Melanie Wong was gracious enough to host a gathering of Chowhounds at one of her favorite dim sum spots. The restaurant turned out to be Dol Ho at 808 Pacific Avenue. Lunch was set for 11:30 am, but having arrived late (work, traffic, and parking), I was the designated stuckee.
Dishes selected at my table (there were two):
Stuffed Fried Tofu
"Intestine" Noodle with Shrimp
Spare Ribs over Rice
Beef over Rice
Shrimp-stuffed bell peppers
Egg custard tarts
Chive (Gow Choi) Dumplings
Some dish made of chicken and mushrooms wrapped with rice noodles (I didn't sample this, but it was highly rated.)
I think the flavor of dishes at this restaurant can be described as subtle. Almost nothing is strongly flavored or spiced. Salt isn't overused, herbs are used sparingly, and there was no trace of MSG! Thus, the ingredients had to shine for themselves or fall flat.
The Har Gow (shrimp dumpling) had a nice, fresh shrimp filling, but I found the skin to be too thick. The Siu Mai were better than the Har Gow with a good wrapper and a large and flavorful filling. Mind you, arriving late, I was trying these two somewhat colder than when they came out of the steamer.
Not too greasy and nicely crisped describe the exterior of the taro horn (taro puff, etc.). The filling had a faint hint of five spice to it and was both light and pleasant. The daikon cake (fried) was its usual mild self, without only a few other things in the batter to give it a minor texture. Turns out that the chili bean paste in the jar on the table helpfully livens this dish up. The chili bean paste wasn't particularly hot and had some complexity to it so that it was a well-liked condiment.
The "Intestine" Noodle with Shrimp (changfen in Mandarin) was made with pretty thick noodles, but tasted nicely of fresh shrimp.
We ordered two different rice dishes. These are metal bowls of rice that are topped with meat and then steamed. Upon being served, a soy-based sauce is poured on top to give the rice below some added flavor. The spare ribs over rice were generally viewed as being the best dish of those sampled. The ribs wwere tasty and meaty, with the subtle flavor of dried tangerine peel adding a nice note. The beef over rice was made with ground beef mixed with herbs (I detected cilantro) and probably held together with beaten egg. No one preferred this to the spare ribs.
Stuffed tofu held a paste made of shrimp and was simply deep-fried. The shrimp was pretty straightforward, the tofu lightly crisp on the outside, moderately soft on the inside. The same shrimp filling made its way into the bell peppers, which were served with a brown sauce that was light on flavor. The bell peppers were properly cooked, neither crispy raw nor overcooked and mushy.
The chicken feet were steamed in a mildly hot sauce with black beans it. I found the chicken feet to be better than your average claw, the meat cooked to the point that it slipped off the bone without a lot of gnawing.
We found the egg custards (dan tat) to be odd. The shell was nothing to write about (we went to the Golden Gate Bakery for better shells afterwards) and filling was oddly flavored. It was almost salty and certainly not particularly sweet. It tasted of "scrambled eggs" and "potatoes". If I didn't know I was in Chinatown, I might have thought I was eating a mainland China rendition of egg custard (pastries in the PRC tend to be much less sweet than those found here). The fried sesame balls were also different than most were accustomed to. The outside was nicely coated in sesame seeds and fried to a nice crisp exterior. The dough was thicker than some of the best that I've had and the interior was just unusual. We couldn't figure out what it was -- very light both in texture and color. The flavor wasn't distinctly anything any of us recognized -- it wasn't a traditional lotus or bean paste.
Finally the chive dumplings (which arrived at the same time as the sweet items) had a nice "chivy" flavor to them, but the wrapper was thick and gummy.
The real kicker of the whole meal was the price. Each 'hound at the table kicked in $6.50 which included tea and tax. Can you beat a deal like that? We also raised (at our table) a donation of $76 for Chowhound. I don't have the figure for the second table, but perhaps someone (Pssst? Derek?) can chime in?
All in all, a good time and very pleasant lunch. Worth it after my personal travails in getting there.
At table 1 were David Kaplan, Celery, Melanie Wong, Cynthia Sasaki, Gordon Wing, Steve Posin, and myself. Table 2 include Pssst and Derek and other hounds with whom I did not have the opportunity to become acquainted.
(Typographic errors and misrepresentations are all mine!)