Cai Chinatown Dim Sum Hall | San Francisco, CA

Feasting at Chinatown's new dim sum hall, Cai

With sparkling crystal light fixtures, silk-covered chairs and brightly patterned carpets, Cai is long on Chinatown glitz.

And as with all great dim sum houses, the best bites come in small, humble packages.

Carts occasionally circulate, but the best approach is to order off the lengthy dim sum menu, 70 dishes deep and offered until 4 p.m. daily. Order from the "steamed" section, and blanket the table with bamboo steamers. They're packed with salty treasures like pale but flavorful shrimp har-gow dumplings and chiu-chow dumplings, rice-flour wrappers packed with a crunchy, peppery filling of minced pork, peanuts, celery and scallions.

Pea tendril-and-mushroom dumplings owe their savory funk to dried scallops, and siu mai are dense orbs of ground shrimp and pork, each deservingly served without dipping sauce.

There is life beyond dumplings, of course. Sticky rice studded with Chinese sausage, silky bean-curd skin stuffed with minced pork, and fluffy buns packed with sweet, saucy barbecued pork serve as excellent detours. For those who enjoy the slippery skin of chicken feet, Cai's are doused in garlicky, sop-worthy Peking sauce.

We're already planning for plates of rice-noodle rolls and congee on our next visit.

Cai, 2100 S. Archer Ave., Suite 2F; 312-326-6888