It was one of those days when I didn't know what I wanted for lunch. More often this happens standing before a fridge full of food yet frozen in a state of indecision perhaps from too many options. But I really didn't have a clue when JY asked what I wanted for lunch. Italian? Chinese? Wonton noodles? When he suggested dim sum at Harbor Village so that I could compare it to Yank Sing this Chowhound jumped at the idea. Maybe it wasn't that I didn't know what I wanted to eat; the right option just hadn't been presented to me. Earlier I'd been telling JY about the lively dim sum discussion on Chowhound's SF Bay area. It was clear to me San Franciscans were passionate about their dim sum.
The dining room at Harbor Village was half-full when we arrived around 1230 PM. Although we were immediately seated it took about 10 minutes before the carts started rolling by. We ordered as many of the same dishes as possible to better compare the two places down to "sao mei" tea. Even though the waiter erred and brought us "bo lei" we never bothered correcting the mistake. JY complained that the Chinese tea pot at Harbor Village dripped everytime he refilled my tea cup whereas Yank Sing had dripless Bodum ones. This was true but I could only laugh at his loyalty to Yank Sing since the owners are his good friends. He even tried to tell me the front door staff are more personable at Yank Sing but then I reminded him he is a VIP customer there. As to dripping tea spouts my guess is that most people wouldn't be bothered by such a detail. Besides, isn't dripping tea all over the table cloth part of the charm of dim sum the way knocking over a full tea cup with the lazy susan during a Chinese meal inevitable?
The usual dim sum fare included xiao mai, har gao, sticky rice in lotus leaf, and xiao long bao. JY claims the har gao at Yank Sing is better (thinner perfectly al dente skin), but between you and me it might be his bias speaking. In addition to the aforementioned items, we also had a plate of baby bok choy and stir fried rolled rice noodles which I thought were both outstanding. At Yank Sing we had ordered Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce but I'm an anomaly in that I'm not a fan of this particular vegetable given a choice. The rolled rice noodles, a very Chinese dish, is not available at Yang Sing.
Despite what my friends had told me about the impersonal Hong Kong style of service at Harbor Village, I found the opposite to be true. Apart from one server who insisted we didn't need hot mustard for the rice noodle dish as it had been appropriately spiced, the servers were friendly and accommodating. In the end we had to resort to asking a different server for the hot mustard but we shouldn't have had to. If a diner wants ketchup on his/her dim sum it's no place for a server to question the request no matter how bizarre it may seem. Towards the end of our lunch one of the cart ladies comp'd us a plate of mini egg custard tarts but they tasted as if they had been around the circuit a few times. Maybe there's a reason why things are free, no? I joked with JY the comp must had have something to do with my charming personality. Last week I had been comp'd lunch at the Bell Tower after one of the servers noted it was my first time in and that I was so nice.
In the final tally, it's about the same price for dim sum whether it's at Yank Sing or at Harbor Village, or $20-30 per person including tax and tip. I noted that the dishes fall into one of four price categories at Harbor Village: small, medium, large, and special (xiao dian, zhong dian, da dian, and te dian) with the appropriate price for each category noted in the margin. At Yank Sing I didn't pay much attention but I seem to recall that there weren't any prices next to the different dish sizes.
Harbor Village's service definitely has more Hong Kong flair than Yank Sing. If it is a more authentic dim sum experience one is after, the former is a better choice. Having said that, another friend who is very familiar with the Hong Kong dining scene and who travels there regularly insisted that even though Harbor Village offers more traditional fare, Yank Sing's food is more refined and consistent. In the end, I don't think one can go wrong with either choice, but being that they are the top dim sum options in SF, one has every right to expect flawless service and consistent food. After all, isn't that what premium priced dim sum should guarantee?