Monday, September 26, 2011

Chef Philip Ho - Sunny Isles

chef's special dumpling

People of South Florida, I have an important announcement. There is a new dim sum restaurant. In Sunny Isles. And it appears to be quite good.

This is not my usual style. I usually will give a place at least a couple of visits, and typically a couple of months after opening, before writing about it. But there is dim sum involved here, people. I love dim sum.

Dim sum options in Miami are fairly limited. Most often, we make the pilgrimage south to Tropical Chinese, which I prefer to some of the other more southerly options, Kon Chau and South Garden. Chu's Taiwan Kitchen in Coral Gables is in my weekday lunch rotation, and is also one of the few places in town that have xiao long bao, or soup dumplings. On the northern end of town we used to frequent Hong Kong Noodles, which was inconsistent, not exactly the cleanest place, and closed down a while ago; I could never get that excited over Sang's. And of course there is Hakkasan in the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach, which is excellent in quality, but expensive and limited in selection.

Enter Chef Philip Ho.

Chef Philip Ho

Thanks to a tip on the Chowhound board, I heard that a new dim sum place had opened up in Sunny Isles, in a location that was formerly occupied by one of those inexplicably ubiquitous Chinese buffet operations. It's a sizable place, probably capable of seating a hundred people, even though the room is still bisected between a dining room and the space that used to house the buffet.


They offer both pushcart service and a printed checklist style menu, the best of both worlds for partisans of the different dim sum service styles.

Chef Philip Ho menu

It was only Little Miss F and myself, so we didn't get to do a comprehensive sampling, but everything we tried was quite good and had me eager to make a return visit. We picked exclusively from the carts, which carried most, but not all, of the menu items.

(You can see all my pictures in this Chef Philip Ho flickr set).

(continued ...)

Pictured at the top of this post is the "Chef's Special Dumpling," which I believe had coarsely chopped shrimp topped with crispy taro dried scallop shreds within the tender dumpling shells.

chive and shrimp dumpling

Chive and shrimp dumplings were delicately pan-seared, and were lighter-textured and less greasy than similar items served at Tropical.

steamed pork bun

Steamed pork buns were also pleasingly light, the char siu pork filling a bit less cloyingly sweet than is often encountered.

shrimp pasta

Shrimp cheong fun (rice "pasta" or "crepe") had a pleasingly chewy texture to the noodle and nice fresh shrimp, bathing in a thin sweet soy sauce.

vegetable and shrimp dumpling

The hue of these vibrant green vegetable and shrimp dumplings was matched by their bright fresh flavors.

turnip cake with xo sauce

Not on the menu, but making its way around the room was this dish of crisp fried squares of turnip cake with XO sauce. The crispy edges and soft, almost gooey interior of the turnip cake were reminiscent, in the best possible way, of a tater tot, all punched up by a dice of garlic, green onions, ham and chiles. It was excellent.

egg custard bun

The dessert selections were more extensive than I've typically seen, and Little Miss F found one of her favorites, steamed egg custard buns. Filled with a dense, sweet, yolky custard, these must have been good: she ate them all.

Prices for most dim sum items range from $3-5 an order depending on size and ingredients, and aside from the old standards, there were a number of other things that intrigued: steamed black truffle and scallop dumpling, bitter melon and chicken rice crepe, black truffle egg custard tart, fresh lily and scallop rice crepe, braised beef tendon and turnip. The menu is rounded out by a number of noodle and rice dishes as well as a few more entrée type items that were listed on the backside of the printed dim sum list. I assume, but don't know, that they have a "regular" non-dim sum menu as well.

Update: I tried the scallop and truffle dumplings, the braised beef tendon and turnip, and the black truffle egg custard tart on a return visit a week after my first, and all - as well as several other items - were again very good.

Servers were friendly and helpful if not always capable of English translations, which never deters me. Given that we were some of the only gringos in the room, I take it as a good sign.

So who is Chef Philip Ho, you may ask? Well, I did. And after doing a little sleuthing, I got the answer, courtesy of an All Purpose Dark post: he used to be the dim sum chef at the Setai Restaurant. That's another good sign.

And there were plenty of auspicious signs about Chef Philip Ho. It only opened this past week, and so I know this may be premature, but it sure looks like we've got another good dim sum option in Miami.

Chef Philip Ho

Chef Philip Ho
16850 Collins Avenue, Sunny Isles

Chef Philip Ho on Urbanspoon


  1. Man, I gotta check this place out. Thanks for the report. Do they offer dim sum all day or only during certain hours?

  2. I think Chowfather reported that he called and they said they serve dim sum all day.

  3. Yes I called on Sat to see how late they served Dim Sum and she said all day until close.

  4. Looks like I'll be hitting that place up this week or this weekend!

  5. Ok, dim sum all day but carts only during lunch which runs from 1130-230


  7. First, Philip and I share same last name, so must be a good sign. So glad we finally get a 'good' & presentable dim sum place. Can't wait to try it. Thx for headsup!

  8. I'm so excited to try this place. Turnip cakes, all looks very promising. I agree with Eleanor on the name.

  9. WOW, what an awesome restaurant! We had dinner on Saturday evening and it was out of this world. Very clean and the staff was very nice.

    No carts at dinner time. There is a menu that is in both English and Chinese and a Chinese only one. Since we can only read the English menu, we relied on the staff to assist us in getting some authentic treats.

    We did not have one dish that was not outstanding.

    I forgot to take pictures but here is a partial list of what we ordered....

    I wish I could remember the name of the best of the steamed dumplings that we ordered, but I can't. I will update this if I run across it.

    Seafood/spinach soup. It is like an egg drop soup with a green base and yummy minced seafood.

    Shrimp/pork siu mai

    Sticky rice in Lotus leaf

    Salt and pepper squid.

    As a complement, they brought us a bowl of warm tapioca, taro, coconut milk dessert. It was like a soup.

    We ordered several more dishes and all were very fresh and flavorful and very authentic.

    Next time we will go on Saturday or Sunday between 11am and 3pm to order off the carts for a change.

    We give it 2-thumbs up!

  10. Frodnesor, I understand a year has passed since many of the above reviews were written, but I'm posting my review from Yelp. I gave it two stars out of five. Let me know if you feel my thoughts are off. I'd like to try Chef's Ho's again if so.

    Written 4/28/12:

    This place comes off like an amateur haircut: uneven, despite good intentions.

    I was attracted to it by some thoughtfully placed articles and reviews, which I read in some local magazines (Ocean Drive). Given the beautiful photos of the dishes, I actually went to Chef Ho's expecting a high end restaurant, along lines of Cafe Sambal in the Mandarin, or even Hakkasan.

    Chef Ho's reality couldn't be further removed from that impression.

    We went on a Sunday afternoon, presumably "prime time" for dim sum. Chef Ho may have needed more kitchen help; things just didn't hum as I envisioned.

    Apart from cheesy decor (think Cracker Barrel meets tropical Florida strip mall, with an aquarium and odd Asian design elements thrown in, too.) foremost in my mind was timing and table placement. Basically, you need to be there at the right time to catch the best rotation of dim sum.

    But by the the time the dishes we wanted finally came by, we had already tanked up on noodles and dumplings.

    Service was uneven and not the most attentive I've experienced. I felt "on the fringe" instead of "in the center," and I think we suffered for it.

    Oh yes..the food: the dim sum was passable at best--a bit greasy in some cases (duck), but broadly acceptable given that we're in Florida.

    For those of you who've eaten dim sum in San Francisco, Monterey Park, Manhattan's Chinatown, etc.--this is not in the same league, but is a passable local alternative.

    In no rush to return, but not a bad place.

    1. You really want me to review your Yelp review? Or is this just a plot to keep me from getting any work done this morning?

      If I'm going to be completely candid, I think your review is a great example of the many reasons I find Yelp so unreliable and often painful to read: in particular, misinformed preconceptions and expectations, which then form the basis for a misguided opinion, plus an inordinate focus on things other than the food.

      - "expecting a high end restaurant" - certainly if you'd read here (or the Miami New Times review), you wouldn't have had that expectation. It's a converted all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. As such things go, it's actually reasonably nice. It's clean, it's got a fresh coat of paint, the tablecloths aren't dingy. But more important: who goes to dim sum for the decor? Most places are bare-bones, either holes in the wall or gigantic barns, but usually not particularly elegant. A place like Hakkasan is a very unusual (and very expensive) exception.

      - "service was uneven and not the most attentive I've experienced." - Once again: it's dim sum. What kind of service experience are you expecting? They bring food by in carts. You point and they put it on your table. You ask what something is, and maybe 25-50% of the time get an answer you understand. Sometimes you struggle to figure out who you can order drinks from or something from the menu. Just like almost any other dim sum place. And you're typically paying something around $20 a head for a whole bunch of food. What more do you expect?

      - "Oh yes ... the food" - 260 words, and a total of 25 about the food, with almost no detail whatsoever.

      Look, you asked.

      Still - my last visit to Ho was a couple months ago, and the food was as good as it's ever been. For my money, it's still the best dim sum in Miami. I'd never claim it's on par with cities that have a much higher concentration of good dim sum options (SF LA NY), but it's good.

      I have, however, heard mixed reports from others, some saying it has gone downhill of late, that both the quality and selection have diminished. And I've heard from others who have been even more recently than me that they have not experienced that. I will have to confirm for myself, but if anything, it suggests some consistency issues, and so maybe I should say that "when it's good," it's the best dim sum in Miami.

  11. Frodnesor, I can't take issue with your characterization of Yelp (I, too, think most of the reviews are quite trashy and inaccurate, though the aggregate size of Yelp's audience is actually far more meaningful to a chef or restauranteur than a small boutique of a blog or even a "major Miami publication's" review, given that most people currently read "reviews" via a mobile app.

    I do take issue with your characterization of my thoughts and review. You have quite little idea who you are writing to. I assure you my perspective is broader, deeper, and far more diverse and intelligent than virtually all in this small town.

    But since I don't devote my time to reading the Miami New Times--I read the NY Times, Wall St. Journal, and The Economist religiously, amongst other publications--I only saw high end glossy photos of Chef Ho's, which radically misrepresented what this place is actually like.

    Saying it is the best dim sum in Miami is like saying someone is the best hitter in class AA minor league baseball. That may be a perspective you cling to, but I thought the food is one of the most unremarkable parts of the experience, especially if you consider what dim sum is like in LA's Monterey Park, San Francisco, or New York's Chinatown. It's stuck in the minor leagues, baby, and I think a great place should reach for the stars.

    If you are willing to devote a few seconds with the great unwashed culinary Plebeians, check out my other Asian reviews on Yelp (The excellent food at Bloom, Shokudo, and Yakko-san vs. consistent mediocrity of Gigi or Su-Shin. I think you'll find I'm a kindred spirit and maybe even capable of being a friend.

    See you at Yonah Shimmel for a knish and we'll really talk, ok? :)

    1. I will repeat: "Look, you asked."

      You asked me what I thought of your review, I told you. The truth is, I still don't have a clue what you actually thought of the food at Philip Ho because you don't communicate a single specific thing about it, only the generality that you think it's "minor league" compared to other cities.

      I wouldn't, and don't, quibble with the proposition that Philip Ho is not as good as the best dim sum in places like SF LA or NY. But it is also plenty better than any number of lesser places in those towns too. In any event, to me that's of limited relevance. I'm here in Miami, I write primarily about Miami, and not every place has to be competitive on the world stage to be worth visiting, especially when you want a dim sum fix.

      But more importantly, it's nothing personal. I promise, I don't think any more or less of you as a person because we disagree, and I disagree often with my friends.

      Still and yet, saying things like "I assure you my perspective is broader, deeper, and far more diverse and intelligent than virtually all in this small town" is rarely the way to win friends and influence people.

  12. As those of you on the chowhound forum know and also from my blogpost Ive given the highest marks to the dim sum at Hakkasan, but sounds like this is a serious contender that I have to check out. But, though a foodie, I still give some extra points for ambiance and love the loungey atmosphere and music at Hakkasan.

  13. I went back to sample Chef Ho's this weekend after my exchange with Frodnesor.

    I had nearly exactly the same experience as last time, and my two-star review on Yelp is exactly on target: this place has mediocre, unremarkable food, passable dim sum, shoddy service, and ultimately is not worth trying again, at least in my view.

    We sat in a remote room given that there was some type of large Chinese American Kiwanis Club type event at the restaurant last night.

    If you like Cracker Barrel and think the Florida Marlins are a competitive team, you'll really love this place. Small town ignorance yields bliss.

    1. In case you haven't noticed, this small town is large enough to have an airport and I am rather certain that all of the airlines sell one-way tickets elsewhere.

      I live between Miami Beach and San Francisco (arguably some of the best food period, let alone Asian food, anywhere) and while I will agree that this is not perfection by any means it's not bad; it's good. I actually agree with Frodesnor that its rather better than many of the mediocre places we have in SF and certainly better than a ton of the ones in NY's China Town.

      I grew up between Los Angeles and New York and I live part of the year in San Francisco- but I adopted Miami as a parttime home because it has a lot of other things to offer unlike anywhere else and theres an enormously satisfying and impressive culinary scene here--certainly it's not perfect but no place is. Seth, one has the choice of being part of a community or not...and if this small town is too small and pedestrian for you there are plenty of other 'big' cities to go to. Yet, I suspect it's easier to try and pass yourself off as 'worldy' in a growing city than to actually be able to hold your own in a metropolis. That's probably why you're still here.