It seems that we've set a tradition of visiting wildlife and family in California in January, and this year was no exception. We spent a day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium participating in the "Feeding Frenzy" optional tour and were mesmerized by the jellies and seahorse exhibits. Traveling further down the coast, we arrived at the Elephant Seal Viewing Point at Piedras Blancas (just north of San Simeon and Cambria) where vocalizing female elephant seals and their newly born pups populated the beach. Pismo Beach's Monarch Butterfly Grove was our next stop, and we were enchanted by the thousands of butterflies that clung to the eucalyptus branches in the early morning cool air. A little south of town we visited the towering, Lawrence of Arabia-like sand dunes before heading back up to San Luis Obispo for a delightful evening with family. The final stop on our excursion was a drive through the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge, which provides habitat (resting and feeding areas) for more than 40% of the Pacific Flyway's wintering waterfowl, and typically has about a bazillion snow geese. Not that day, though; it was beautiful and clear, and what geese there were, for the most part, rafted up well out of good camera range. We'll try again next year.
It might be a little hard to say what was our favorite wildlife sighting on this week long trip (guests at the aquarium, elephant seals and their pups on the beach, Monarch butterflies clinging to eucalyptus branches, clouds of waterfowl landing in the refuge), but there's no doubt that the Ton Kiang Dim Sum Restaurant in San Francisco would top the list of newly discovered eateries.
You're sure to be delighted with Ton Kiang's dim sum.
We've always loved dim sum. In fact, I'd have to confess that we consider ourselves something approaching aficionados of these tasty morsels. And there is no doubt in our minds that the dim sum at Ton Kiang matches or exceeds the finest that we've ever tasted... and that includes restaurants in Hong Kong and an extended trip to mainland China.
Located on Geary Boulevard, the restaurant is in a rather unassuming location, next to a busy Asian market on an equally busy 4-lane street. The restaurant has an attractive facade, but it's only when you open the restaurant door that you know that you've come to the right place: delicious aromas fill the air, and wait staff carrying astonishing platters of a never-ending variety of delicacies fill the space between the tables. The service is fast, friendly and never-ending. In most dim sum restaurants, the servers push wheeled carts around, each carrying two or more items; here, the wait staff carries a large tray through the restaurant with but a single item per tray. One circuit around the establishment, and anything left on a tray disappears into the kitchen and is replaced by a new item. As in most dim sum places, the servers speak limited English, and sometimes you have to make a guess or two. That's part of the fun.
Our favorite plate was, as you might guess, the succulent mushroom and shrimp dumplings, which elicited a delighted eye-roll from both of us; just thinking about them as we write this makes our mouth water. But we also loved the shrimp and spinach dumplings, the roast duck, the pea tips and shrimp dumplings, the rice noodle with BBQ pork and a soy based sauce, the pyramid shaped walnut cookies ... need I go on? Only with the ShuMai, a delicious shrimp and pork dumpling, which we felt was delicious but perhaps not the best we'd ever encountered, was there even the slightest reservation.
We made a valiant attempt to sample all the plates that came by our table, but there really can be too much of a good thing. We'll have to save the Shanghai meat dumplings, the shrimp stuffed crab claw, and the many other enticing morsels for a future visit.
Oh, and if you don't see your personal favorite in the hands of the wait staff, be sure to ask. Ton Kiang happily offers many dishes not on their printed menu.
There aren't many restaurants we would descibe as needing to be on your personal "bucket list" of places you have to go before you pass on, but a dim sum lunch at Ton Kiang is one of them!
Ton Kiang Restaurant
5821 Geary Blvd. (between 22nd and 23rd Avenues)
San Francisco, CA 94121
415.387.8273 or 415.386.8530