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Dim Sum @ Kay Cheung, SF

Melanie Wong | Apr 20, 2003 02:14 PM

Last week I tried Kay Cheung for the first time after recs posted here and in the Examiner. While described as a “hole in the wall” and it looks like it through the greasy and smudged front windows plastered with pages of hand-written Chinese menus, it was actually more appealing than that inside. The wall-to-wall carpet looked fairly new (albeit with dropped food all over it from the busy lunch hour), as did the emerald green vinyl upholstered chairs. In contrast, the tables were topped with faded floral vinyl covers under glass. Ladies carrying small trays circulated the freshly prepared dim sum around the room.

Even at 1:15pm, the place was full, and I was seated at a communal table in the back. As promised, the crowd was entirely ethnic Chinese and from their dress, largely recent immigrants and likely from rural areas of southern China, rather than urban Hong Kong. Young mothers with babies bound to their backs in traditional cotton calico carriers, grandmothers in black pajama pants and bobbed hair, girls with pig-tails, and families chattering in guttural country dialects.

The lowlights were chicken feet that were a light golden brown rather than the darker mahogany color, and the taste was faded and lacking intensity as well. Black bean spareribs were cooked to tender but on the bland side. Siu mai were oversteamed to mushy texture and washed of flavor, perhaps they’re better earlier in the day.

Yet, there were two good items that maybe point to the strengths here. The shrimp dumplings (har gow) had wrappers that were thicker than I’d like, but right out of the steamer they had a tender elasticity of freshness. The filling had large chunks of sweet and juicy shrimp with some more finely chopped pieces and a bit of bamboo shoot. I’m a har gow purist, meaning that they should stand on their own unsullied by any condiments, and this one passed that taste test (boosted by a touch of MSG discernable in the seasoning). Also good were the hearng sai gow (coriander dumpling), again a bit thick in the wrapper, but with fresh sweet bits of shrimp, leeks and coriander inside. I had skipped the scallop dumpling and chive dumpling because they also looked too thick, but this white wrapped tapioca/rice flour type may be what the kitchen does best. The shrimp-filled rice crepes also looked good, but were untried too.

There seemed to be problems in the dishwashing department. Two of the stainless steel steamer baskets had extraneous bits of food in them unrelated to their intended contents. Earlier I had noted that TWO paper napkins were provided. I used them to follow the old custom of my Chinese elders to wash the place setting with hot tea and wipe them down. All the pieces needed it.

When the check came, I was a little surprised that the bill for these five plates was $10 or two bucks a dish. Not quite the bargain prices I was expecting, at this quality and ambience some 10 or 20% less would have been more appropriate.

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