum eaters love the place because it gets the basic dishes just right. It also shows plenty of flair with specialty items like shark's fin dumplings filled with soup, fried crab-claw lollipops or shrimp-filled fried tofu. You have the option of ordering off a menu for a larger selection and piping-hot service, as well as off the carts.
KOI PALACE RESTAURANT
365 Gellert Blvd (Serramonte Plaza), Daly City
Most Festive Dim Sum Restaurant
From the Chinese theme-park facade to the coordinated interior decor to the well-appointed tables, Koi Palace is the California suburban ideal of a dim sum palace. The pastel color scheme avoids the jarring reds that make for a tacky feel at some large dim sum places. The spacious dining room allows easy access to busy dim sum carts so you don't have to keep scooting in your chair for fear of being bonked on the head by purses and elbows. Last but not least, the capacity crowds and large fish tanks helps ensure that the seafood is among the freshest in the Bay Area. And the innovative desserts (the Lai Wan Bang, for example) are tasty enough to intrigue even those watching their calories.
1700 Embarcadero Road,ĘPalo Alto
Most User-Friendly Dim Sum Palace
Let's face it, even among Asian dim sum lovers only a small percentage of speak fluent Cantonese. So it's always a plus when we find an attractive, busy place that not only offers high-quality dim sum but also the ability to fully explore the possibilities with an English-speaking waiter. Mings is staffed with English-speakers under orders to answer all your questions, no matter how busy it gets — and it stays busy six or seven days a week because it serves dim sum 365 days a year, Christmas included. What's more, you can enjoy the full dim sum selection while also ordering entrees off the regular dinner menu.
DYNASTY SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
10123 N. Wolfe Road (Vallco Fashion Park), Cupertino
Best Nouvelle Dim Sum Palace
Alan Wong's strategy was to use the crowds thrown off by a successful dim sum palace to help bring traffic to a moribund shopping mall. It seems to be working, though it's still a bit too early to tell, a year and a half after opening. But the reputation of Dynasty Seafood's respected original San Jose branch combined with an exuberantly post-modern has succeeded in getting people to venture over to Vallco's cavernous lower level (below Macy's). Like the neon-accented ambience, the dim sum itself shows lots of nouvelle touches in addition to good quality traditional items. For example, the paper-thin seabass filets covered in sweet-and-sour sauce and deep fried are delectable nothings that elicit sighs of delight. The green-tea sesame balls also evidence an effort at catering to tastes educated in fusion restaurants. All in all, the kind of place that will be remembered after most dim sum lunches have run together in your memory.
101 Spear Street (One Rincon Center), San Francisco
Best Downtown Dim Sum
As in L.A. most dim sum places in San Francisco Chinatown have become tourist traps. When that happens the kitchen staff gets lax in their execution and the Asian customers drop off like flies. In the heart of the financial district Yank Sing caters to a high percentage of well-heeled non-Asians but still attracts a good number of Asian American professionals by staying relentlessly upmarket. The opulent color scheme, white tablecloth and toney location completment the elegantly presented dishes skewed toward nouvelle tastes: pea shoot dumplings, mandarin dumplings with chives, and savory vegetable dumplings (filled with mild-curried sichuan bamboo fungus, cabbage, bamboo shoots, carrots, sun-dried bean curd sticks and gingko nuts). All this elegance costs about 50% more than your typical dim sum place, but well worth it for those special occasions.
768 Barber Lane (Ulfert Center), Milpitas
Best Traditional Family Dim Sum Place
Traditionally dim sum is a chaotic experience crowded with people, smells and sounds. ABC Seafood puts dim sum back in touch with its roots, partly by charging very reasonable prices for consistently reliable renderings of the standards like har gaw, cha siu bao and dessert tarts. That keeps families with small children very much in evidence, especially on weekends. Sometimes the staff seems overextended, but then trying to get a waiter's attention is part of the traditional dim sum experience too. If you're seated in Siberia, you may have to get up and chase down the cart ladies to hijack the dishes that never quite make their way to your table. For a seafood place, ABC seems to offer an abundance of beef, pork and chicken dishes, like their memorable guifei gai, royal concubine chicken and steamed beef balls. All in all, it's a wonderfully relaxed and comfortable dining experience.