On Friday I accompanied two members of the North team to take their second look at the new Louies Cal-Chinese in SF Chinatown (across from the Holiday Inn). The setting is amazingly tranquil with tables set well apart on two levels and missing the hubbub typical of other Chinatown dim sum parlors. The hostess was genuinely friendly and remembered Ruth from her earlier visit. The manager stopped by our table at least twice to check on us. The strong emphasis on service was readily apparent and much appreciated by us. Our teapot was checked regularly and refilled with hot water without our signaling, and water glasses were kept full. Servers circulated with small trays holding three or four dishes and a dim sum menu for ordering directly from the kitchen was also provided.
Highlights were the har gau with thin translucent skins and crisply textured shrimp, delicately flavored with one slight flaw that the slivers of bamboo shoots were a bit tough. I liked the coarse texture of the siu mai (listed on the menu as mushroom siu mai but we found no evidence of black mushroom) with its chunks of pork, bits of shrimp, and good balance of fat, but Derek was not as pleased. He thought the fried taro dumplings were very good with a light lacy crust and liked the creamy texture of the taro paste, but they were too smooth and processed for me. The fried bean curd skin rolls stuffed with shrimp were crackly and delicate. The xiao long bao had wonderful flavor of sweet pork and leeks and lovely texture, but all of them had leaked. A nice touch here is that soup spoons are provided with them without asking. The zhiu zhao dumplings (teochew fun gor) were terrific with a smoky, briny, spicy explosion of flavor and wrappers that hit the perfect combination of tender and chewy.
Misses were the steamed spareribs in black bean sauce that were overly tough and somewhat bland. The squares of daikon turnip cake looked beautiful with evenly browned sides, but were lacking flavorwise. The shrimp rice noodle crepe had a bad batch of iodine-y shrimp and the rice noodle itself was too chewy and not tender enough. The egg custard tarts were nice, but had been sitting too long in a warming oven and had started to toughen. The worst item was the braised chicken feet, tasting stale and old, so much so that I said to Derek and Ruth, Ive never sent dim sum back before, but lets see what theyll do about this since management seems so eager to please. The next time the manager came around to see how things were, I only had to point at the dish and had barely uttered one word before it was whisked away and taken off the bill. That was pretty impressive.
Price per person was only $13 each with tax and generous tip for good service, quite a bargain for the setting. The charge for tea is only 75¢ per person, whereas other tea houses usually charge a buck. While it didnt make the cut for the dim sum challenge, with careful selection, its possible to have a very nice lunch here for less than the competition and is easy to navigate for the dim sum newbie.