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Is Harborview, the Dim Sum Palace, Worth the Hype?

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Street entrance of Harborview off of Drumm Street. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

Worth the Hype? is a column by longtime food and drink writer Geri Koeppel, who will check out bars and restaurants (some new, others popular or exceptional in some way) on her own dime and tell you whether she thinks they’re worth the hype or not. The deciding factor: Whether she’d go back and spend money again. She might not be exactly broke-ass, but she’s definitely cheap-ass and doesn’t put up with a rip-off.

Where is it?: Harborview is in 4 Embarcadero Center, overlooking Embarcadero Plaza and with sparkling views of the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge. The space used to house Crystal Jade Jiang Nan, which was notable for its $14 million interior overhaul and generally awful reviews, both amateur and professional. You can enter via the bar (take the escalator or spiral concrete ramp up to the second level) or via 100 Drumm St., next to the Hyatt Regency, and take the elevator or stairs to the dining room entrance.

What is it?: A Cantonese restaurant by Kinson Wong, a founder of Anthony Bourdain-approved R&G Lounge, featuring dim sum, fresh seafood, traditional Cantonese dishes and spicy entrees. It has a serene white-tablecloth dining room with a few lazy susan tables for large parties and a large, comfortable lounge/bar area.

How much is it?: Varies widely depending on your order, but generally moderate. Most dim sum dishes are $5, $6.50 or $8; most entrees are about $18 to $20. Most seafood is market rate (expect high $30s for fish and about $30 a pound for lobster), whole Peking duck is $45, and roast whole suckling pig is $298 (it requires a 24-hour notice).

Hours: Lunch, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday–Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday–Sunday, dinner, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. daily, happy hour (bar and lounge only), 3 to 7 p.m. daily.

Worth the hype?: Yes.

Why? The dim sum is, in short, incredible. I might have eaten my weight in dim sum on the day I went, and I loved every bite. There was not one clunker, not one grease bomb, not one overly tough or chewy or salty moment. It was divine. The dim sum here is better than pretty much any you’ll get on this side of town except possibly Yank Sing, which is more expensive (and I don’t eat there because I’m not thrilled about the accusations of labor violations).

Scallop dumplings with tobiko at Harborview. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

My lunch partner and I met up around 11:30 a.m. on a rainy Wednesday and tables were plentiful, but it filled up quickly (they do take reservations and have an online wait list). We ordered a pot of green tea and started ordering off of the menu, but by noon, the carts were in full force, brimming with enticements of all shapes and fillings.

We started with steamed shrimp and leek dumplings ($8), baked BBQ pork buns with crunchy sugar crust ($6.50), and deep-fried shrimp toast ($10). The pork buns were transcendent: super soft and airy with a dusting of sugar and a pop of glazed shredded pork inside. The dumplings were as fine as any I have ever had, with an almost impossibly delicate wrapper filled with plump, well-seasoned shrimp.

My friend raved about the shrimp toast, one of his favorites. The batter was so light that it was only there to basically bind the shrimp to the fluffy bread; there wasn’t a hint of grease. It was topped with a tangy, creamy sauce that was a perfect complement.

Deep-fried shrimp toast at Harborview. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

As the cart passed by time and again, I found myself so entranced by the cornucopia of delights and the lovely smiles of the women offering them to me that I could not. stop. ordering. Over and over and over. Groan. If I have one word of advice to you, it’s to exercise more self-restraint than I did.

By the time we left, we’d also tried steamed rice flour rolls with beef, a hearty plate of cucumbers with garlic, more dumplings of various types, and mango pudding, among others. The scallop dumplings with dollops of tobiko were particularly impressive because the scallops were tender, not rubbery, and they delivered just enough briny flavor. Nothing was remotely greasy or clobbered with breading, as at other dim sum places I’ve patronized.

In addition to the attentive cart ladies, our server came by regularly to check on us, and the pot of tea never went empty. Service at the former Crystal Jade was so non-existent that it became a running joke among my friends: We often wondered if the bar was self-serve. This is a pleasant 180-degree change, with conscientious staff and management hell-bent on making sure everyone has a boatload of food and leaves fat and happy.

Steamed rice flour rolls with beef. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

I must admit, I’ve already become so smitten with the place that I’ve been twice for happy hour as well, and it’s one of the best in the FiDi. Sapporo draft or Tsing Tao bottles are $5, decent house wine and well cocktails are $7, and appetizers run $5 to $9 (the glazed pork has become a fast favorite of mine).

I only tried one entree (sautéed prawns and snow peas in shimmery X.O. sauce, $18) at the bar one night and haven’t tried any fresh fish or shellfish, but based on the positives so far, I wouldn’t hesitate to return for a full dinner. And dim sum will definitely be on the to-do list regularly. I love that it’s offered seven days a week—a great addition to the somewhat dead weekend dining scene for those of us who live in and near downtown, and it’s a convenient stop if you’re playing host to visitors.

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Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel is a journalist, hedonist, gadfly and gal-about-town. She loves animals, despises hypocrites, and will do almost anything for good pierogis.