As promised in this post, I've gotten my act together and put together my jumbo-sized Yum Cha Cafe Post. Since Yum Cha Cafe opened, we've been back a few times, during different times of the day.
The set-up is fast, and the ladies behind the counter smile and quickly wave you up to the counters.
There's the Chinese BBQ station, with the requisite items hanging.
The fried Dim Sum station, with the various offerings radiating the glow of the heat lamps.
And of course, the steamed items.
And here is where we start running into some of the little quirks about this location of Dim Sum Cafe. First it is a free-for-all, unlike the San Gabriel location where you pull numbers.(*** An update for 02/09/09 - guess what I saw today on my visit? They now have a number dispenser. But of course everyone was just ingoring the thing and walking straight up to the counter to order!) So during prime time, get those shin guards and flak jackets on. As FOY "PaulL" noted in an email to me, "Not to be rude but what a fire drill." It is not a real big problem during slow times, but man, some of those older ladies "take no prisoners". Still, the women behind the counters (and there is an army of 'em) are very nice and helpful, which leads us to point two; depending on who you get, you may have some problems if you speak neither Cantonese or Vietnamese. So for many of us, it is a point to get what you want, which is not a big deal. OK, you got your steamed dumplings, and the fried stuff looks mighty good, so let's get some. This is point three, fried is fried, and steamed is steamed, and never the twain shall meet. In other words, this is another station, with another crew, and there may, or may not be a "hand-off". Same with the Chinese BBQ. Say you survive, you've got everything you wanted all piled on one of those bright orange trays. Point four, the cashier is a separate station! During certain times, there may be a bit of chaotic bottleneck of sorts. Even though there are three registers, only one may be open. Once, when only one register was open, a huge mass of humanity, was gathered in front of the harried, but still cheerful cashier, who, with orange trays lined from one end of the counter to the other, on both sides, started just holding trays up for folks to identify, step up, and pay! Sometime during the chaos, someone else purchased my chicken feet, et al. Another time, my Hainan Chicken Rice left the building without me, I'm assuming incognito, or perhaps under cover of darkness...... Still, more often than naught, you'll leave the building, or sit at one of the tables, which have already hit a level of "San Gabriel stickiness" in just a little over a week (they must bottle the stuff now), and munch away.
You may be asking yourself, if this is worth all the aggravation. Depending on your timing, and/or mind set, it can be kinda fun....in the "wow, that was somewhat invigorating, so long I don't have to it everyday" kind of way. One other key point, once you've experienced and understand the (fire) drill, you can get out of the place in a matter of minutes. Oh, and did I mentioned the prices? Dim Sum is broken into 2 price categories, category 'A' goes for $1.39, 'B' for $1.79. Put into those terms.....
OK, enough with all the details, let's have some Dim Sum. This version of Chaozou dumpling ($1.79), was bleh. Lousy wrappers, and tough pork. Though I can say, I've had worse at a few Dim Sum places in San Diego.
The "Pan Fried" Chicken Dumplings ($1.79), however.....
Chicken and Sticky Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf ($1.79). Man this was quite a bit of food. Decent lotus leaf flavor, a bit on the dry side, but passable. One good thing about Yum Cha Cafe is that almost everything is quite hot when you get it.
This monstrosity is called the House Special Bun ($1.39).
It is pretty large, and is filled with several large pieces of Lap Cheong (Chinese sausage), and a slice of boiled egg. The Missus thought the bun was much too sweet, and the bottom of the steamed bun was a bit soggy.
The Missus likes the Chicken Feet ($1.39), I think it's Her favorite item from Yum Cha Cafe. On this occasion they were piping hot, plump, moist, with a decent flavor.
The Shrimp Siu Mai ($1.39), was pretty good on this occasion. Nice shrimp flavor, still hot, decent texture.
But on another occasion, the filling had a strong cornstarch flavor to it.
Steamed shrimp dumplings ($1.79). These were very good. I got them early on a Sunday morning. They were hot, and full of shrimp flavor.
I also bought some Shrimp and Chive steamed dumplings ($1.79).
And though I thought the wrapper to be a bit too chewy, the flavor was right on the button. As you can see by the photo to the right, there was a good amount of shrimp in these.
The Stuffed Tofu($1.79) was pretty blah.
The Steam Chicken Bun ($1.39).
Had but a smear of filling, which was on the bland side, and the bottom of the steamed bun was a soggy mess.
The Missus managed to snag some Cheong Fun with Dried Shrimp ($1.79). And it was surprisingly good.
As you can tell, it was missing the sauce. But here's another surprise, it's not soy sauce in those bottles, it's the sauce for the Cheong Fun! Nice surprise here.....
I had been hesitant to try any of the deep fried stuff....heat lamps, and sitting around does not make for great stuff. But I had been itching to try the "Golden Seaweed Roll" ($1.79).
And texture wise it was just as I thought, pretty limp and soggy. I did however, really like the shrimp filling, which was well flavored. If these come out of the fryer when you visit, it may be worth a try.
On another visit, I tried the Char Siu Bao ($1.39). And proving that timing is everything, this was perfectly steamed, no sogginess. Perhaps a bit short on the filling, and yes, the bun is maybe a tad too sweet. Still not bad.
I also tried the Pork Siu Mai ($1.39), which had just come out, and it was good. The Har Gow($1.39) suffered from wrappers that were too thick and chewy. Sorry, no photos, by this time my trigger finger was pretty fatigued.
Still have doubts about trying this place out? How about this. You can purchase all of the dim sum mentioned above, including the Siu Mai and Har Gow, for $24.05 without tax! That's fifteen servings of dim sum. I could make you really depressed and say it would cost you just $18.05 in San Gabriel, but why go there.
I realize this post is approaching the herniation point, but just a few more things.
There's a door to Thuan Phat Market conveniently located to one side of the restaurant. Nice, except that later in the afternoon, some of the more unpleasant fragrances makes its way into Yum Cha Cafe. It doesn't bother me much, but I thought I'd mention that. Also, I've found that the various dishes are much better in the mornings most of the time.
On one of my visits, I noticed a Caucasian Woman standing in the corner looking a bit distressed. She was a bit overwhelmed by the craziness (it was very busy that morning). Feeling bad for her, I stopped by and told her, to just "go for it, and get in there. You might have some fun." And so might you....
Yum Cha Cafe
6933 Linda Vista Road
San Diego, CA 92111
Open Daily: 8am-8pm