Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dim Sum Club in Russian Hill

Given its non-Chinatown neighborhood and location on the first floor of Da Vinci Villa Hotel, some diners might question the authenticity of Dim Sum Club. Russian Hill? A hotel named after a dead Italian dude? These things do raise reasonable doubts. But let me assure you, on my Chinese grandfather's honor, that this San Francisco dumpling paradise doesn't serve what some may call "American Chinese food." Everything here is orthodox through and through. We were hungry and shamelessly gluttonous when we went there last week. It was just me and hubby, but our orders fully spread over a table for four. And among those scrumptious small plates, there were three funky items worthy of a special acknowledgement. Keep in mind that the word "funky" here doesn't mean odd or interestingly unique. I'm using this word in its original literal sense. 

The first is the chicken congee (rice porridge) with pieces of thousand-year egg. In case you're not familiar with it, let me elaborate. A thousand-year egg is an egg preserved in clay, ash, salt and a few other god-knows-whats. The preservation process probably doesn't last a thousand years as its misnomer indicates, but long enough to make the egg look like something that has survived a nuclear bomb and mutated almost beyond recognition. The yolk is murky-green, the egg white translucent-brown, the texture gelatinous, and the flavor mildly briny. Its odor of ammonia, although not overwhelming, is quite pronounced. No wonder why in Thai we call it "kai yeow ma," meaning "horse-urine egg." Anyway, the chicken congee and thousand-year egg prove to be a blissfully compatible couple. The lovely congee broth tames the egg's funk down a bit while the egg serves as an extra seasoning that elevates the rather boring porridge to something incredibly umami. 

Another slightly funkier dish is the deep-fried turnip cake, which is pungent with the smells of dried shrimp and lap cheong (Chinese pork sausage). The surf outshines the turf just by a tad in the funk arena, but both harmoniously contribute to the finger-licking salty zing. Light but firm in texture, it's like an Asian version of potato pancakes your grandmama makes with a huge dose of love. And then there's the funkiest of the funky: the durian puffs. Durian is a sweet tropical fruit that even Andrew Zimmern, a renowned bizarre-food enthusiast, finds daunting. I believe he once compared its odor to that of rotten meat. Well, I beg to differ. Rotten meat is unbearably foul and I wouldn't touch anything that smells as such. But I eat durian and quite happily so! To me, it smells more like a combination of stinky cheese and a fruit that has been way, way, way overripe. It's a good type of funk, but I do admit it's an acquired taste. And the texture? Soft and creamy, similar to a ripe banana. Now imagine that sweet funky goodness stuffed inside a flaky pastry and baked until golden. Take a bite while it's still warm, and you're in Durian Heaven! 

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