My friend Jamie lives in the Clement Street neighborhood of San Francisco, and two other mutual friends, Cathy and Linda, drove up with me to see her for the day so we could all hang out together.
Clement Street is one of my favorite parts of S.F. It’s a mix of many different ethnic cultures, but the Asian predominates these days. Here’s a description from an article (it’s worth reading) about the neighborhood I found online:
[Clement Street] has a long history of immigration, beginning with the Irish in the 1900s, followed by Swiss dairy farmers, the Jewish, Russians, Japanese and most recently immigrants from the Far East. Nearly half the residents today are of Asian or Pacific Island origin.Like China Town on the other side of the City, Clement Street has numerous shops with roasted ducks in the windows (note to self: must buy one of these some day),
as well as groceries with bins of exotic vegetables, and counters heaped with gleaming seafood.
Not only that, but the neighborhood has several huge restaurant-supply stores, which can make a gal like me go into fits:
But Clement Street is also host to other cultures besides the Asian. We went into a small grocery, for instance, that specializes in Indian and British cuisine (where I bought myself a large jar of Branson Pickle—yum!). And the best used bookstore in the City— Green Apple Books—is there.
We were on a mission, however, for brunch—dim sum to be exact. Jamie has a favorite restaurant around the corner from her place that specializes in dim sum, called (as are so many Chinese restaurants) Happy Garden.
As most readers of this blog no doubt know, dim sum is the Chinese version of brunch. A large family will come in and sit at a huge round table, and engage in a feeding frenzy as piles of small plates heaped with steamed buns, fried chicken feet, stir-fried vegetables, pot stickers, and the like are set down in quick succession and passed around the table. It’s all accompanied by never-ending stainless steel pots of steaming tea. (Click here for more history and description of dim sum.)
As soon as the four of us were seated we were handed a sheet of paper with a list of all the kinds of dim sum available. Jamie and Cathy knew exactly what they wanted, so Linda and I gladly let them order for us.
In the old days, dim sum restaurants would wheel carts loaded with the small plates about the restaurant, from which the customers would pick and point. Unfortunately, most restaurants—including the Happy Garden—have now discontinued this practice. On the weekends, however, Jamie informed us, they do come around with trays of special steamed buns, which have been baked after steaming. We started with a selection of these.
Oh my god—they were amazing. I do adore steamed pork buns, the sweet, chewy BBQ pork inside contrasting with the light, puffy texture of the dough. And these were even better, as the crispy outside added yet another texture and delectable dimension. In addition, there were steamed buns filled with a sweet, rich, egg custard. Simply death.
But I had to force myself to eat only one of each, as I knew we had many other plates still to come.
Next up was stuffed eggplant, which turned out to be fried eggplant stuffed with what tasted like shrimp balls. Ohmygod again. Rich.
We also had pot stickers with a sweet dipping sauce,
and for a bit of something green, some dry sautéed string beans:
There were also sweet black sesame dumplings, vegetable (spring) rolls, and these crispy shrimp balls:
By the time the shrimp balls arrived, I was fairly stuffed. But I somehow managed to choke one down. Oh, and a second egg custard bun too.
After we had finished—and yes, we did consume every last morsel—we gazed with awe at the chaos we had created.
Then the check came. Cathy looked at it and her eyes bugged out. I knew that dim sum could be pricey, but how bad could it be? She handed me the slip and I examined it.
Could that be right? I put on my reading glasses and tried again.
Yep, it was indeed correct: $34.00 for the entire meal, including tax. With the tip, it worked out to only a little over ten bucks per person. What a deal for that amount of food—and it was good.
I am definitely going back.
(If you want to check out the Happy Garden Restaurant, it’s at 815 Clement St., and is open 7 days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The dim sum ranges from $1.70 to $4.50 a plate; but they have other food too.)