Signifying the ancient name for Canton, Yank Sing was the first dim sum restaurant in San Francisco to move outside of Chinatown, and has been serving both traditional and contemporary-style dim sum since 1958. Founded by Alice Chan, this family business has been around for three generations; it continues to expand its services and dining experiences through event catering, wedding banquet services, and even a take-out service. Although Yank Sing is only open during lunch and brunch hours in conjunction with their catering and take-out service, you can dine on dim sum delicacies for any occasion. Diners can choose to eat inside the restaurant or out in the atrium, which can fill quickly during the weekend brunches.
Located on the first floor of the marbled Rincon Center in downtown San Francisco, the entrance to Yank Sing looks shiny and new, and the atrium that leads to its entrance has a skylight that floods the entire space with natural light. The restaurant itself is spacious with ample seating, yet feels cozy with smaller tables adorned with crisp white tablecloths. The décor is modern, simple and strategic. Asian-designed, frosted glass partitions act as screens between tables, providing a measure of privacy for diners, while the dark blue patterned carpeting helps keep noise levels down. The isles between tables are wide enough for servers, carts, and diners alike.
The atmosphere is bustling during the weekend brunch hours and weekday lunch hours. During the week, you’ll find many tourists and business people having lunch, while families and locals pack the place on the weekends. The lively scene is typical of what one expects from a popular dim sum restaurant – but even with their team of busy servers and their consistently filled large seating capacity, Yank Sing is not hectic. Carts glide through the room unhurriedly; the dining atmosphere is friendly and efficient.
Once seated, guests can choose from a variety of beverages. Yank Sing offers over ten kinds of wine by the glass, and over twenty selections by the bottle. The wine menu also helpfully lists which foods pair best with each kind of wine. About half of the wines are from the Northern California area; there are also a few French selections, champagne, sparkling wine, and sake. It is customary to drink tea with dim sum, and Yank Sing’s Jasmine Tea is fragrant and palate cleansing, presented in a modern clear glass teapot.
Almost immediately, servers with carts offering several kinds of dishes begin stopping by tables. With over a hundred dishes to choose from, particularly voracious diners have the opportunity to sample every kind of meat, vegetable, noodle, dumpling, and dessert in one sitting. Most dishes are plated to serve two to four servings, and are ideal for sharing. Servers will take the time to explain ingredients and components of different plates, opening different platters to allow you to peruse their offerings before ordering. If there is a dish that a guest wishes to eat that is not on the menu, the servers may submit the order and serve it in the manner of traditional restaurants.
The Shanghai Dumplings, this restaurant’s signature dish, have a flavorful soup sealed inside with a filling that bursts with flavor. The dumplings arrive in a bamboo-lidded basket that releases a cloud of steam when opened. Wrapped in a delicate, translucent skin beautifully arranged into a twist, the dumplings are prepared with savory scallions and are served with a tart red vinegar and julienned ginger. I prefer to use my spoon to eat each dumpling in one bite: once bitten into, the broth (which is arguably the best part of the dumpling) will spill out.
The Shrimp Dumplings (Ha Gau) are a dim sum standard, and can practically be found at any dim sum bakery or restaurant. Yank Sing’s Shrimp Dumplings, with their slightly translucent and shiny skins, are fresh tasting with a wonderful meaty texture paired with the slight crunch of winter bamboo shoot tips. Dipping the dumplings in a small amount of soy sauce and chili oil, I quickly realized that one order would not be enough.
Pork Siu Mye -- a small, crimped “basket” of pork, shrimp, and mushrooms -- is another dish that is traditional to dim sum. The basket is a paper-thin, flour-based wonton skin that opens on the top like a flower, allowing the filling to show. One of the hallmarks of this dish is its texture; if the meat isn’t chopped well enough or is overcooked, the siu mye will easily expose these shortcomings with an unpleasant toughness and gristliness. Yank Sing’s Pork Siu Mai has a well-balanced texture of firm and tender, and is juicy with flavor. The thin, delicate skin of the basket is also very good, maintaining its moisture through the bamboo steamer.
Simple in concept yet deceptively difficult to master, the Turnip Cakes are another dim sum classic. The turnips are first mashed into a chunky paste, which is mixed with pork bits, then seasoned and fried; the key to turning out a good turnip cake is in the oil used to fry it and the time it takes to serve it. If left out after frying, the cakes can become soggy. The Turnip Cakes at Yank Sing are fresh tasting and not too oily at all. While perhaps not as initially exciting in description as some of the other dishes, the savory taste of turnips is surprising – I’ll never look at a turnip the same way again!
While the dessert carts lure many with appealing choices like the more traditional Sesame Balls, Egg Custard Tarts, and Mango Puddings; a wonderful dessert option is the Silken Tofu. Truly a dish that lives up to its name, the silky texture of the tofu paired with a delicately sweet ginger syrup is the fitting finish to a satisfying meal. Unlike the tofu that one buys in packs at the supermarket, this tofu is extremely fresh and soft. Served warm in a glass bowl, the sweetness of the ginger paired with the fresh taste of soybean is subtle and delicious.
By offering guests an authentic sampling of Chinese dim sum cuisine, Yank Sing creates a comfortable and casual family-style dining experience that boasts the added luxury of picking and choosing any dish that passes by. Time, and dishes, simply flies by in this dining oasis as guests delight on all the tasty treats that come their way. Great for a friendly business lunch or a big family brunch, Yank Sing offers a first class dim sum dining experience in a modern atmosphere that will have you coming back for seconds.