New Asia Restaurant Is Loud, Bright, and Very Gold

New_Asia_taropuff.JPG
Jonathan Kauffman
New Asia Restaurant's taro puffs.
Rice Plate Journal is a yearlong project to canvas Chinatown, block by block, discovering the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price: $10.

"Ng saap sei! Fifty-four!" the cashier called into the microphone, the numbers resounding out onto Pacific Ave. "Ng saap sei!"

I waved my numbered ticket and she pointed me toward a waiter who'd emerged from the sea of tables. He made a few semaphore gestures, turned around, and walked briskly back into the crowd, and my friend and I jogged to catch up with him. All around us: Old men and young children. As I walked to our table, I watched a woman bite into a steamed bun and smile, the expression amplified in the wrinkles covering her face into a state of yogic bliss, and it was hard not to smile back. 

New Asia looks like a cross between a 1940s dining hall and a party palace, with chandeliers, a cracked terrazzo floor, and a dais backed in quilted gold satin for the guests of honor. The color palette is taken from Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson statue (Flickr is filled with wedding photos taken at New Asia). The high room vibrates with noise.

New_Asia_interior.jpg
David Silver/Flickr
New Asia's interior.
It's not hard to fill the table up with dumplings and other snacks within a matter of minutes. Half of the tables were sharing plates of lobster chow mein, and every five minutes we'd see another waiter circulating with plates garnished in bright-red heads. But we stuck to the standards, and their quality proved middling -- black-bean spare ribs, cold pot stickers, chewy pan-fried shrimp-and-chive dumplings and chewier sesame balls, gai lan with oyster sauce. (The latter: $8!). A steamer of xiaolongbao came by, and we called that over too. The soup dumplings were sloppily formed, but the chopped pork floated in a pool of broth and fat that gushed from each dumpling when we bit in.

If there was a dish I'd return for, it would be the lobster noodles. (Conformity always has its rewards.) Second choice: the "bees' nest" taro puffs, ovals of purple-gray puréed taro wrapped around seasoned pork. The outer layer is mixed with tapioca flour so that, in the fryer, it becomes a lacy golden cloud. There aren't many dim sum places that can produce taro puffs with the same succession of distinctive textures -- feathery crunch segueing into creamy taro and the granular chewiness of ground meat. Between shouting out numbers, the cashier totalled up my check, and I headed back to work, hoping I'd drunk enough tea to prevent that dim sum drowsiness from wiping out the afternoon.

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New Asia Restaurant

772 Pacific, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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Joe
Joe

It's sad that there seem to be no excellent dim sum places in Chinatown. ( Rose Pak, a few great Chinese restaurants will do more for Chinatown than any subway!)

When New Asia first opened, it was a destination dim sum house. Now, as you say, it's middling. Whatever you do, don't go there toward the end of the dim sum hours. The carts will be wheeling cold, tired, shriveled fare.

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