When it comes to SOMA Dim Sum, there are only two real choices: Yank Sing and Canton. Considering that I didn't want to take out a second mortgage, Yank Sing was out - leaving us with Canton.
We've been to Canton once before, about 10 years ago, and we weren't that impressed - but considering that it has survived in that same location for over a decade, I figured it could warrant another visit.
Canton is, well, cantonese - which means they focus on seafood. This is completely evident when you see the fish tanks lining the back wall - filled with bass, catfish, lobsters and dungeness crabs. Considering that most of our favorite Dim Sum has some form of seafood in it, this was a very good sign.
First off, the decor - sea foam green. Nothing interesting at all about the space aside from the fish tanks. There was a neon martini glass near the bar and some flowers which may or may not have been fake. This isn't bad, as it means that the focus is on the food.
The clientele is predominantly Chinese. Actually, when we got there, we were the only non-Asians in the restaurant, and by the time we left, we could count the number of non-Asians on two hands. This is also a good sign - seeing tables with three generations of a Chinese family enjoying dumplings and noodles together tells me that it's going to be more authentic - no shrimp wrapped in bacon like at Yank Sing!
The staff, well, they were pushy. Like previous reviewers said, they'll put the dishes on your plate, forcing you to tell them that you aren't interested. The server automatically brought us jasmine tea, which was nice, but I prefer something with a little more kick like Pu Erh.
Now onto the food...
Everything that had seafood in it was outstanding. The highlight was the crab claws - surrounded with a mixture of white fish, crab and shrimp, lightly battered and fried until it was golden brown. The seasoning was perfect with a pronounced ginger taste, and they were so juicy that it sprayed hot broth in my mouth when I bit into it the first time. These were the best I have had in San Francisco, hands down. The fried shrimp balls, which are a crab-less version of the crab claw stuffing, rolled and covered with strips of wonton wrapper and deep fried were also outstanding.
Flavor wise, the dumplings were fantastic: har gao, pan-fried shrimp and chive, shrimp and cilantro, scallop siu mai and the standard pork and shrimp sui mai were all very good, however the dough used for the dumpling skins were a little less elegant than those at Yank Sing or Ton Kiang, leaving them a touch gummy. Still, the freshness of the fish more than made up for this small defect.
The pork dishes, however, were lacking. The char siu bao were good, but the seasoning tasted of clove and five-spice and was just a little too dry. The xiu long bao, or shanghai pork dumplings, were just disappointing - flavorless, gummy and served with a black vinegar instead of the traditional red, which was way too sweet.
The price? Fantastic. We ate more than we should, and before tax, it was $18 per person.
If you stick with the seafood, it's a definite four star - not close to the best, but pretty darn good. Vary from the fish and you may just regret it...