Tuesday, May 27th, 2008
At Hang Ah Dim Sum in Santa Rosa, chicken feet and duck tongue have finally gone mainstream.
This, believe it or not, is a good thing. Because tag-teamed with these well-loved Chinese specialties are a whole mess of more easily translated dim sum dishes from San Francisco’s historic Hang Ah restaurant.
Think Shanghai dumplings, Shiu Mai, leaf-wrapped rice, potstickers and pork buns.
The small dining room (an A&W restaurant in its former life) buzzes throughout the day with a cross-section of folks — from hungry construction workers to families.
If you’ve already got your dim sum badge, skip over this next part. If you’re new to these little purses of steamed deliciousness, here’s the 411: Dim sum is all about ordering lots of little plates, drinking tea and sharing what shows up around the table. There are several different types of dim sum (which roughly translated means something about “your heart’s delight”) most of which are bits of ground meat wrapped in rice or flour skins and steamed. But that’s just the half of it.
The best part of dim sum is simply ordering the oddly named items (curry beef dumpling, bean curd skin roll) and seeing what shows up. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you spit it in a napkin and move on. Consider this your personal voyage into the unknown.
The dim sum menu is broken into three main parts, based on price. Small dishes (Shiu Mai, chicken claws, pork ribs, steamed pork buns and curry beef) are $2.50 per plate. Medium plates (taro dumplings, bean curd skin rolls, sweet deserts like baked custard, etc.) are $3.50 per plate and large plates (shrimp dumplings, shrimp stuffed eggplant , Shanghai dumplings and crispy shrimp balls) are $4.50 per plate. Chef’s picks (shark-fin dumplings, roast duck, duck tongue and BBQ pork) are a hefty $6.50 each. Most folks can down at least 2 to 3 plates per person, so it can add up pretty quickly.
The restaurant also features a full menu of more traditional Chinese fare (General Tsou chicken, sweet and sour, Kung Po, Mu Shu) if you’re not ready to full invest in dim sum, including a $6.50 lunch menu. But come on, live a little.
Best bets for dim sum virgins are the steamed pork buns (gooey, white dough balls filled with BBQ
pork), shrimp balls (once you stop snickering, they’re pretty good little fried nuggets of ground shrimp), steamed Shanghai dumplings (lots of ginger or pork) and the Shiu Mai (ground pork). If you’re a bit more adventurous, head for the bean curd skin roll, curried beef dumplings (listed as “carry”) or taro dumplings. Chicken claws are best left to the pros, though once you’ve had them, you’ll swear by ’em. Unless you don’t.
Stacked up against higher end dim sum spots in the city, Hang Ah hovers in the solid, but not truly exceptional category. Flavors can get a little muddled, wrappers a little thick and sticky. Which isn’t to say it’s not good eats. One shining spot is that (unlike their San Francisco location) Hang Ah north isn’t a large-scale tourist operation, but more of a family-style restaurant. Service is fast and efficient. Dishes are a bit more personal.
At the end of the meal, my fortune read: “An unexpected event will soon make your life more exciting.” Turns out, a little dim sum spot around the corner from my house fits the bill just about perfectly.
Hang Ah Dim Sum, 2130 Armory Drive, Santa Rosa, 576.7873.
Oh, and about the Drive Through Dim Sum sign? Yeah. No.