Wednesday, February 06, 2013

M.Y. China

If you follow the San Francisco restaurant scene at all, you've undoubtedly heard about M.Y. China, a fairly new Chinese restaurant by James Beard Winning celebrity chef Martin Yan (of Yan Can Cook fame ... back long before cooking shows were popular).  And you know that he brought in a master noodle maker from China, who has won a slew of gold medals and holds records for things like hand pulling 16,000 noodles in two minutes.  And the dim sum all comes from Koi Palace.  Yes, there was a lot of hype about this place, particularly due to the fact that the price point is far higher than your average Chinese restaurant, particularly for dim sum.  Initial reviews have been a bit lackluster, but I still wanted to try it out.

I should have listened to the reviews.  Like everyone else, I was underwhelmed.  Was it bad?  No.  Is it far better than anything else inside the mall?  Probably.  (Yes, it is located on the top floor of the Westfield, part of the Restaurant Collection, not the regular food court).  But was it good?  Not really.  It certainly wasn't better than any other Chinese food I've had in the city, usually at a much lower price point.

The space is very nice, clean and modern.  There is a open kitchen, where you can watch some noodle pulling theatrics, along with regular food preparation.  There are counter seats along the open kitchen, regular tables, and some round booths.  We had a group of five, and got tucked into one of these booths in the back corner, far away from the mall side of the restaurant, and I completely forgot I was eating inside a mall.  Upbeat music was playing, loud enough to be heard, but not enough to disrupt conversation.  The bathroom is also ridiculously modern and nice, although everyone on Yelp seemed really weirded out by the fact that it is somewhat co-ed, with individual stalls but a common sink area.  This didn't bother me at all, but then again, my college dorm was fully co-ed bathrooms, so I got over that long ago.  Place settings matched the rest of the decor, but the completely impractical placemats filled with large holes struck me as a bit odd.  M.Y. China really did succeed at the door and ambiance.

The service was fairly good, not Michelin level, but good enough, and certainly better than expected for its location.  Our server was friendly, just the right level of chatty.  We had a couple mis-steps, like one drink never being delivered even though the rest ordered at the same time were, and there was a long pause after we'd finished and the dishes weren't cleared.  But overall, service was pretty good.

The cocktails were the highlight of the meal.  I tried several, and each of them was made with interesting ingredients, and were well balanced.  I could imagine just stopping in for a drink after shopping or before going to a movie perhaps.

But the food is where things fell short.  As I said, it wasn't bad.  But it just wasn't that great.  The quality of ingredients was much lower than I expected, and the flavors just were not developed.  And while I regularly spend far more on dinner, and have no problem paying for great food, the prices seemed very high for what it was.  Had the prices been half what they were, I might have different opinions.  Maybe we went on an off-night, maybe we just ordered the wrong things, but we ordered everything I've heard raved about, and none of it was worth repeating.  Next time I want dim sum, I'll be going to Yank Sing.
Monkey King.  $12.
"St. George’s B & E Bourbon, crème de peche liqueur, gum, forbidden bitters, ginger and ginseng tincture."

It tasted more like an orange liqueur rather than peach, which I was looking forward to, but I still really enjoyed this drink.  It had a sweet, almost caramel like undertone, but it was nicely balanced by the bourbon.  I really liked this cocktail.

It had a giant ice cube in the center, which was a bit disappointing, as the actual volume of the drink was a bit small, and it was gone far too quickly, particularly given its $12 price tag.  Speaking of drink size, Emil ordered multiple Three Gorges' cocktails, and while the first one came as a full glass, the second one was notably less full.  Strange.  Anyway, I'd gladly get this cocktail again.
Spicy Seafood Dumplings.  $9.
This was the dish I was actually most excited for, and the first to arrive.  I love seafood and I love dim sum, but I often avoid it because the quality of the seafood used is so low.  I expected different from M.Y. China.

These were described as "scallops, shrimp, spinach wrapper".  The spinach wrapper had no spinach flavor to it and was really gummy.  The filling was very fishy tasting, with rubbery shrimp.  I'm not sure any of us detected scallops, which you know are one of my favorite ingredients, so this was pretty disappointing.

We all agreed that the sauce was delicious however, nice and spicy.  The highlight flavor-wise of the evening.

$9 for 6 would have been a fine price, had the seafood been higher quality.  We had only 4 seafood eaters in the group, and no one really wanted a second one.   One diner begrudgingly finished them off, saying he'd "take one for the team".

Second pick of the night, based only on the yummy sauce.
Whole Wheat Potstickers.  $7.
Described as "pork, cabbage, spicy soy sauce".

Unlike the previous dish, this version of "spicy" was basically non-existant.  It tasted like regular soy sauce to me.  Too bad, since they do clearly know how to add some flavor.

The potsticker wrapper was a bit hearty tasting, and I did like the somewhat healthier spin on a classic via the whole wheat wrapper.  They were fried on one side, and not the other, with a nice crispness, but were very oily.  And I'm not a pork fan, and they were very porky.

I wouldn't have ordered these, and I wish we hadn't.  My least favorite dish of the night.  $7 was a fine price for 5.
Wild Boar Juicy Dumplings.  $8.
The menu features several versions of the "juicy dumplings", including the much hyped pork and black truffle version that cost a whopping $18.  We had to try one variety, since soup dumplings are always something I judge a dim sum place on.  But Ojan hates truffles, we went with the simple wild boar dumplings.

Described as "ginger, garlic, M.Y. seasoned salt".

They came already in individual spoons, clearly designed to help out those who break open their soup dumplings just struggling to pick them up.  This was a cute touch I guess, but the spoons themselves were incredibly hot, and most people at my table had to wait a while for the handles to cool down in order to pick them up.  I apparently have hands of steel, as they weren't too hot for me.  They came with classic vinegar and ginger sauce on the side.

The soup filling was very tasty.  There was  plenty of it.  But the majority of the filling was the boar and it just wasn't very good at all.  But the soup was great, and I would have gladly had a bowl of it!

My top pick of the night, based only on the soup component.  I would not get again though.

$8 for only four of these seemed a bit high.  But really, the number of pieces of dim sum per order was obnoxious.  The first thing we got had 6, the second had 5, and this was 4.  Other pieces of dim sum varied from 2-6 pieces per order.  As a group, this was a bit annoying.  I know they have to pick a size, but why not just have everything in 4s? Or even better, let us order as many as we want?  I think was just grumpy and disappointed at this point.
Wild Boar Scissor Cut Noodles.  $14.
Finally, we got to the famous noodles.  Our group got 3 orders of these, since everyone wanted them, as they have been the most raved about dish at M.Y. China, by critics, friends of mine, and Yelpers alike.

The description said "wok tossed shallots, Shaoxing wine", but there was clearly more in there.  We found a few pieces of julienned carrot per order, some green onion, and bean sprouts.  I didn't actually notice any shallots.  There were also some brown things that none of us could quite identify, I think they were some form of mushroom, but others thought they might be the shallots.  There wasn't much of any of the vegetables, and they didn't add much to the dish.  I would have liked more.

The noodles themselves were kinda interesting, with a nice chew to them.  They were my favorite part of the dish, even though one of my table-mates said they "looked like slugs".  There were a few tiny bits of ground boar in the mix, and I think the boar might have been in the noodles themselves as well? Wherever it was, like the vegetables, there wasn't much of it.

And finally, there was the sauce.  It didn't have much flavor at all, and was incredibly oily.  I figured it was just my dislike of greasy food coming through, and didn't mention it, but every single peson who had this dish ended up commenting on how they felt like they were eating a vat of oil, and how it left them feeling sick afterwards.

None of us liked this dish.  Emil only took a couple bites out of his order.  We had a long delay at this point before the servers removed the dishes, and I think it might have been because we ate so little of it, that they were expecting us to keep working on it.  I really don't understand why others have raved about this dish.  My third pick of the night, and not a bad price for the portion, if it had been good.
Sugar Egg Puffs.  $8.
We moved on to my favorite part of most meals: dessert!

Everyone at the table was excited to order the sugar egg puffs, even though I hadn't heard great things about them.

They came with a trio of dipping sauces: chocolate fondue, raspberry coulis, and vanilla bean chantilly crème.

The egg puffs were basically just sugar coated donuts.  They were very oily.  We knew we were ordering fried donuts, but I think after the crazy oily noodles, they were just too much.

The sauces however, were great.

The chocolate fondue had a nice, smooth consistency, it was creamy, and had a great chocolate flavor.  I'd gladly dip other things in it!  My favorite of the sauces.

The raspberry coulis was very sweet, with strong berry flavor, and again, was good, just not with the egg puffs.  My second favorite.

The vanilla bean chantilly crème was fairly unremarkable, basically just whipped cream, and I didn't really pick up on the vanilla.

$8 got us five egg puffs, which is a pretty standard price point for a dessert at a restaurant of this level, but it was again a dish that no one wanted to finish.
Purple Yam Croquette.  $8.
This was the dessert I wanted.  It sounded really interesting, with a "molten white chocolate core" and "Chinese almond ice cream".

The croquettes were coated in almond slivers, which gave them a nice crunch on the outside, but the croquettes themselves were pretty gummy and didn't have a very good flavor.  The white chocolate filling was sweet and somewhat white chocolate flavored, but otherwise unremarkable.  Interesting dish, flavor-wise and texture-wise, but not really successful.

The ice cream is made by the local SF dessert cafe DeLise, which I just reviewed last week.  You know I like my ice cream!

It seemed more like plain vanilla ice cream to me, I didn't detect much almond.  It was fine, clearly freshly made ice cream, but not really that remarkable.

Had I only ordered this dessert, I would have been pretty disappointed.  Everyone took a bite of this and discarded it, like the egg puffs.  I couldn't let dessert go to waste.  So, I tried to fix things.  And fix them I did.

I took the bowl of ice cream, dumped on the chocolate fondue, raspberry coulis, and a bit of the chantilly creme from the other dessert, and made myself a pretty tasty ice cream sundae.  It didn't matter that the ice cream wasn't amazing since I topped it with so many flavorful sauces, and as I mentioned before, I did like the sauces for the egg puffs, just not the egg puffs.  I was pretty happy with my sundae, but I can't really praise M.Y. China on this, since it wasn't at all how they intended I eat these desserts.  That said, they do actually have a sundae on the menu, with ice cream, sorbet, caramel, poached pears, and a brittle, which does sound potentially interesting.  If I were to go back, I'd probably try that.
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