Dim sum in the Castro? Yeah, I know, you have visions of gray steam trays loaded with yellowish blobs of pot stickers next to gelatinous globules of brown that says it's sweet and sour chicken, but this isn't it. Nor is it the over crowded and loud experience of dim sum carts rushing between tables with fare isn't exactly just cooked. Mama Ji's (no website) is something a little different and that's a good thing.
Located way up 18th street in a more residential section of the Castro, Mama Ji's is a cute little sit down place that doesn't give off that rushed vibe of traditional dim sum places. The menu is on the table and some items have pictures, some just a title. You check the ones you want and had it off to the waitress. Me and my friend Miss O, who joined me on this jaunt, start with four items to get a varied taste of their offerings.
First up is shrimp stuffed bell peppers and pea sprout shrimp dumplings. It only takes a few minutes for our first choices to come out but from my clear view of the kitchen they are basically making everything as it is ordered, nice. Biting into the dumpling the first thought that comes to mind is fresh. The dough wrap isn't too sticky or gummy and held up nicely as I mercilessly tried to pick it up with my chopsticks, my skills seem to have slipped. The shrimp is ground with hints of ginger and garlic, though not overwhelming. And I can actually taste the green of the pea shoots if that makes any sense. They are very tasty and even better after a light dip in soy sauce. The 'stuffed' bell peppers as you can see are more like spread on top. The shrimp is ground again with the same spices but this time it's more baked on top of the pepper which is still crisp and crunchy to the the bite. We did like this though the one misfire here was the sauce. It was a thick brown thing with sesame seeds and it had absolutely no flavor what so ever, I mean nothing. We both tasted it and literally nothing registered on our taste buds. That being said, the sauce wasn't really necessary, they could have just served it without it and the dish would be fine.
Next up were the bbq pork rice rolls and deep fried meat dumpling. The bbq pork itself was tangy and slightly sweet, much like the filling you get in a steamed pork bun. I enjoyed it much more than the rice wrap which was okay, but I might have liked a little less stickiness, but that is more personal taste. Again, I'll say the same about the deep fried meat dumplings. The outside had a nice crisp and the cubed beef filling had a pleasant tangy sweet flavor, but part of me didn't enjoy the gumminess once you bit into it. This was Miss O's choice and seeing as how it's one of her favorite dim sum dishes I'll let her opinion of it stand. She thought it was good, tasty version, though sweeter than some others she has had. And while others have been a bit crispier and a little less sticky, it was hot out of the fryer and a very good version of a meat dumpling. So there you have it. Moving on....
We finished off the meal with shanghai dumplings and seared pumpkin cake. The dumplings came with a side of shredded ginger in soy sauce which helped the flavor a bit on these. While they were fresh out of the kitchen, the dough was perfect and not sticky, the ground chicken was tasty but lacked a bit on the seasoning in the filling. Dipping in the sauce helped add some kick to it. The seared pumpkin cakes where deep fried then seared and filled with sweet red bean paste, and yes, this was dessert and I kind of liked it. Usually anything deep fried is a winner for me and the addition of pumpkin was a tasty flavor treat. These were just a tiny sticky inside but it didn't detract from the sweet crunchy ball, it actually was a gooey benefit to it. The red bean paste was sweet but not too sweet and mixed with the pumpkin it was like a twist on yummy fall dessert. A great topper to the meal which I'm always a fan of.
Mama Ji's dim sum is a great alternative to fighting the crowds in Chinatown. They make your food as it is ordered which helps infuse the pockets of meat and veggies with fresh taste. There are many things on their menu to choose from which makes it worth going back to and try. Overall, because of their attention to each order, this place is a winner, especially if you live in the neighborhood. I liked it, Miss O liked it, you might like it too.