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Dim Sum Throwdown- The Phoenix vs Shui Wah

Dim Sum Throwdown- The Phoenix vs Shui Wah
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  • Dim Sum Throwdown- The Phoenix vs Shui Wah

    Post #1 - October 14th, 2008, 4:20 pm
    Post #1 - October 14th, 2008, 4:20 pm Post #1 - October 14th, 2008, 4:20 pm
    I love Dim Sum. My go to for many years has been the Phoenix. I often go during the week for lunch with my partners. They treat me very well, show my kids the fish tanks in the back, etc. Maybe I am biased but I really enjoy The Phoenix.

    I know Shui Wah gets a lot of love on this board. I have been several times but find that it doesnt float my boat the same way The Phoenix does. I will confess that at my regular lunches at the Phoenix we will often order a Peking Duck or other entree dishes. This is something that i have not done/would not do at Shui Wah. At Shui Wah I stick to the Dim Sum. I find it to be good, just not nearly as good as the Phoenix for several reasons. Cart service, by the way, has nothing to do with these opinions. Interestingly when I asked the other solo diners at my Shui Wah table why they eat at Shui Wah they all said that the Phoenix was too expensive.

    Today I had the morning off before i had to schlep to Midway to pick up my family. I decided to conduct a little experiment, ordering the same plates at both The Phoenix and Shui Wah for a little side-by-side comparison. I was alone so I wasnt totally glutunous. I stuck with the four dishes that are my favorites when I eat dim sum. I wish I brought my camera, but didnt.

    The four dishes I ordered were Bbq Pork Buns, Steamed Rice in tea/lotus leaf, Shrimp Crepes and Potstickers. I also ordered steamed spare rib at Shui Wah just to try it, but that isnt part of this comparison.

    Preliminaries: I found the chili oil at Shui Wah to be bland tasteless crap. The same goes for the vinegar, hoisin and mustard. It seems obvious that these condiments were all food service produced. If I am wrong, I apologize, but I found the condiments to be far better at The Phoenix.

    BBq Pork Buns. This was an absolute tie on my absolute favorite dish. I love Steamed Bbq Pork Buns and both were exactly how I like them which is big, fluffy and hot. If I were only going to eat this dish I would go to Shui Wah only because their version is slightly cheaper.

    Steamed Rice: The Phoenix's version was far superior. More "present" tea flavor and a more finely chopped pork which i prefer. The Chili Oil at Shui Wah really ruined this for me too. Even without the Chili Oil I give the edge to The Phoenix.

    Shrimp Crepes: Again the edge goes to the Phoenix. While the crepes are slightly smaller at The Phoenix they also were not as gummy. I found the Crepes at Shui Wah to one big ball of congealed mess. They were very difficult to seperate and tasted too mushy. The crepes at The Phoenix were more refined.

    Potstickers: This could go either way depending on how you like your potstickers. The dumplings at Shui Wah were HUGE. The were so overstuffed that when I bit into one all of the filing would exect out of the other end of the dumpling. They were also slightly greasy. That having been said they were very good but IMO just not as good as the Potstickers at The Phoenix which I find to be excellent and not at all greasy.

    Price: $16.50 at Shui Wah (including the fifth dish which I didnt order at the Phoenix) and $20+ (I forgot to write down the total and I now forget) at The Phoenix. Not an insignificant price difference.

    Overall, I have to pick The Phoenix as my preference for Dim Sum over Shui Wah. Shui Wah was good, just not nearly as good as The Phoenix. I guess that it is true that the little things make the difference.
  • Post #2 - October 14th, 2008, 10:13 pm
    Post #2 - October 14th, 2008, 10:13 pm Post #2 - October 14th, 2008, 10:13 pm
    I have been to Phoenix a lot, lately as well as in the past. We were just there last Friday for the umpteenth time. The quality of the dim sum is to me above reproach, way better than Shui Wah and LTH. And what has always attracted me is the quality of the service as well. It's an attractive spot, and we are well known there. Our preferences are known and attended to, which in my book counts a lot. To me every dish is better than the same versions at Shui Wah. Phoenix to me has not yet been exceeded by any other spot in Chinatown. Your mileage may vary. But this is my go to spot.
    trpt2345
  • Post #3 - October 15th, 2008, 8:09 am
    Post #3 - October 15th, 2008, 8:09 am Post #3 - October 15th, 2008, 8:09 am
    Agree generally with the comments above. Our last few visits to Phoenix have been very good. One big plus for Phoenix is that they have xiao long bao at least on weekends, which are good by Chicago standards. But I wouldn't give a huge edge to Phoenix. Shui Wah has the fried squid, which is a delicious thing unto its own and sometimes I have had items at Shui Wah I have preferred (e.g., turnip cakes were very nicely done on a recent visit there).

    As noted, Phoenix prices are much higher now. They do validate, which I don't believe Shui Wah does, but that parking lot has become a lot more restrictive now. I think they only accept validation during meal hours. Went to dim sum early once (maybe around 10:00 or 10:30 and validation was not available (Phoenix said that it was the parking lot's decision not to accept).
  • Post #4 - October 15th, 2008, 9:04 am
    Post #4 - October 15th, 2008, 9:04 am Post #4 - October 15th, 2008, 9:04 am
    iblock9 wrote:Shui Wah was good, just not nearly as good as The Phoenix.


    trpt2345 wrote:Phoenix to me has not yet been exceeded by any other spot in Chinatown.


    I'm JayK and I approve this message. In fact, I wholeheartedly endorse everything contained in iblock9 & trpt2345's posts; I personally believe as US Americans, it will be in everybody's best interest to go to Phoenix from now on for their dim-sum needs and to help South Africa, the Iraq and the Asian countries. AND because this will allow me a better chance to get a table at Shui Wah :twisted:
  • Post #5 - October 15th, 2008, 9:17 am
    Post #5 - October 15th, 2008, 9:17 am Post #5 - October 15th, 2008, 9:17 am
    Hao wrote: One big plus for Phoenix is that they have xiao long bao at least on weekends, which are good by Chicago standards.


    It is funny that you mention this because i have never been to the Phoenix when they have xiao long bao even though Julie has told me they are available on the weekends. The last time I was in on a Sunday morning, which was a few weeks ago, she said they were all out. I'll have to make a Sat trip to see if they really exist.
  • Post #6 - October 15th, 2008, 9:31 am
    Post #6 - October 15th, 2008, 9:31 am Post #6 - October 15th, 2008, 9:31 am
    My 2 cents...

    I know Shui Wah is a board favorite for dim sum. Honestly, it doesn't do much for me. I prefer Happy Chef, then Phoenix...

    Mike and I had dim sum at Koi Palace in Daly City, CA a few weeks ago, and some of the items were better at Happy Chef. For example the rice rolls at Koi Palace were thick and gummy, unlike the smooth and delicate ones at Happy Chef. Happy Chef has one of my favorite dim sum items: curry squid! But Koi Palace has the cholestrol laden "lau sar bao" (molten mixture of custard and duck egg)

    Image

    Bottom Line: Mike and I have tried Shui Wah a few times, and each time we wished we went to Happy Chef instead... So for now, you can find us at Happy Chef every Sunday... :)
  • Post #7 - October 15th, 2008, 10:24 am
    Post #7 - October 15th, 2008, 10:24 am Post #7 - October 15th, 2008, 10:24 am
    Hao wrote:...that parking lot has become a lot more restrictive now. I think they only accept validation during meal hours. Went to dim sum early once (maybe around 10:00 or 10:30 and validation was not available (Phoenix said that it was the parking lot's decision not to accept).

    The main Chinatown parking lot by the L now has an automated payment with a "coupon" option. Those places that used to validate now hand out coupons identical in form factor to the original ticket. Put your ticket in, then the coupon, and you'll get the discounted rate. No muss, no fuss, no humans to make decisions.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #8 - October 15th, 2008, 11:13 am
    Post #8 - October 15th, 2008, 11:13 am Post #8 - October 15th, 2008, 11:13 am
    iblock9 wrote:
    Hao wrote: One big plus for Phoenix is that they have xiao long bao at least on weekends, which are good by Chicago standards.


    It is funny that you mention this because i have never been to the Phoenix when they have xiao long bao even though Julie has told me they are available on the weekends. The last time I was in on a Sunday morning, which was a few weeks ago, she said they were all out. I'll have to make a Sat trip to see if they really exist.


    Helps to ask the waiters for an order of it. Items in high demand sometimes don't make it all the way around. The waiters are generally very accommodating. I've also been there early or late on a weekend and they did not have them at those times. The xiao long bao are not really worth going out of your way for, but good to try if you are there.

    Re parking, Phoenix would said they could not do validation one time when were there early. I did not ask whether they could give me a coupon to try anyway. Phoenix did have a notice posted about this. Curious if anyone managed to get the validation to work at "unapproved" times. The unvalidated price is much higher than it used to be (maybe $8-9 compared to $5-6 in the past).
  • Post #9 - October 15th, 2008, 11:26 am
    Post #9 - October 15th, 2008, 11:26 am Post #9 - October 15th, 2008, 11:26 am
    CrazyC wrote:My 2 cents...

    I know Shui Wah is a board favorite for dim sum. Honestly, it doesn't do much for me. I prefer Happy Chef, then Phoenix...

    Bottom Line: Mike and I have tried Shui Wah a few times, and each time we wished we went to Happy Chef instead... So for now, you can find us at Happy Chef every Sunday... :)


    Amen, sister. We've been going to Happy Chef for years, but tried Shui Wah since it was a board fave. The ambiance is no nicer and the service was awful. They forgot 2 of our items. And yes, the rice rolls at Happy Chef are ethereal, the shrimp are pristinely fresh.

    Hmmm, we haven't been for a while - we'll be there Saturday I think.
  • Post #10 - October 15th, 2008, 11:58 am
    Post #10 - October 15th, 2008, 11:58 am Post #10 - October 15th, 2008, 11:58 am
    Hm... perhaps we'll have to make a visit to Happy Chef as well... CrazyC's got some street cred when it comes to this sort of thing. :wink:
  • Post #11 - October 15th, 2008, 12:35 pm
    Post #11 - October 15th, 2008, 12:35 pm Post #11 - October 15th, 2008, 12:35 pm
    One other parking note: If I remember correctly, LTH had a sign that they had a $10 minimum for the parking coupon.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #12 - December 22nd, 2008, 1:58 pm
    Post #12 - December 22nd, 2008, 1:58 pm Post #12 - December 22nd, 2008, 1:58 pm
    Had two absolutely outstanding Christmas-time lunches at the Phoenix today and last week. While my faves continue to include Dim Sum usual suspects like sticky rice, shrimp crepe, pot stickers and pork buns, I had a few new (to me) dishes that were terrific.

    Eggplant with minced pork szechuan was outstanding as was a fried rice dish called "Rich man's" fried rice which was made with egg white and dried scallops. Outstanding. Furthermore, the house special beef tenderloin was also spot on.

    I continue to enjoy the Phoenix for its mix of great Dim Sum and outstanding entree dishes.
  • Post #13 - December 23rd, 2008, 2:35 pm
    Post #13 - December 23rd, 2008, 2:35 pm Post #13 - December 23rd, 2008, 2:35 pm
    Guess I have to go back to Phoenix and also try Happy Chef. I have been stuck in a happy Shui Wah rut for a while, after having spent a number of years before that going to Phoenix. I actually prefer ordering from the menu, and also like the atmosphere and service better in Shui Wah, not as highfalutin' as Phoenix. Plus their location and hours are a bit more convenient. But since it is really about the food, I am convinced that it is time to break that habit.
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #14 - December 23rd, 2008, 3:44 pm
    Post #14 - December 23rd, 2008, 3:44 pm Post #14 - December 23rd, 2008, 3:44 pm
    dicksond wrote:Guess I have to go back to Phoenix and also try Happy Chef. I have been stuck in a happy Shui Wah rut for a while, after having spent a number of years before that going to Phoenix. I actually prefer ordering from the menu, and also like the atmosphere and service better in Shui Wah, not as highfalutin' as Phoenix. Plus their location and hours are a bit more convenient. But since it is really about the food, I am convinced that it is time to break that habit.


    I've actually never even thought about going back to Happy Chef for dim sum since switching to Shui Wah a number of years ago.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #15 - December 23rd, 2008, 4:23 pm
    Post #15 - December 23rd, 2008, 4:23 pm Post #15 - December 23rd, 2008, 4:23 pm
    I JUST went to Phoenix two weekends ago. We had these amazing shrimp seaweed rolls that were definitely the favorite of the meal.

    Other dishes:

    sticky rice, sesame roll, vegetable spring roll, chicken buns, jasmine tea,

    we don't eat pork so we were limited.
    Hillary
    http://chewonthatblog.com <--A Chicago Food Blog!
  • Post #16 - December 25th, 2008, 11:53 pm
    Post #16 - December 25th, 2008, 11:53 pm Post #16 - December 25th, 2008, 11:53 pm
    I had friends in from out of town and after last pm's major food orgy @ my house, we were in need of something not very available in S. Fla where they live. So dim sum it was. My go to has been Shui Wah for quite awhile but because of the carts and larger room, I opted for Phoenix. What a mistake. The 30-40 min wait turned into 1 hr 15 in their freezing entrance. Even the hostess wears gloves and a coat. How much could a couple space heaters cost? The lack of concern for their customers was just beginning.

    Once seated we maddeningly watched for cart after cart to actually make their way towards us. They would always take a sharp right from the kitchen as opposed to walking two tables in front of them where we were seated (I was the one waving and later standing) so @ best we got the end of the line repeatedly. Virtually everything we ate was cold. My irritation was growing and I hailed a waitress that came over and took our order. Nice attempt but too little too late. Most of what I asked for never arrived. When questioned about the remaining dishes she just ignored me and totaled our bill.

    There's not a chance in hell I'd go back, just as I've never returned to Furama on Broadway for the same type of negligence.

    Even on a good day (in comparison to other parts of the world) dim sum in Chicago is average to good. Add the insult of poor service and a shit attitude bordering on contempt and it just becomes insulting.

    But then, I'm hypersensitive to that, but I also feel that if you accept it you deserve it.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #17 - December 26th, 2008, 8:46 am
    Post #17 - December 26th, 2008, 8:46 am Post #17 - December 26th, 2008, 8:46 am
    Jazzfood wrote:(I was the one waving and later standing)


    Why am I getting an extreme sense of deja vu?
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #18 - December 26th, 2008, 2:11 pm
    Post #18 - December 26th, 2008, 2:11 pm Post #18 - December 26th, 2008, 2:11 pm
    Not to attempt to excuse all the crap that happened to Jazzfood, but I have done dim sum at Phoenix probably 9-10 times in the last 3 months and I've found the quality of food to be better than ever. Granted, I'm going during the week, and while they are somewhat busy-they are nowhere near slammed. Also, there is typically no cart service during the week-stuff is ordered off the menu. I find the service is almost too attentive-they always pour my tea-which I don't like. Also they constantly sweep away empty dishes and check the teapot-which is fine. I once slopped sauce on my shirt, and a waitress urgently came up to me with a napkin and soda water, imploring me to use it quickly. (She was way more concerned than I was.)
    Maybe the deal here is that they can't handle a slam. (I have to say, I wouldn't return after an experience like the one above either.)
    I love animals...they're delicious!
  • Post #19 - December 26th, 2008, 3:38 pm
    Post #19 - December 26th, 2008, 3:38 pm Post #19 - December 26th, 2008, 3:38 pm
    That's exactly why we bypassed Phoenix and went to Lao Sze Chuan instead yesterday just before noon. All the dim sum places were packed and I can't stand waiting in line; I wouldn't wait in line for 90 minutes for Jesus to come back. There were several open tables when we got to LSC, and were seated immediately.
    trpt2345
  • Post #20 - December 26th, 2008, 8:52 pm
    Post #20 - December 26th, 2008, 8:52 pm Post #20 - December 26th, 2008, 8:52 pm
    Jazzfood wrote:The 30-40 min wait turned into 1 hr 15 in their freezing entrance. Even the hostess wears gloves and a coat. How much could a couple space heaters cost? The lack of concern for their customers was just beginning.


    This is irritating. Sounds like a miserable experience. It also sounds like you experienced the snafu that is chinatown on xmas. I eat there quite a bit and always have excellent service although i always order off the menu. I have had the opposite experience when caring for customers is concerned.
  • Post #21 - December 26th, 2008, 8:53 pm
    Post #21 - December 26th, 2008, 8:53 pm Post #21 - December 26th, 2008, 8:53 pm
    stewed coot wrote:I find the service is almost too attentive-they always pour my tea-which I don't like. Also they constantly sweep away empty dishes and check the teapot-which is fine. I once slopped sauce on my shirt, and a waitress urgently came up to me with a napkin and soda water, imploring me to use it quickly.


    :shock: You don't happen to be covered in Asian tattoos, have scores of young Asian men milling around and go by "Dai Lo" do you?
  • Post #22 - December 26th, 2008, 9:10 pm
    Post #22 - December 26th, 2008, 9:10 pm Post #22 - December 26th, 2008, 9:10 pm
    stewed coot wrote:Maybe the deal here is that they can't handle a slam.

    They've only had every damn weekend since the Mesozoic Era to get better at it....
  • Post #23 - December 26th, 2008, 9:38 pm
    Post #23 - December 26th, 2008, 9:38 pm Post #23 - December 26th, 2008, 9:38 pm
    cilantro wrote:
    stewed coot wrote:Maybe the deal here is that they can't handle a slam.

    They've only had every damn weekend since the Mesozoic Era to get better at it....


    There are certain circumstances which simply can't be overcome. I worked in the restaurant/bar field for more years than I care to remember. Any place, no matter how good, will experience breakdowns when overwhelmed with numbers. I have been to Phoenix at least 100 times, but after seeing the lines on Thursday I passed it by, knowing that no matter what it wouldn't be worth it, there being far greater crowds than any random weekend. There are slams and there are slams. Here's a hint: if you go to Phoenix and the line is all the way down the stairs into the sidewalk as it was about 11:45 Thursday, go somewhere else.
    trpt2345
  • Post #24 - December 27th, 2008, 12:15 am
    Post #24 - December 27th, 2008, 12:15 am Post #24 - December 27th, 2008, 12:15 am
    Steve Z's deja vu comment was inspired by an identical issue we had there once (on a non holiday) w/a large party. And what about some space heaters while standing in their vestibule for over an hr and it's 2 degrees outside? Too many places want your business and treat you well to take that type of
    b s.

    The irony is that when we first got there prior to my friends arrival, I left my girlfriend there to wait while I walked over to Shui Wah and got a #. Walked back to Phoenix and my friends had arrived but because they gave us an incorrect wait time, we opted to stay. One hr into it and freezing, I walked back to Shui Wah only to find that in the interim, they were already 15 #'s past mine.

    Mucho deal breakers. No mas para me.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #25 - December 28th, 2008, 10:55 pm
    Post #25 - December 28th, 2008, 10:55 pm Post #25 - December 28th, 2008, 10:55 pm
    "You don't happen to be covered in Asian tattoos, have scores of young Asian men milling around and go by "Dai Lo" do you?"

    JayK-
    No, I'm "tat-less", non-Asian, and nobody seems to mill around me too much anymore. My charming server probably just took pity on a sloppy dumpling-slurping tripe-biter.
    I love animals...they're delicious!
  • Post #26 - December 31st, 2008, 10:02 pm
    Post #26 - December 31st, 2008, 10:02 pm Post #26 - December 31st, 2008, 10:02 pm
    Tuesday we went to Phoenix for the first time in a while. They were pretty busy and had the carts out on a weekday. Even though it was cranking they sat Mrs.Trpt and me at a six top by the windows. A beautiful clear sunny day in December, we appreciated it.
    The food was up to its usual high standards, though I actually have become accustomed to the paper ordering system and it was a little frustrating not to order what we wanted. But we got plenty. They had some braised short ribs not usually on the menu which were stellar. Steamed buns with sweet bean paste was something we don't usually get but which hit the spot. The cart ladies always get a kick out of it when the Mrs. orders chicken feet. I won't go anywhere else for dim sum.
    trpt2345
  • Post #27 - January 1st, 2009, 2:43 am
    Post #27 - January 1st, 2009, 2:43 am Post #27 - January 1st, 2009, 2:43 am
    Phoenix wins for me for two reasons: Julie and Eddie.

    When I started dating DH, I stopped going to Chinese restaurants; with celiac disease, most commercial soy sauce is out, oyster sauce is out, hoisin sauce is out, and the list goes on. While he could sometimes get some bland American-styled white-sauced psuedo-Chinese dish, who wanted it anyway?

    One night, my parents wanted Chinese and asked us to meet them somewhere. For three years, I'd not eaten Chinese food when with DH. Not sure why, but that night we chose Phoenix. It was providence, serendipity, or whatever lucky fate you want to ascribe.

    Julie was our server. She "got" the whole gluten issue. She brought Eddie out of the kitchen. They read jars and labels. For the first time in about 7 years, DH had something approximating real Chinese food.

    We started going for dim sum every so often. My family, friends, and I would chow on dim sum while DH would be treated to an Eddie Special. Eddie would come out and ask DH, "What do you want today?" We started bringing bags of sauces with us so Eddie could be more creative. We'd hand the bag to him, DH would request a type of meat or type of dish, and Eddie would surprise him.

    About a year ago, we treated a fellow celiac friend to a trip to see Eddie and Julie. For the first time since she was diagnosed with celiac disease, she was able to eat Chinese food that she didn't make.

    Recently, I deliberately left DH out of the invitation when my sister and best friend called about going to dim sum. Girl's day out, I said. I thought maybe we could try Happy Chef or Shui Wah. I sent them the menus and said how much love Shui Wah received here on the forum.

    We met in front of Phoenix since we were coming from different directions and hadn't made a concrete decision. As we stood there waiting for my friend, my mom and sister said, "We're going here. We like it," and walked up the stairs.

    I followed.

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