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Report on Yemeni's [San Francisco]

Just got back from Yemenis, with a group of us who seek out spicy regional/ethnic neighborhood restaurants for the occasional Friday lunch. Had heard generally positive noises from two like-minded friends, and happy to report that it was in that vein a generally positive experience.

Ambience is welcoming, well-lit and cheery with ample tables (for lunch anyway - I have heard from a friend who's been by several times that dinnertime can occasionally be crowded and noisy and hard to get attention for securing a table). Service was very prompt and courteous; we were seated immediately and our hostess was quick to come by for appetizer and tea orders.

Food was generally good, with a few very good to exceptional items I'd return specifically for. Most everything tasted like very fresh ingredients were being used and that it was same-day cooked, not rewarmed. We stuck largely to the traditional Yemen dishes, especially looking forward to the Salteh. Very tasty, deeply seasoned meat with potatoes that were well-stewed but not overcooked, and a good layer of the traditional fenugreek maraq froth on top. I'd only wished for a bit more of this, and perhaps a bit hotter (I've read but not experienced that some versions can amp up the heat a bit here). We ordered Malawah bread which was very good - strongly recommend an order of that or the Tanour bread to accompany as you really want to scoop up stew with the soft bread. One bowl of Salteh was enough for two large guys for lunch - given apps - but we wished we'd ordered two as we kept returning for more bites.

The Sanaa Meza, mixed appetizers, was overall good with exceptional baba ghannouge. I'm not big on the bland, viscid versions I've generally received so I tend to avoid this dish - but it was eye-opening, perfectly balanced with a bit of smoke, good garlic and what we thought was a touch of cinnamon. Cooked right with just enough oil so that it wasn't slimy or runny, just perfect for the accompanying flatbread. Yoghurt salad was delicious if simple. Hummus was fine, taboullah to me was very unbalanced in the direction of parsley and garlic - I couldn't detect any bulghur or other grains at all so it ended up coming off as a slightly dry and gritty chimmichurri. This may be the traditional Yemeni way, not sure about that, and ok so far as it went mixed with other mezes on flatbread; but I won't be ordering it as a standalone salad anytime. Only two small dolmas (which I appreciate since huge versions can lose the grape leaf-to-rice balance; the grape leaves were very fresh and it was clearly handmade same day, without the left-standing oiliness and mushy rice you get with horrid prepack dolmas - nice lemony edge to the rice inside.

We only had two little falafel balls to share (not sure if they came with the mezes or were compliments as I dont recall ordering them) - man we wished we had more. We've all had meh falafel but these really ramped up the spice in a well-balanced way, and we remarked that they were literally juicy, not just not-dry. I'd personally go back just to get falafel takout here with a side of the baba gannoush for a quickie lunch - possibly the best falafel I've had in SF (but others feel free to one-up me as I'm not a true falafel geek)

Mandi and Hameed, two additional traditional Yemeni dishes (in this case baked and roasted lamb versions respectively) were a bit disappointing - pleasing, well-balanced, well-cooked, but not as deeply flavorful as we'd hoped, especially compared to the Saltah. Good dishes for a spouse or child who may not be as in to spice.

We also had a Shish Taouk - not one of the traditional dishes but it looked like a lot of their takeout business especially was conventional Shawarma and Shish. To me it was at best adequate; a bit on the dry side and not inspired in any way I could find. To be fair we only had the one order, but I've made tastier versions myself and I've definitely had better elsewhere - I'd be interested if others disagree and could point me to what non-Yemeni-specific food they've liked here as I'd like to make it a more regular spot, especially if they've been doing it as take-out.

Overall, I'll be going back and it will definitely be for the Saltah and the mezes, and maybe to see if the falafel is as good in a wrap as I recall here.

Is Lai Hong Lounge Now The Clear Choice For Dim Sum in SF Chinatown?

Like Melanie I wonder if there's a downhill trend here a bit - just got back from lunch and while there are still some very good dishes, overall flavors just weren't as bright and striking as our first visit a year and a half ago.

Sautéed rice noodles with XO sauce were simply tired, with soft-verging-on-plain-mushy noodles in a sauce that seemed to have no character at all.

Chiu Zhou was "solid" but not exceptional this time. Not oversteamed, and the texture balance was very good (though at this size you need a big mouth to get enough to realize that...) But just didn't seem to me to have the flavor depth from before - it wasn't peanut-dominated, and peanut flavoring was pleasingly subtle, but they were much more bland than I recall, with absolutely no heat kick left.

In the still-quite-good-but... category, sticky rice in lotus was perfectly steamed and this time quite delicate - but without the pure unctuousness of our last trip, when I think I ate three myself because I just couldn't stop. And the fried chive dumplings had the same bright and clean chive and juiciness- but were a notch down on the rest of the flavor. Almost as if they were cutting back a little extra filler on each recently.

On the other hand pork siu mai were bursting with flavor and as good as I recalled, with as much fresh shrimp as others have mentioned. And the BBQ pork puffs, while not necessarily my thing taste-wise, were very well crafted with flaky pastry. Plus the nine-year-old girls we brought along loved the custard desserts!

Overall it's still much better than your average dumbed-down cart dim sum joint, and since it's walking distance I'll go back for a few of the starring items. But I sure hope with all the recent Michael Bauer attention to Hong Kong Lounge, they haven't lost focus over here...

Looking For Singapore Chili Crab In San Francisco

Group of us went there today for lunch - so yes I can confirm there were maybe four-six small mantou buns along with the dish. They were ok at best - guess I'd say "inoffensive".

Quality crab, clearly fresh (not too surprising given the season just kicked off) and well-cooked. Nothing at all wrong that end.

It was my own first time there so personally, I found the dish overall unbalanced - sauce was definitely on the sweet side and while listed as "spicy" I think you'd have to have an *extremely* Westernized palate to find it so. Three of us went through a whole side bowl of sambal (the dried-shrimp-spiked chili paste - I could have eaten a bowl of that stuff solo) hotting it up. May just be me but if Tyler Florence thought the chili crab here was one of the "Best Things He Ever Ate" guess I'm bummed for him - he needs to get out more...

Seriously I looked up his own recipe for Singaporean Chili Crab ( If Panang was ratio-ing a whole serrano and 2 tbsp hot chili paste per 1/4 cup ketchup... then that heat and complex chili flavor (and other flavors like tamarind) definitely wasn't coming through all the ketchup and sugar. Certainly the part where he mentions getting the crab to "absorb" the sauce for a while wasn't going on - when you broke into the pieces they tasted completely unsauced, you had to stir the unshelled crab around to get any of that flavoring into the meat. If you're used to really "infused" crab like at say Thanh Long - whether you like that style or not - this was a far cry, more like a steamed crab with sauce poured over right at plating.

Hope this isn't a case of a great dish getting popularized by mass media and then dumbed down - I'm sort of inspired now to try cooking his version myself with fresh ingredients and see if there was a totally different dish he was praising back then!

In terms of other courses:

- papaya salad: fresh, crisp, a bit bland. If you're used to either a minty-spicy style, or intensely fish-sauced style, it's neither. again, more inoffensive than anything.

- penang asam laksa: good noodle soup. this was our favorite course, especially spiked with a healthy dollop of spicy sambal. I wasn't blown away by the noodles but they really got a deep and rich flavoring into the broth, and the veggies were perfectly cooked, not limp.

- santan sea bass: expensive for the amount of fish you get, but well-cooked; it's hard to get deep-fry to hold up to a sauce like that, but even under the santan curry it came through. Favorite of one of our group and we all thought it was better than the crab

Shandong House rebrands itself as Xi'an Gourmet [San Francisco]

Thanks will have to try that next; we just went again for a Friday lunch, early-side, and I'd say twice as full by noon as last time - so busy by the time we ended we had trouble getting the check. Two tables asked what I was having - so maybe word is getting around, they clearly weren't regulars.

Tried the cold steamed noodles with sesame sauce, very good; could use a little heat for balance. Lamb roujiamo seemed a little less hot than last time as well - hope they aren't "dumbing it down" with increasing popularity... and btw they may have listened to those complaining about the lamb skewers, these were more "normally cooked". Far less hard-crisped/covered in cumin, and quite tender and succulent. Though personally *I* was disappointed by that...

Shandong House rebrands itself as Xi'an Gourmet [San Francisco]

Just got back from lunch here - thanks all for pointing to the newer Xi'an dishes to try (I will note for English-only-speakers that not being able to read Chinese characters, I wouldn't otherwise have had *any* idea which were the X'ian dishes.) You po mian/Shaanxi noodles were very good even on a slow, early Monday lunch - had a few qualms as to whether they'd really be fresh pulled when we were clearly well ahead of the crowd (and would it be chef's day off?); but so fresh and good I ordered a second to-go box for my wife who is downstairs slurping them now.

Personally I and my lunch partner really enjoyed the lamb kebabs as a starter; agreed it's a completely different style, so dry and crisp it was almost like eating cracklings drenched in cumin. But I thought this time the salt/spice balance was excellent, without any bitter or burnt-spice flavors which you might imagined given they look like they'd been in a bomb blast. Don't order these if you are expecting plump, juicy chunks of lamb!

Lamb dumplings were to me a little disappointing; clearly very well made, with a nice fresh and pliant chew to the wrapper, but well... to me the lamb filling was pleasant but unmemorable, very undifferentiated from dumplings I've had at innumerable mainstream Chinese places; most of the flavor came from the black vinegar dipping sauce. On the other hand I must be one of those heat-lovers who would and *did* really like the lamb roujiamo drenched in spicy hot peppers; I thought it was fantastic - not just hot but a very good balance of hot, sweet, meaty and toasted cumin-y. My lunchmate had come back just to have it again; his forehead was literally dripping sweat in a dozen places after half a sandwich. Agreed that a softer, thicker bread might be better - but then again the thin style they use *does* let the full force of the filling come to bear.

Very helpful service, server was helpful in navigating the menu, and quick to recommend and come back with scissors for our noodles, and checked back in multiple times to make sure we liked the dishes. I'll go back, especially to try more noodle dishes.

Chihuacle peppers

I know this is a very old thread, but given how rare and essential to Oaxacan mole chihuacles negro are, thought it might be worth mentioning to anyone searching these days that they're now available at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market in San Francisco on weekends, from the Tierra stand. I stumbled onto them Saturday and couldn't believe my luck. Priced the same as the dried Anchos and Anaheims, too!

Online ordering is available, though I can't vouch for it personally, at I can vouch for the chiles, I've used their dried chiles and mole mixes in the past and they are top-notch.

Is Lai Hong Lounge Now The Clear Choice For Dim Sum in SF Chinatown?

Strongly concur. Just got back from lunch and every table in the large dining room was packed on a Monday morning. Sticky rice lotus leaf was perfectly seasoned and very savory without being overblown. Had most of the dishes mentioned above and echo the findings. I'd also recommend the delicately steamed young pork liver slices as a starter, and of all things the BBQ pork buns - these can be a huge disappointment if the buns are even slightly overcooked or the ratio of bun to filling is off, so I usually avoid them. But these were very delicately steamed with ample porky goodness inside. And if you don't like pork buns for the cloying or too-plummy sauce in the middle, try these - deep pork flavor, not just loads of sweet and salt. I also really liked the fried chive dumplings, a bit hard to manage but the chive explosion inside is rich and textured, not green, grassy or limp.

The chicken feet were a bit overcooked and soggy (but well seasoned) and the spareribs were just too sweet to my taste, though improved with a little salt; but considering how fresh and well balanced the ingredients in every dish were, that was easily overlooked. I'm normally a load-up-the-chili-sauce kind of guy but found that overall the seasonings were so well done that I really felt guilty adding even a drop of soy or chili sauce to anything - that's possibly the strongest praise I can give.

In addition the waitstaff was very friendly and helpful in balancing portion sizes on the checklist for our group, even though I was clearly the only guy out of a few hundred who couldn't speak Chinese, and had no idea how to go about ordering. Really pleasant experience.