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Dim sum report: Y. Ben House

Gary Soup | Nov 3, 200211:10 PM

Today the three Soups, together with mother-in-law, sister-in-law and a family friend followed a recommendation and checked out a large-ish Chinatown dim sum venue we hadn't visited before. It's curiously named Y. Ben House in English (Hui Bing Lou in Chinese). I don't know if it's been reviewed in these pages before.

When we arrived at 11:30 the place (which seats about 200) was abuzz and jam-packed, and we were subjected to a 30-minute wait, which I interpreted as a positive omen. When we were finally seated, we hungrily jumped at the first passing cart (it's a "point and shoot" place) which proved to be a good move, as we were rewarded with two excellent versions of stuffed tofu pi. The fried version had a wonderfully flaky, not at all oily, wrapper and was full of good-sized shrimp, while the braised version was stuffed with savory pork.

The dishes that followed nearly all lived up to the promise of the first two. The fried "turnip" cake was just crisp enough on the outside; the eight-treasure rice, jiu cai (garlic chive) steamed dumplings, and egg custard were all outstanding. I even liked the large fried rice-flour balls, which I normally find too oily. (I don't know what they are called, but they are staple dim sum items, nicely browned on the outside and with sweet or "salty" but mostly air fillings).

We made another fortuitous choice to "anchor" the meal, settling on the seafood chow fun. This dish had more delicate noodles that typically associated with the war-horse beef chow fun, had a nice clean seafood flavor ("xian" my wife called it)and a minimalist construction, featuring a large quantity of shrimps and sea scallops and little else, that I typically associate more with Shanghai-style cooking than Cantonese. I may never go back to beef chow fun again!

There was one outright flop and one minor disappointment among our choices. The flop was the shao mai, which I ordered to test how they did the "standards". Perhaps the "standards" aren't top draw at Y. Ben House, as they appeared to have been re-heated. Though hot enough to burn the mouth, the wrappers were becoming detatched from the bland filling, which was more gristly than I have ever had in shao mai.

The minor disappointment came with the "Bees Nest" taro croquettes, my favorite among Cantonese dim sum standards, coming to our table cold. Despite that, the crunchy exterior was devoid of cloying oiliness, and the interior savory enough. But how I wished they had arrived hot! I guess life is like a dim sum palace, you take what you get off the cart.

Y. Ben House (835 Pacific, between Stockton and Powell) is a restaurant we definitely will go back to.

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