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Sampan Cafe, Kingstowne - Cantonese on Franconia Road and Valley View Drive


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Had a pre-dinner meal at Sampan Cafe this evening. This place is in the little strip mall where Mediterranean Gourmet Market is located, and whenever I'm in this vicinity, I always eat at Mediterranean Gourmet Market. It's the best Middle Eastern food in northern Virginia, I'm convinced, but it turns out it closes on Sunday evening at 5pm. So, Plan B was Sampan Cafe, a few doors down.

I had been going to Sampan Cafe for over 20 years in its original incarnation. It used to be the definition of American Chinese, with big floppy egg rolls and chop suey on the menu, and the waiters clad in red tuxedo tops. Not many Chinese people ate there back then. It closed about 6 years ago and an average-ish Vietnamese restaurant took its place. Then about 4 years ago, it reincarnated as Sampan Cafe, under different ownership.

I have raved a bit on this board about Canton Cafe in Springfield. Sampan Cafe is at least its equal, and maybe then some. Aside from a few quirks in the service -- girlfriend's entree arrived about 5 minutes before mine -- the food here is very good and the clientele is mostly Chinese. We started with a whole steamed oyster with black bean sauce that was exquisite (and large). Last night I had the Beef in Black Pepper Sauce at Canton Cafe and labeled it Peking man-food. I mentioned that at $16 it was superior to any beef dish I ever had at Morton's or Ruth's Chris or any other steak house that would charge $40 for a la carte beef. Well, tonight I had the same dish at Sampan Cafe, and it was even better and was only $14. It came out sizzling like Canton fajitas, but the beef was perfect, tender and juicy. Girlfriend had her standard seafood combination, which in this case was off menu. Chunks of scallops, shrimp, lobster, and veggies in a white sauce, for $12.50 (did I mention lobster?). The chef's specialty here is "Hong Kong style" and I intend to come back and taste "Sour Cabbage Stir Fried with Intestine" and "Salt Fish and Chicken Stir Fried with Chive Flower"....

Bottom line is that Sampan Cafe in its current incarnation is very good, and at least the equal of Canton Cafe, but at a better value. [but I still have the problem of passing up the best Middle Eastern food in northern Virginia just a few doors down!]

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Aside from a few quirks in the service -- girlfriend's entree arrived about 5 minutes before mine --

Most Chinese restaurants I've seen assume that you'll be eating things family-style, and bring out dishes as they are ready, rather than putting things under heat lamps. I'm sure they thought they were doing you a favor...

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Oh God, you're killing me. Like the original poster my family had been going to Sampan Cafe forever. Since before I was born and I am almost 34. My wife and I had our rehersal dinner there. As far as americanized chinese food goes, this place was the best. I have yet to find something that is close.

The day we went there after they changed management is still scarred in my memory. Same decor, different menu, different staff. It was awful. I would have rather it gone out of business entirely than to have gone to see it changed like that... and changed for the worse. I am glad to hear that the original people that took over the restraunt failed. At least keep the chef. That dude was awesome.

We have been intrigued by the new incarnation but have not had the courage to go.

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Forgot to mention that on the way out, the manager-looking guy who thanked me for coming mentioned that Saturdays and Sundays from 11-2 is dim sum. Gotta try that!
While you're checking out the dim sum, ask them to fix their absolutely crappy website. No address, no phone number, no map of how to get there. The search page doesn't work, hitting home does nothing and I'm not interested in buying West Wind tools.
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They do dim sum on carts, two steamed and 1 not, offering more or less the same stuff as Canton Cafe. Really inconsistent from one dish to the next. They had some of the best shark fin dumpling I've had, really good spare-ribs and the order of chicken feet came with about 6 or 7 feet (a heaping plateful). The sticky rice in lotus leaf was gooey, rubbery and flavorless. I'm not entirely sure their turnip cakes are house-made (in any case, not very good). The chives dumplings had very thick skin but the filling itself was pretty tasty. $18 before tip with plenty of leftover. Restaurant was only about half full at noon, pretty much all Asians.

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Went to sampan for dim sum on Sunday. Most of the items were mediore, except the steamed pork rib with black bean was the best I have ever had. We also ordered the beef chow fun from a la carte menu and it was also very good. Bonus point for the addition of yellow chives in the chow fun. Considering yellow chives go for $10 per pound in Asian markets, it was a really nice touch. The large table next to us ordered everything off the menu and the crispy jumbo shrimp they ordered looked very tempting.

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The lobster special at Sampan is only $12.99 right now. You can get it with ginger scallion or pepper salt. Along with the lobster, we also tried the tofu cod casserole ($16.99) and Cantonese style beef ($13.99). The casserole had tender chucks of cod and fluffy fried tofu, all served bubbling hot in a casserole, delicious and comforting. The Cantonese style beef was too sweet, resembled more like an Americanized sweet and sour. The service is typical of most Chinese restaurants, had to flag down someone to get a water refill. Overall, we were very happy considering the location and the price of the food.

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Dim Sum today was absolutely excellent. I've had Dim Sum at Yank Sing in San Francisco, and today Sampan was its equal.

At noon on a Sunday, the dining room was full and the clientele was 80-90% Asian. Two hot carts and one cold cart came by often. I can honestly say that every item - two of us probably had about 10-12 dishes between us -- was at or near perfection. Freshness of ingredients, precision of preparation, flavors, aromas, textures....wow, what a meal! Some of my favorites were ~

Pork Bun -- nicely puffy with a flavorful pork stuffing

Meatballs -- beef, I am told, but Mr. Rockwell's story about the Vietnamese pho place at Springfield Mall came to mind....these were extremely good

Shrimp Cakes -- delectable and delicate pancakes filled with shrimp and topped in a dark soy sauce

Chicken Feet -- reminds me of the old Waylon Jennings lyrics, "Work your fingers to the bone, and what do you get? Bony fingers! Bony fingers!" Chewy, but a nice flavor that sort of grew on me and I couldn't stop eating them....finger-licking good

Tripe -- Chewy and full of flavor from a gingery-pepper sauce

For 10-12 dishes that more than adequately stuffed two overweight, middle-aged men, the total with tax and a more than 20% tip was $45. I would go back often, despite the fact that my one of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants in the area is 3 doors down....Today's meal really has me re-thinking the proper order of the Franconia restaurant list.

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Dim Sum today was absolutely excellent. I've had Dim Sum at Yank Sing in San Francisco, and today Sampan was its equal.

Wow, maybe I hit this place on a bad Sunday as nothing was close to excellent, nevermind coming close to SF level. Might have to give it another try.

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Dim Sum today was absolutely excellent. I've had Dim Sum at Yank Sing in San Francisco, and today Sampan was its equal...

Meatballs -- beef, I am told, but Mr. Rockwell's story about the Vietnamese pho place at Springfield Mall came to mind....these were extremely good

Chicken Feet -- reminds me of the old Waylon Jennings lyrics, "Work your fingers to the bone, and what do you get? Bony fingers! Bony fingers!" Chewy, but a nice flavor that sort of grew on me and I couldn't stop eating them....finger-licking good

Tripe -- Chewy and full of flavor from a gingery-pepper sauce

I had delightful dim sum at Sampson yesterday, but I am not sure that I would put it into the legion of Yank Sing's traditional dim sum (I find that while excellent Yank Sing tends to have too more westernized choices than most dim sum places). Everything that we chose was good to great, the stars being the shark fin dumplings, taro roll, and braised pork ribs. Unfortunately, while yesterday's tripe was a tender it did not have much flavor, and the meatballs were incredibly tender again there was not much flavor. Now as for chicken feet - my dining companion sucked them up, I tried one and found it tasty, but I just cannot get past my aversion to small bones.

Overall it was quite good and very reasonably priced for all of the items we tried, I see a return visit in the near future.

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Enjoyed ourselves for our only visit, a couple weeks ago. Really, the only thing to add to this thread is that all of their dumplings (and pork buns) are really well crafted. They use very thin wrappers, translucent enough to see the filling inside. I'm not a big fan of the dumplings with thick skins (Chinatown Express comes to mind). In the case of the pork bun, it's not a completely sealed offering, so again its much lighter with less dough than others.

Just as an aside, they don't seem to have as many dim sum dishes as others. I would be fine with that, the ones they provide are delicious. Could anyone confirm or challenge? We did arrive around 1:30, the floor was at 50% capacity, so maybe they weren't preparing the full variety at that point.

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Just as an aside, they don't seem to have as many dim sum dishes as others. I would be fine with that, the ones they provide are delicious. Could anyone confirm or challenge?

It's true that their dim sum selection is limited but in terms of quality, they're as good as any other NOVA joint. My current favorite in the metro area is New Fortune in Gaithersburg. More variety, slightly better quality, and cheaper.

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Dim sum yesterday for four adults and two toddlers was very good. The hits were the "ocean" dumpling, which was open-topped and had a single pea on top, and filled with some combination of seafood; the scallop dumpling; the shrimp dumpling; the tripe; and the very soft noodle with shrimp inside. Oh, and the barbecued pork bun too. Oh, and the tofu skins wrapped around pork too. Condiments on the table are minimal -- soy sauce and hot and sour sauce, both in Kikkoman bottles. But the six of us ate to well beyond fullness for about $100 total with tax and generous tip. And I filled the table up twice (plus) with the offerings from the various carts.

This is a dependable, and for me, a local place where the food is good, the service is pleasant and the crowd is mostly Asian. This is where I'll be getting my dim sum fixes for a while, and I'll probably leave satisfied each time. Like yesterday.

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Another solid thumbs-up for Sampan Cafe today, this time for a post-movie dinner. I had not previously noted the expansive menu for dinner, having some here for dim sum the past few times. This time, my eye caught the boneless pigs knuckles as a small plate starter for $6.95. It turned out that the same portion of the menu had all manner of pickled or fried pig parts, like intestines and stomach, so it will be visited again. The pigs knuckles were superb -- a thinly sliced loaf of chunks of pork from the knuckles, bound together with aspic and wrapped in pigskin, layered over a mound of pickled shredded vegetables. It tasted like pork! I would return for this dish alone, but this portion of the menu must be explored in detail....there is also a mixed pickled sampler for $16.95, and that may be my next mountain to climb here. Of note, the waitress stumbled a bit as she approached our table with this dish, did a double-take, and explained that she doesn't usually deliver this dish to non-Asians.

The General Tso's wings, ordered partially because of the General Tso's thread I started a few weeks ago, was nothing special. The brown sauce was gloopy and sweet. I would stay away from the westernized dishes here.

On to the main courses, and Lady Kibbee and I ordered off the board on the wall, which we requested to be translated into English. Mine was the lobster, chopped up and stir-fried with ground pork and spices. Hers was the jumbo shrimp with fresh asparagus, to which she added an order of broccoli in garlic sauce. I found the lobster to be flavorful, probably not too meaty, and the ground pork was cooked to a caramelized pork candy with a salty touch. This is a difficult dish to eat unless you just dig in with your hands, which I did, and a good wash-up afterwards is required. But it was tasty and satisfying, and for $13.95 may be one of the better lobster deals around. The shrimp with asparagus for $14.95 was an absolute home run, and the broccoli was fresh and crisp. We took a lot of food home with us -- none of the pigs knuckles and lobster survived, but tomorrow's lunch of shrimp with asparagus, broccoli in garlic sauce, rice and a few of the General's wings is anticipated with pleasure.

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The kids & I hit House of Dynasty for lunch on Friday, after a frantic morning of shopping (yes, I am a procrastinator). <snip> I am still looking for the Chinese restaurant of my dreams, which I'm sure I'm destined to find the minute we have to move away from here....

After reading thistle's post tonight about finding the Chinese restaurant of dreams in VA, I thought of this place, which really has the potential to satisfy a variety of palates. There is the menu to satisfy Americanized-Chinese tastes as well as more authentic Chinese tastes; specifically, even though I haven't tried, I am very intrigued by their neon board menu offerings. More to the point, I like that they offer Chinese medicinal soups. Thistle - have you tried here before?

The reason I didn't try the soups because I had this dim sum craving and wanted to stay in Virginia today. I felt that this place did not disappoint. Although less in offerings, as previous posters have mentioned, they were steady-handed and hot (with the exception of the turnip cakes, which they kindly reheated for me. Yes, with the microwave, but it still was hot and tasty), unlike some of the other NoVA dim sum places.

Service was attentive and not overwhelming, but often there to clean dishes and asked if there were particular offerings we would like. I really liked that part because other dim sum places have not asked me before.

So, this place is definitely now on my radar, and I really think some of the VA folks might think about putting a little blip of it on yours too.

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Ok. I was in the bag for the old incarnation of Sam Pan. Sure it was outdated but the food was excellent (although the new sam pan website completely trashes the old business which was an institution back in the day). I have tried the new incarnation twice and have been unimpressed both times.

Most recently I went for dim sum. We tried about 7 or 8 dishes. The best of which were the shark fin dumplings and one of the shrimp dumplings. The rest were all mediocre. My son who normally eats anything and everything didn't even have a bite. I have had better dim sum at Canton Cafe or even Fortune.

On my previous visit I got a couple carry out items like the Beef in Black Pepper sauce. I may be biased but again I thought Canton Cafe was better.

On my way out of town I hit Mediterranean Gourmet for some carryout to reheat for dinner. That food didn't dissapoint....

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Ok. I was in the bag for the old incarnation of Sam Pan. Sure it was outdated but the food was excellent (although the new sam pan website completely trashes the old business which was an institution back in the day). I have tried the new incarnation twice and have been unimpressed both times.

Most recently I went for dim sum. We tried about 7 or 8 dishes. The best of which were the shark fin dumplings and one of the shrimp dumplings. The rest were all mediocre. My son who normally eats anything and everything didn't even have a bite. I have had better dim sum at Canton Cafe or even Fortune.

On my previous visit I got a couple carry out items like the Beef in Black Pepper sauce. I may be biased but again I thought Canton Cafe was better.

On my way out of town I hit Mediterranean Gourmet for some carryout to reheat for dinner. That food didn't dissapoint....

OK, I have to admit that my last few times here were substandard as well. I was hoping they would turn the corner and hit their stride again, but it's not happening.

Very glad to see your thumbs-up of Mediterranean Gourmet Market. That place is the one of the underrated food markets in the northern Virginia suburbs.

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The kids & I had dim sum (& other stuff) at Sampan Cafe this morning. Lizzy was craving the har gow, so we got that, shumai, scallop dumplings, beef on a stick, fried dumplings, orange chicken, chicken & broccoli, shrimp fried rice, & hot & sour soup for me (a little thinner than the last time). The children topped it off w/ Sweet Frog on the way home....

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A field hockey game prevented us from going to the duck meal at Grapeseed so my wife and I made a quick stop here on Friday night. It's less than a mile to Lee High school so it worked out perfectly.

This place has a huge menu and the one online isn't the same as what you get in person. They also have a dim sum menu that's available all day. You get a little paper menu that you mark up and give to your server and they bring it out from the back.

From the dim sum menu we got:

- Steamed shrimp dumplings/har gow
- Steamed port dumplings/shu mai
- Steamed shrimp ball
- Roast pork noodle (Can't remember the exact name and can't find it on the online menu. It was 3 flat noodle things with roasted pork pieces inside)
- Shrimp spring rolls (?) I also can't find this on the menu. There were five or six thin (finger sized) rolls with a hard crust with shrimp inside.

From the regular menu we got:

- Crab E Mein (that's what is says on the online menu, but I also see it spelled Yie Mein). We were trying to revisit a dish we were served gratis last New Year's. They made an extra version of this dish so the waitress gave it to us. She said it was a traditional New Year's dish to bring good luck. When we asked our waitress about it on this visit she directed us to this dish as the noodles in it are very long which is supposed to give you a long life. Turns out, this wasn't the same dish we were served last year. That one had shorter, thinner noodles that had a bit of crunch to them.
- 3 orders of pot stickers to take home for the kiddos.

We also had 3 glasses of wine.

Total bill before tax and tip: $67!!!!!!!!!!

Everything was great except the noodle dish. It was a little bland and needed some sauce mixed in to make it better. We ended up talking more than half of it home along with the 3 orders of pot stickers.

The other nice thing about this place is they're open all day long. They don't shut down between lunch and dinner so if you're over that way in mid-afternoon, you can stop in an grab a bite.

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Sampan is my go to for dim sum (it's 20 minutes away). Most of the time when I go to the usual cart dim sum places, half the stuff I get ends up being cold by the time it gets to me, so I prefer ordering a la carte. The noodle soups are filling, but the ones I've tried haven't been particularly outstanding (I really like the Floating Market Soup at Bangkok Noodle). I've had good luck with the tripe dishes, particularly the casseroles, as well as the clams with black bean sauce. I'm always looking for a decent deep fried pork chop; Sampan does an excellent Crispy Spicy Pork Chop that cut into bite size pieces, fried extra crispy, and toppped with fried garlic and chilis.
 

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The website for the place makes it look like they might be related to one of the Fullkey restaurants.

I love some of the names for the dishes "Happy Family" or "¤T¦á«í·Â½L". I think that last one lost something in translation.

This website no longer exists, and Sthitch's post makes me think it was most likely run by a budding Kydia; Sampan Cafe got a new website in 2012.

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My wife and I had our (2nd) annual, near New Year's dim sum lunch here today and ended up totally stuffed for 32 bucks before tip!  They had the steamer cart going but it didn't have all the items on the dim sum menu on the cart so we ordered a couple things off the dim sum menu (see photo) and an order of potstickers off the main menu.  Does anyone know why potstickers wouldn't be on the cart or on the dim sum menu?

We were the only non-Asians in the place until the very end, and there were a few large families eating there.  The staff was super nice and friendly.  

 

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Eric - why?  There are tons of "weird" dumplings on the dim sum menu so why don't "normal" dumplings make the cut?

 

But the real reason for my post was to say that I did a large carry out order from here last night and they threw in a free order of Sesame Chicken!  

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