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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the SF Chowhound community.

Calvin’s Cheesesteaks Are Back

Calvin’s “World Famous South Philly Cheesesteaks” are back after a 17-year hiatus, on San Jose’s Alameda, reports Ken Hoffman.

“Great flavor, perfectly cooked beef conspire to encourage overeating,” says Ken. “The skin-on fries, crisp and toothsome, don’t help.”

The buns, baked to Calvin’s specifications, are soft but strong enough to hold the tender steak strips, caramelized onions, and melted cheese. “The result is satisfying and wholesome.”

And you may encounter Calvin himself, who enjoys chatting with his clientele.

Calvin’s [South Bay]
1411 The Alameda, San Jose
408-286-5626

Board Link: Calvin’s Famous Cheesesteaks

Cantonese with Creative Flair

A new Chinese restaurant in Cupertino, iRestaurant, puts a contemporary spin on Cantonese dishes, using organic produce when possible and less oil and salt than the norm, says Melanie Wong. Its chefs hail from hotels in Guangzhou (Canton) and Dynasty Chinese Seafood in Cupertino, while its owner was formerly a partner in House of Sichuan, the previous restaurant at this location.

The i-Combo-002 set menu serves six to eight people for $128, and shows off some of the restaurant’s creative dishes, like a mixed fruit and shrimp salad. Melanie wasn’t sure about the “fruit” part, “but those giant shrimp were glorious in their sweet and snappy succulence. Hard-cooked eggs, garlicky croutons, cashews, toasted pumpkin seeds, honey-glazed walnuts, roasted peanuts, and maybe more were tossed with organic bitter greens and a cream dressing.”

Sweet and delicate stir-fried squid with sugar peas and baby corn exemplifies the Cantonese cooking ethos of simple and fresh preparations that highlight natural flavors, says Melanie. So does the exemplary seafood tofu soup, which was vibrant and clean-tasting, with a light hand on the thickener.

A dish of organic spinach poached in chicken broth and topped with firm, salty shreds of Virginia ham was also a hit. “The greens were so silky and exquisite in flavor, I had to compliment the chef for hitting it perfectly,” Melanie says.

The charbroiled whole sea bass with garlic, butter, and dill had skin so crispy it seemed deep-fried. Presented on banana leaves, it comes with a side of sweetened mayo. And the minced salted fish and chicken stir-fried rice is made with a minimum of oil and has a lovely toasty fragrance, while the tiny bits of fish infuse it with “an uncommon savoriness.”

Stir-fried dried shrimps with shredded taro may be an acquired taste, but Melanie warmed to it eventually. “Crispy shreds of taro were stir-fried with umami-laden dried and reconstituted large shrimp, puffed long rice, juicy stalks of intensely flavored Chinese celery, barely softened slivers of sweet onion, and sesame seeds.”

Dessert was a very good chilled coconut milk soup with tapioca pearl, litchi, and snow ears fungi.

They’re still pushing the envelope here: Melanie’s group was asked to taste-test an experimental dish of “sweet shrimp steamed on sections of organic Chinese okra topped with fried garlic.” It wasn’t perfect, but showed that these chefs aren’t interested in dishing out the same old stuff.

The regular lunch menu features familiar dishes like mapo tofu and Singapore-style stir-fried noodles, but they’re pretty bland, says Claudette. Better are the pan-fried chow mein, in a particularly flavorful dark sauce with just-cooked seafood, meats, and baby bok choy; and beef chow fun with half-cooked egg, which has a scrambled egg sauce fragrant with wok hay.

iRestaurant [South Bay]
20007 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Cupertino
408-777-2988

Board Links: Wo Choy @ i Restaurant, Cupertino
New Chinese resto in Cupertino

Basil’s New Noodle Canteen

Popular Thai restaurant Basil now has a casual cousin, Basil Canteen, says Ken Hoffman. With brickwork and exposed iron I-beams, it has an urban vibe, and is located in the middle of SOMA clubland. There is a large communal table that makes up half the restaurant’s seating capacity, and Ken thinks the space will work best at lunch or late at night.

“The pad thai was a strong rendition with sweet, soft white shrimp and firm noodles bathed in a tangy coating of orangey red sauce,” says Ken. “No noodle was spared by meal’s end.” Pau pia sod was “a fresh, nonfried roll of crabmeat, egg, and sweet Asian sausage bundled in a pillowy flour wrap that reminded me of steamed BBQ pork bun dough.” And it’s not all noodles: Ken also spotted a red curry with large, succulent-looking pieces of duck and a mound of jasmine rice.

Basil Canteen [SOMA]
1489 Folsom Street, San Francisco
415-552-3963

Board Link: Basil Canteen

Little Sichuan Still Sizzles

Little Sichuan, formerly Little Sichuan Express in Fremont, has new digs in Newark. The food is as good as ever, the new location is bigger and nicer, and there’s no more Styrofoam or plastic forks, says hhc.

Xingjiang stir-fried roasted lamb is tender, with bell pepper, onions, and cumin powder. House special dry-cooked string beans are salty and crispy, and hhc’s favorite. And the hot noodles with spicy peanut sauce are pretty good, too: You get a huge bowl with tiny bits of meat in the spicy sauce.

DezzerSF is another longtime fan, and all his favorite dishes, including the dan dan mien and that stir-fried cumin lamb, are as good as before. Dry sautéed spicy chicken wings still have an “addictive numbing spiciness,” and may even be better than at the previous location. On weekends, brunch includes complimentary soy milk (sugar on the side), and the Chinese doughnuts are light and crisp.

The menu is huge, perhaps a little bigger than it was. Entrées are priced around $5 to $9, which is generally the same as the old location. DezzerSF notes that some fish dishes appear to have increased in cost, while a few others have been reduced.

Little Sichuan [East Bay]
35233 Newark Boulevard Suite F, Newark
510-742-8777

Board Links: Little Sichuan Restaurant, Newark report w/ pics
Chowdown at Little Sichuan Express—Report

Alfresco Tamales

Just outside Discolandia Market, a new vendor is selling tamales that rworange says are some of the best she’s had. The masa is “moist, but not too lardy.” The chicken is “lovely, with lots of stewed meat and a nice jalapeño kick.” The above-ordinary pepper and cheese is “intensely hot, with a red sauce.” Weakest, but still pretty good, is the pork tamale, with ground pork in a “mouth-tingly” red sauce. The tamales are $1.50 each, and there is champurrado available, too.

Discolandia Market [East Bay]
787 23rd Street, Richmond
510-215-2142

Board Link: Richmond–Discolandia Market and a tale of two tamales … it was the best of tamales … it was the worst of tamales

Chinese Seafood Barbecue

“Whoever is manning S&T’s barbecue station is a master of his/her craft,” says Melanie Wong after trying the roast squab. “Crispy mahogany skin, perfect doneness, and so moist, this was the best roast squab I’ve had in ages.”

She says you also shouldn’t miss the char siu–style pork neck, an off-menu special. It differs from regular char siu by being “much more unctuous (in a good way), and with less discernible fat,” says upvalley. The pieces of pork come on a bed of anise-scented soybeans.

The kitchen’s expertise isn’t limited to barbecue. Melanie says the baby bok choy is top-notch, simply prepared with garlic. Clear-steamed live striper fish is another winner: “The flesh barely pulled off the bones and had the firmness of a recently swimming fish. The fresh sweetness was concentrated in the steamer juices that were delicious enough to drink.”

S&T Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant [Sunset]
2578 Noriega Street, San Francisco
415-665-8338

Board Link: Another Dinner @ S & T Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant, SF

King Won Ton Kicks It Really Old School

If you caught the Hong Kong episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, you saw jook sing noodles being made the old-fashioned way, with a giant bamboo pole. And based on the picture in the window, that’s how they’re made at the recently opened King Won Ton.

Bamboo or no, the house-made noodles are superlative, says Melanie Wong, who joined a lunchtime crowd with lots of Chinese expats, including a few Hong Kongers who vouched for the wontons. “Silky textured with fluttery tails, the dumplings were filled with coarsely chopped pork and two or three whole shrimp and lived up to their ‘swallowing clouds’ name,” says Melanie, who got shrimp wonton noodle in soup. The noodles, very fine and wiry, were perfectly cooked to a bouncy texture; but the broth was lackluster, tasting more of chicken bouillon than of the sea.

Soft pork-bone lai mein is like a riff on Japanese ramen, which itself is a riff on Chinese noodles, Melanie says. Rich, meaty broth with outstanding noodles—chewy and thick—gets jazzed up with psychedelic fishcake, bamboo shoots, red ginger shreds, half a soy egg, scallions, and wakame. The roasted-then-braised pork “had the smooth succulence and buttery tenderness I love about this cut of meat,” Melanie says; limster picked up “a tiny clovey hint of what I thought was star anise” in the pork, but reports getting mushy noodles.

Xiao Yang says the aromatic beef stew, with very tender meat, has better spicing than that bland broth, and passes on the floor manager’s observation that curry beef noodles are even more popular.

Caveats: the wait at lunch, the disorganized waitstaff, and the less than pristine silverware.

King Won Ton [Sunset]
1936 Irving Street, San Francisco
415-682-9813

Board Links: “Bamboo” Noodles (jook sing mein) and Hand-pulled Noodles (lai mein) @ King Won Ton (SF)
Bourdain—No Reservations Hong Kong

Bengali Delights at Rangoli Sweets

Rangoli Sweets specializes in classic Bengali sweets such as chamcham, malai sandwich, sandesh, gulab jamun sandwich, and other hard-to-find delicacies. So far, all are excellent, raves losfelizhound: freshly made and not too sweet.

“Each and every one of the sweets i have tried so far is excellent. usually the problem with indian sweets at least in the us is they are too sweet, or are made from inferior ingredients, or the process lacks the detail of the old country. rangoli has certainly got the right formula—perfect sweetness accompanied with a freshness almost always lacking in most indian sweet stores. people, i kid you not, RUN to rangoli if you haven’t.”

Rangoli Sweets [South Bay]
1584 Halford Avenue, Santa Clara
408-244-1160

Board Link: I dream of Rangoli Sweets

Smokin’ Peruvian Chicken

The Peruvian chicken at Fonzie’s is “[o]ne of the best rotisserie chickens I’ve ever had: lemony, dripping with juice, well-spiced and with the best fries—crisp and from Peruvian potatoes,” says rccola. It reportedly holds its own against the birds of Lima, but you definitely don’t want to do takeout: It would ruin the texture of the fries, and probably the chicken skin. Plus, you gotta check out the genuinely Peruvian atmosphere.

Also at Fonzie’s: salchipapa (sliced hot dog over french fries), lúcuma (a tropical fruit) ice cream, and Peruvian-style alfajores.

Fonzie’s Peruvian Chicken [East Bay]
2556 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley
510-649-0800

Board Link: Fonzie’s Peruvian Chicken

Vietnamese Crepe Greatness

Bánh xèo, the crisp and delicate Vietnamese rice-flour-and-coconut-milk crêpes, are consistently top-notch at Lotus Garden, hounds say. Though susancinsf finds them addictive, she notes that LG’s version is not quite as coco-licious as the formerly great rendition at Binh Minh Quan (sadly gone downhill). Yummy Yummy is her second favorite.

bigwheel042 likes Lotus Garden’s, but prefers the version at Ngoc Mai.

For a Cambodian spin on the dish, daveena recommends Battambang; Hunicsz adds that it’s a great restaurant all around.

Golden Era has surprisingly tasty vegan bánh xèo, says Windy (elsewhere, the filling often contains shrimp and pork).

And Bodega Bistro’s bánh xèo are good, says Robert Lauriston, if not great.

Lotus Garden [Bernal Heights]
3216 Mission Street, San Francisco
415-282-9088

Binh Minh Quan [East Bay]
338 12th Street, Oakland
510-893-8136

Yummy Yummy [Sunset]
1015 Irving Street, San Francisco
415-566-4722

Ngoc Mai Restaurant [Tenderloin]
547 Hyde Street, San Francisco
415-931-4899

Battambang [East Bay]
850 Broadway, Oakland
510-839-8815

Golden Era Vegetarian [Tenderloin]
572 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco
415-673-3136

Bodega Bistro [Tenderloin]
607 Larkin Street, San Francisco
415-921-1218

Board Link: Great bánh xèo?