[Palo Alto] Tai Pan- the joy of not having to line up for good dim sum


#1

Tai Pan used to be in the expensive tier in the Bay Area dim sum scene along with places like Yank Sing. It still is not cheap, but since the recent wave of price increase in other dim sum places like Hong Kong Lounge 2, it suddenly doesn’t look as expensive any more.

First, part of the price goes to all that space, and nicely decorated one too, where you can stretch your legs and not hit anybody at the next table. Not quite Hong Kong fancy hotel dim sum amount of space, but good amount of space nonetheless.

And part of the price goes towards the ability to, just like at Yank Sing and better dimsum joints in Hong Kong, RESERVE A TABLE on Opentable ahead of time, without having to attempt to negotiate with the host on the phone in Cantonese during that day’s dim sum service whether you can reserve or get a number, with all that chaos happening behind the host stand. Apologies for the shouting, but the 1 to 2 hour waiting at Koi Palace, Saigon, etc because they intentionally underprice their dim sum, is sheer lunacy. And HKL2 still makes you wait for dimsum despite having comparable prices as Tai Pan. And if you go through the no-wait entrance for the regulars at Koi, you’d already paid your dues via prior expensive seafood meals. And if you know your host enough and decide to slide an Abe Lincoln or Hamilton discreetly to get seated quicker, well, that’s money too.

Look at all these glorious availabilities for this coming Saturday.

Well, we called to get a table 10 minutes before showing up the past weekend. And the third thing the price goes towards is dim sum of high standards, with good and fresh ingredients, generally well made.

With all that recent chatter here about XO sauce, I felt like having some during the meal- Sauteed turnip cake with XO sauce. Solid. Their XO sauce was pretty decent and came with mildly spicy and fragrant dried scallops, shrimps, scallions, etc.

Baked roasted pork/ char siu buns. The buns themselves weren’t very remarkable, but the filling was clearly better quality and real char sius instead a mess of scarlet-colored oversweetened, random pieces of pork fat.

Rice noodle roll with beef- HKL2’s version is slightly better. But Tai Pan’s version wasn’t too shabby. Versus the average rice rolls, the beef filling here tasted like beef and less like starch, though not quite as fragrant as HKL2’s.

Glutinous rice puff- They call their rice puff glorious on the menu, and I’d agree. Rice puff with good texture and a tasty filling. The only better ones in recent memories was at Ming Court in Hong Kong. Ming Court’s was perfection. Tai Pan fell just short with filling that’s sweeter than what I prefer. I ate 2.5 pieces out of the 3 on the plate despite what was supposed to be a sharing arrangement.

Pea shoot/ prawn steamed dumpling- decent, but overpowered by the very strong pea shoot taste. I don’t think I had come across pea shoot that tasted that strongly.

Baked roasted pork/ char siu puff: same quality char siu as the buns. The layer of pastry between the outer layer and the char sius was very mushy, which made for a subpar chew. Flavors were fine.

Dried scallop dumpling- great dish. Fresh, firm and bright tasting shrimps in a soft translucent tapioca skin balanced by with the texture of generous amount of crunchy eggs. Quality on par with the glutinous rice puff.

Nice 香片 jasmine tea. They steam everything after order is placed, so expect a wait for the steamed dishes.


Esssential eats between South SF and Mountain View.
(Karen Mezzetta) #2

Haven’t been in quite some time, but need to return soon. I was always impressed by what I thought was elegant presentation of very nice quality product…


#3

Indeed. The fried rice on the next table looked pretty good (i.e. looked like Hong Kong’s better renditions). I also haven’t tried the sweets yet. Will have to rectify soon.


#4

IThe baked taro bun was pretty good, not as greasy as the version at Saigon.

The pan fried chicken bun was seriously good. The bun pan fried just enough to give it a delicate crispy texture, and the filling was a mixture of delicious chicken, ginger, and cabbage.

Steamed bean curd roll- decent

Xiao long bao- the wrapping technique was a bit subpar. The meatball inside was a bit on the dense side. Though the pork was fresh tasting. I’d say stick with the Cantonese side of the house.

I’d say everything is clean tasting and rely on the ingredients versus excessive grease, soy sauce and MSG.


#5

I’ve been wanting to go for years, and this thread finally gave me the last push. What took me so long?!

Short review: I think it may be the best in the Bay Area. Not by a wide margin, but by enough that I believe there’s a gap between here and Koi Palace.

Really good:

Har gow - more delicate and freshly flavored than typical

Siu mai - one of the best I’ve had. Lighter than usual and a nice balance of shrimp and pork.

Dried scallop dumpling - excellent, as described in the previous post

Taro & meat dumpling - a table favorite. Only dish we re-ordered for a second round. Taro was not gluey, and nice ratio relative to meat (probably could have tilted slightly more towards the filling to be perfect). Beautifully fried both times.

Egg tart - our only dessert. Though not quite rave-worthy, it was really good.

Solid:

Minced shrimp stuffed tofu - perfectly fried, good balance of flavor. Small deduction for lacking a bit of salt and the tofu being a bit denser than what I would prefer.

Steamed bean curd roll - nicely done. Flavors were good but fell short of excellent.

Pan fried meat paste and chive dumpling - excellent flavor, nicely pan fried. Wrapper could have been thinner.

Turnip puff - Not quite enough turnip relative to pastry. Flavors were good.

Turnip cake in XO sauce - another table favorite, but falls short of the best versions I’ve had in Vancouver and Taipei. Interestingly, the turnip cake had chunks of turnip in it, which I don’t believe I’ve ever previously encountered.

OK:

Pork ribs in black bean sauce - Sauce wasn’t very flavorful. Usually this is one of the safest dishes, so I would consider one more try before giving up on it.

Peashoot dumpling with prawns - Filling was very good, but was oversteamed and wrapper was mushy. Would try again next time.

Pan-fried chicken bun - My opinion probably should be ignored on this, since I rarely get this and similar dishes for dim sum. But it struck me as a mediocre version of northern chinese baozi. Ratio of dough to filling was way higher than I prefer.

Wouldn’t order again:

Pork and dried shrimp dumpling - never had a dumpling like this before. Was oversteamed and the filling was oddly flavored. Almost like cheap shacha jiang.

Overall, the quality of the cooking is generally very high. Ingredients are a cut above as well. One thing that probably keeps the lines to a minimum is the price point. Including tip, this was $40 pp. To me, the somewhat less noisy dining room (bustling but not crazy), plus slightly nicer decor and really good service, on top of the high quality food makes it worthwhile.


#6

Thanks for the review! Its great to have more data points.

Better than Yank Sing? I haven’t been to Yank Sing for more than 15 years but it was pretty darn good back then.

I should give that a try then. I have largely given up on siu mai around here- they are mostly humongous dense franken-siu mais versus the delicate little morsels from yesteryear.

LOL. I don’t have many points of reference on this bun either, though I look at it via the typical Cantonese ‘light and fresh’ dim sum lens versus the ‘hearty Northern fare’ lens. I wouldn’t be surprised if connoisseurs of northern baozi thinks that I am smoking crack. With that said when I had it the dough-to-filling was fairly reasonable I recall.

ETA: has anyone had Hakkasan’s or Crystal Jade’s dim sum?


(Brian Bulkowski) #7

Nice post. A couple of notes:

I really dislike the atmosphere on a weeknight. Feels like a funeral. I bet the sat / sun morn is better.

There is a bar, you can sit there too. no one sits at the bar there.

Steam, on University proper, is a sister restaurant, so you can get similar quality there of a vastly reduced menu. Unfortunately the service is even slower and more uneven.

I have always liked the food, the atmosphere keeps me away.


#8

Why? Too quiet? I have not eaten there on a weeknight.

Sat / sun lunch was pretty lively since most of the tables are occupied.


(Brian Bulkowski) #9

Evenings the place is quite empty.


#10

Taipan’s dim sum staff is not equipped to handle a huge amount of traffic, such as before and during the holiday weekends when all the families, extended families gather for dimsum meals. Last weekend Taipan was absolutely slammed with groups of people waiting at the bar. There were some inconsistencies in the food.

The pan fried chicken bun was more greasy than usual and didn’t quite delight.


The fried durian pastry was mushy outside and barely warm. Sat too long?


The reliable siu mai got a weird locker room sweaty taste that my wife suggested was from the mushroom.


The steamed lotus leaf wrapped gluttonous rice was good. Taste was clean and neat.


The fried shrimp ball was also pretty nice.


#11

I’m glad to see Taipan getting more favourable attention from people whose taste I respect. For all the reasons stated by sck and bounce pass, it has long been my favourite place for dimsum and a few other things–the Shanghai crab, with its perfectly tender, creamy curds of egg white and crabmeat, might be the best dish on the menu.


#12

What are the things that you like besides Shanghai crab? How’s their live seafood price, btw?


#13

Apologies for the late response. As too often happens when I think about a suitable response, I think. . . and keep thinking. . . and then forget that I haven’t written anything down yet.

We’ve had lobster, crab, surf clams, steamed fish–and the prices are definitely higher-- maybe 15%-- than other Cantonese restaurants like Mayflower, but I’ve never had cause to complain about the quality of the seafood or the cooking, which has care and finesse that, for me, are worth the premium one pays.


#14

The last meal was a big disappointment to say the least. Check out the taro bun below. Misshapened, lukewarm. Felt like its leftover.

image

Compared to the one here from half a year ago from upthread:

WTF.

Some shrimp or scallop dumpling was so over-steamed that I literally couldn’t take the dumpling out of the trey before it spontaneously disintegrated because the skin couldn’t hold everything together.

The last dim sum dish was fine. (forgot what that was). The egg shrimp fried ho fun was also fine with good wok hay.


#15

With misgivings due to sck’s last report, I re-visited Tai Pan recently. Good news! I thought it was exactly the same – excellent – as my last two visits. Hopefully sck’s visit was an anomaly that will not be repeated.

I still believe that it’s the best in the Bay Area… with prices to match.


#16

Will definitely check this place out on our next trip to Palo Alto. We’ve eaten at steam once and I thought it was decent. Miss Andale’s though…


#17

Steam is run by the Tai Pan people, I believe.


#18

Its good to know that its not a death spiral. Because with that bad meal it is going to be hard to convince the wife to go back there again. With a good report, its easier.

I should, however, be more willing to send dishes back to the kitchen. We were in a hurry that day and didn’t do that, but should.


(Brian Bulkowski) #19

GF is now boycotting Steam. Took a long time to get a table when there were tables free. She hates that. We almost went to Tai Pan this week, ended up at Mandrin Roots, which I find pleasant about once a year.


#20

No more than that?