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City View, San Francisco, California, Tasted on June 9, 2006  Since there's been so much discussion lately on the topic of originality, I think writing about dim sum is the right contrast. For an ethnic food, you can get a surprisingly consistent set of offerings at dim sum restaurants across the country (and even across the world). This got me to thinking about how to judge the quality of Dim Sum restaurants. If the bulk of the offerings are the same then it really reduces teh factors you can use to judge the meal. And frankly, given all the focus on food as fashion lately, this type of focus seems like a good thing.

In some ways Har Gow, the simple shrimp dumpling is the perfect baseline with which to measure the quality of a Dim Sum restaurant. It's shrimp wrapped in rice noodle Tang flour or high protein wheat starch (thanks Richard). (Typically) nothing else. It doesn't get much simpler. Some might find it boring, or not an opportunity to express creativity. I find that it shines a white hot spotlight on the quality of a restaurant. Is it piping hot, or lukewarm? Is the rice noodle thin and cooked slightly past al dente or is  it gelatinous and starchy? Is the shrimp flavorful and fresh, or just a lump in the middle of the dumpling?

Once we've gotten past quality ingredients, perfect texture, clean fresh flavors, and hitting the serving window then an interesting and wide variety of dumplings can be interesting. I have no clue if it's traditional but frankly I like it when there are non dim sum dishes served in smaller portions as part of the dim sum experience (e.g. this chicken and this shrimp).

So, how did City View fare? Pretty well in fact. The flavors were fresh, clean, and present, there were lots of interesting dishes, and the cooking was refined and focused. I'll admit I was surprised. My San Francisco dim sum perspective had devolved into a Yank Sing vs. Ton Kiang discussion only. In retrospect, this is silly given the decentvariety of pretty good (and some great) Chinese restaurants. My sister had recommended City View for years and I sort of ignored her. Upon reflection I think it was the name that threw me. I had some image of the restaurant that served western food with a few dim sum items. Super odd, but there was my prejudice. Name aside, City View is an excellent place to go for refined, focused, and flavorful dumplings. Definitely enjoyable.

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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