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Sunday, August 10, 2003

Y Ben House dim sum--not worth it

While strolling down to the boulange on Polk this morning, we changed our minds on a whim and headed instead to Chinatown for Dim Sum. I had been meaning to try Y Ben House ever since I saw a positive review on eGullet.

After a stop at a phone booth to look up the address, we found ourselves at Y Ben House. The first glance at the floor gave me a slight pause. It appeared to need a good scrubbing or two, or three. Never been known to let a dirty decor stop us from a promising meal, especially not in Chinatown, we soldiered on.

The abrupt hostess handed us a number and told us ten minutes, which in chinatownspeak was something like "how should I know how long it's gonna take, just wait!". We settled down on a nearby chairs and buried our respective noses patiently in the Sunday Times. Twenty minutes or so into the wait, Chris was turning pale with hunger, I shifted my attention from the paper to what the hostess was shouting into the crowd...
"gao-sub-sam how", she belted.
That's 93, our number was 84.
It was probably a larger party, I thought to myself, but then I saw a older chinese couple approaching the receptionist.

Alarmed that we may have missed our turn, I walked up to her and asked if she had already called #84. Hovering over her clipboard, probably so I wouldn't see it, she answered,
"no, not your number yet".
In the same breath, she turned to the chinese couple and said
"gao-sub-sam how? liang guh?"
#93? Two people?
They nodded and she signaled a waiter to take them to their table.
"You bigger number", she responded to my quizzical look.

I was incensed. "You just called gao-sub-sam how, that's 93", I said indignantly.
"We are 84, that's pba-sub-si how, I know, I can understand that much Cantonese!".
Clearly embarrassed, she pointed to a table that was being cleared, "that one yours, you next."

Too hungry to go find a table elsewhere, we took it. That was our second mistake.

Our table was still not completely cleared when we got up to it. A busboy appeared to take away the plates, he pulled out a dirty rag to wipe the table in one wide sweep. One. The pink-ish tablecloth was almost as icky looking as the floor.

We sat down anyway, and started grabbing food from passing carts. Before long, crowding on our table were sesame balls, hargow (shrimp dumplings), siumai (pork dumplings), ha cheung fun(shrimp wrapped in fresh noodles), fried gao-choy gow (shrimp/pork/chives dumplings), and fong-jao (stewed chicken feet).

The sesame balls were yummy enough but the crust was much too thick. They resembled those one could get from a cheap to-go dimsum place rather than what one would get at a proper sit-down restaurant. The dumpling fillings in general were quite fresh, but the dough were much too thick, except for the hargow, whose wrapping was very thin but inexplicably sticky----sort of like eating saran-wrapped shirmps.

Fong-jao and Lai-whang-bao (steamed custard bun) are my two standards for measuring how good a dimsum place is. I tasted Fong-jao here, but after a fifteen minutes wait for Lai-whang-bao to come by, I gave up. The fong-jao was also a disappointment. The chicken feet were not tender, nor falling off the bone, as they should have been. The taste was startlingly sweet without any complexity. I didn't even finish one.

I have to say I was really surprised at the positive review this place has had on eGullet. Perhaps this was their off day, but I really don't think I'd go back for another try.


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