Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beautiful Breakfast and Dim Sum Explained

Eggs in a Basket

I have a love affair with savory breakfast. As you can see above, that includes the fabulous "eggs in a basket" that I made this fabulous Sunday morning. Eggs, english muffins, sausage, bacon, fried taters, grits are all big in my book. So today's blog is all about random breakfast items. The most recent being a beautiful log of food porn called The Bacon Explosion, as shown below. This was courtesy of a recent NY Times article detailing exactly what this perfect storm of meat is. As seen here.

Now there has only been a few things I've cooked in my life equaled the sheer baconiness of this and one of them happens to be a heart-stopper called Bacon Cubed - essentially, bacon on bacon on bacon. I guess now I feel somewhat challenged to bust out the Bacon Cubed in an effort to topple this Bacon Explosion. I will not be out-baconed. Look for Bacon Cubed on this blog shortly.

Another one of my favorite breakfast genres or styles, if you want to call it, is Dim Sum. In an effort to do a rather lame dim sum story for Chinese New Years, the SF Chronicle recently went to 46 dim sum restaurants apparently and decided to note 31 of them. See here. I know and love dim sum - more than most people. In fact, I have sought out dim sum in almost every notable Chinese populated city in the US and Canada, and I have tasted my fair share of great dim sum in China and Hong Kong. While I may not be any type of certified expert, I'd fail to believe there are many others who can claim to have ventured through as much dim sum as I have.
With that said, the Chronicle's article is a good introduction piece to dim sum, but I'd forgo most of the guide and I have no idea what the point of having Cecilia Chang offer insight on something almost completely out of her expertise. Dim sum, as stated in the article, is a southern Chinese specialty.
Sadly, many of the places listed would not fall anywhere close to my list, though I myself have not tried all 31, but I fail to believe any 1 of the contributors has either. They included take out dim sum and bakeries as well, which never have the quality or selection of a restaurant - so that 46 is probably a inflated number. It is a daunting task to go to that much dim sum, but I am sure that I have been to close to 15 of the most reputable and recommended places and a good dozen other dim sum take-out places in the Bay Area. While it may be fun to go place to place, it is more important to have THE place to go to - namely the best regular place that you look forward to going to every weekend. There is an evaluating criteria for where you go and it is this:

No dim sum place has the best of everything. There are over 40 items in a big restaurant dim sum menu and most places have all the basics and many specialities or Chinese regional specialties (depending on the specific style of dim sum restaurant, e.g. Chiu Chau, Hakka, HK, Guangzhou). A simple way to explain this would be to evaluate HK Flower Lounge versus The Kitchen. Less than a mile apart, both restaurants are specifically dim sum places, but due to varying regional styles they vary a lot in terms of flavor, presentation and even cooking approaches to common dishes. Cart versus ticket ordering is not a style difference, it is a restaurant management and diner's subjective preference.
The true mark of finding a great place is to locate one with a lot of depth. The basics have to obviously be great, but all the others have to also be very good and consistent. Going to a place with only a few great items from your favorites list will get very boring and wildly inconsistent in terms of quality. It is very hard to find a place where you enjoy almost everything they have to offer.
There are also a set of specific rules (unspoken things to look for) that are designated for proper dim sum evaluation. Different items have different criteria attached, e.g. the wrapper of a shrimp dumpling (har gau) itself is a 4 part breakdown: mouthfeel, texture, elasticity and thickness. The more places that you try yourself, the pickier you may start to feel about different dim sum items.
Price matters. It is not always about the cash, but it is about the value. Dim sum places vary in prices widely, so there for a $2 dish made here may end up costing close to $3 somewhere else. And, the worst part is that the $3 dish will inevitably taste worse. It's not about being cheap, it's about feeling like you can get great value. Yank Sing, Ton Kiang and Koi Palace are not really for me.

Without further ado, some of my favorites in the Bay Area - 1 of which is my regular place:
Favorite Overall Dim Sum In The Bay Area:
S&T Seafood Restaurant (Sunset)
Favorite Regional Style Dim Sum In The Bay Area:
The Kitchen (Millbrae)
Favorite Classic Old School Dim Sum Offered In The Bay Area/Favorite East Bay Alternate:
Gourmet Delight (Oakland)
Favorite Economic Value Place:
Golden River (Richmond)

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