Sometimes it can be hard to venture into the Richmond on a brunch type of day. The ominous clouds lingering over that part of the city are threatening enough to extinguish all desire to explore the sprawling neighborhood lying west of USF. Yet, hidden between the infinite avenues and under the foreboding weather are culinary treasures, like the Mayflower Seafood Restaurant.
Mayflower Seafood offers traditional Cantonese cuisine and serves up a dim sum during brunch hours that would almost be a sin to miss.
During a traditional dim sum meal, servers push around heated carts adorned with all sorts of bite-sized Cantonese specialties and patrons may pick and choose as they please. The push-cart service is unique to dim sum and is an essential part of the experience. Mayflower does not provide this option for their customers, though. Instead, diners mark down specific dishes they would like to eat off the extensive menu.
My last trip to Mayflower took place on a Saturday during peak brunch hours. Walking in the door, we were welcomed by giant tanks of fish. Although alarming, the tanks were signs that the fish was, err, fresh. My companions glanced at me anxiously, but with a little encouragement, I convinced them to join me in the dining room adorned with 1980s chandeliers and other decor that seemed to be completely incoherent. The majority of the customers were Asian, which is always a good sign at a dim sum place. Servers bustled around with trays of steaming hot dumplings.
We tried eight dishes, beginning with the Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce ($4.85). The stalks of broccoli steam to a perfect crisp while the florets soak superbly in the oyster sauce. Although saltier than necessary, the oyster sauce was smoky and contained a much richer flavor than one normally finds.
The pan fried shrimp and chive dumplings ($2.85) were beautiful. The shrimp slightly overwhelmed the flavor of the chives, but the juxtaposition of textures, between the crisped dumpling and the soft, steamed shrimp, stimulated the mouth.
The noodles with vegetables ($4.85) should be skipped. Although stuffed with multiple species of mushrooms, bamboo, baby corn and yellow beans, the only flavor came from the dipping sauce delivered on the side. The white noodles tasted overcooked.
Overall, the winner on the menu was the pea sprout and shrimp dumpling ($2.85). As a dim sum fanatic, I can honestly tell you this is the finest dumpling in San Francisco. The steamed shell opened inside to a sensational combination of shrimp, pea sprouts and garlic. The minced shrimp was infused with garlic and paired perfectly with pea sprouts for a delectable twist on traditional dumplings.
For desert, make sure to try the steamed egg yolk bun ($2.10). When bitten, these opaque white dumplings reveal a warm golden custard that oozes into your mouth. Sweet, salty and buttery, they are the perfect way to top off your meal. Custard desserts are prevalent in Cantonese food, but most buns are filled with a thicker, custard familiar to French cooking. Instead, the filling of this bun is a more satisfying runny, burst of joy.
Dim sum at Mayflower will cost you around $15. Dishes are cheap but so was the service. Staff will bring you food, but do not expect to chat with them. The abundance of small dishes encourage experimentation and conversation throughout the meal. It’s affordable, conducive to a good discussion and the food is unforgettable.
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