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Regional Chinese roundup 2.0

Spices on 8th Ave was the branch with stinky tofu. It was never very full compared to its sister Spices 2 on 6th Ave. The latter went through a menu redo a few months ago which was not an improvement (dropped their interesting non-standard version of bon bon chi 棒棒鸡, a favorite of mine).

Spices 4 in Foster City also closed. I was unimpressed on a couple of visits. Spice 3 seems to be still pleasing many (Google/Y*lp) in Oakland; I never tried it.

Spices 2 is still very good, but somehow the energy has gone out of the place. Maybe closing Spices on 8th Ave will bring some of the old authentic yet innovative intensity back. One can only hope.

San Francisco’s Newest Fast Food: Healthy, Cheap and Served by Robots

I had the same memories of growing up and dragging whoever was trying to keep me under control into the Horn & Hardart on 86th Street.

Roast Duck: SFBA Dish of the Month July 2015

Feeling guilty that I haven't commented on this great choice for a DOM, I searched to see if the word "larb" appears in the thread. It doesn't...

My favorite roast duck dish is the roast duck larb at the various Lers Ros places. This is always one of the best dishes of the year. A well balanced, intense, combination of flavors and textures. All the food groups: sweet, salty, fat, umami ! This dish should not be missed on this thread (or in life).

It was interesting, not surprising, to learn that the Peking/Beijing Duck at Cooking Papa use the same roast duck as the roast duck. Peking Duck does get a Cantonese spin at most Bay Area places -- one obvious manifestation are the steamed breads accompanying rather than pancakes as in Beijing places. I have only seen pancakes rarely. I think Beijing Restaurant is doing Peking Duck at their place now. We tried it a few years ago in their empty Richmond (Sunset?) branch that failed. Those use pancake and I can't remember where else I have seen them. I believe the people at Boiling Beijing were promising Peking Duck (with pancakes), but I don't see them on their web menu.

"Dragon Papa" Dragon Beard Candy Shop, SF Chinatown.

Yes, still at Koi at least a couple weekends ago.

Very hard not to gobble them up quickly...

Exotic fruits(esp mangosteen) in the Bay Area?

Saw bags of mangosteens at New May Wah yesterday. There were too many in a bag so I passed on it. I have not found mangosteens imported to the US to be anywhere as wonderful as those in SE Asia. So, I really want to sample just one or two not a whole bag.

Queen Victoria offered a knighthood to anyone who could bring her a fresh mangosteen.

Chowdown at Uyghur Taamliri [San Francisco]

I included the Goshan in my meat pie comment. Good but not earth shaking. Beijing restaurant has a number of similar offerings with pork, beef, veggies, but I think none with lamb. They are somewhat better. I am guessing that Beijing street vendors picked up on this sort of item from Uyghurs. I vaguely remember sampling them in Xinxiang. You should have joined us. I was hoping you would.

Chowdown at Uyghur Taamliri [San Francisco]

Thanks tm for posting the bill and hyper for organizing. Totally enjoyable company and very interesting meal.

One has to recognized that this food comes from a fascinating part of the world but it is not one of the highest cuisines around. With expectations appropriately set one can experience as authentic a taste of Central Asia and the Uyghur areas of China as you are going to find in these parts. This is not Han Chinese food.

Having said that, I was amazingly impressed with the noodle dishes despite the fact that I am not as big a noodle fan as many others on this site. The hand made noodles, both pulled and torn, and the quite complex and lamb-y sauces were really quite excellent.

I was also impressed with the lamb kababs which really reminded me of Kashgar (many many years ago). What impressed me was the complexity of spicing with some cumin but not the intensity of the Beijing street Uyghur inspired versions of cumin lamb we usually see here. This lamb was more subtle and complex and may bring me back.

The sauce in the chicken dish was really good (when we finally got spoons to lap it up), but the chicken was a bit overcooked. The dumplings with lamb were OK and I could pass on the pumpkin filling. The meat pies were also OK.

All in all, I would go back. I am not so sure my other half will go back as I am afraid all the lamb reminded her too much of a sheep that was hauled up to 18,000' on a yak back and was our main subsistence for a couple of miserable weeks with lesser quality (to put it mildly) handmade noodles made by a Chinese chef on a research expedition in Tibet, once upon a time. I think she swore off sheep meat with noodles in soup for a lifetime. The Guiness on draft last night really helped me forget that experience and focus on the much less mutton-intensity and nicely balanced lamb influences at Uyghur Taamlir.

Boiling Beijing (San Bruno)

Dave, I saw you there discussing your selections as we left. After the Yelp discussion I was thinking this must be a Chowhound person. I should have recognized you but with jet lag and a full stomach I staggered out not putting 2+2 together.

Boiling Beijing (San Bruno)

Desperately seeking Chinese after many weeks in Iceland and surrounds, and also seeking a new place with the energy and enthusiasm that seems to have decayed out of a couple of our favorite places in the City… we followed Hyper’s lead to Boiling Beijing tonight and were quite pleased.

We decided to try the Sichuan side of the menu and had the following:

Dan Dan Noodles
Very nice, excellent noodles, not particularly spicy or ma la, but among the best around these parts now.

Twice Cooked Pork
One of the best renditions of this classic. Well balanced and skillfully executed. Meat didn’t have the freezer burn so common in this dish.

Dumpling w/ Red Spicy Sauce
Also one of the best of this I have seen. Dumpling were wontons with a very light and thin skin.

Pickled Pepper Fungus
Tree fungus with preserved cabbage and lots of garlic. Really more appropriate for a large group than for 2 people, but an interesting new dish (for me).

I got the impression from these dishes that they are authentic Beijing Sichuan rather than Chengdu Sichuan. Sichuan is extremely popular in Beijing. This was confirmed in conversations with the owners. Ray told me their emphasis is Beijing cooking and that they have lots of spicy dishes because the young people in Beijing like spicy. Their chef(s) are from Beijing and have learned to cook Sichuan.

Ray, a chef-owner, promised that next time he would guide us through the Beijing dishes and comped us with the most delightful desert I have had in a Chinese restaurant: 炸糕 zhágāo fried glutinous rice dough cake. This is street food at its finest. It is the desert that Hyperbowler mentioned.

Both owners separately told us of their concern that Americans always want the same dishes (mongolian beef, etc.). Apparently some Yelp reviews have been critical of the Americanized dishes. I said to ignore Yelp. They have decided to stick to their guns and real Chinese cooking.

Earlier I was asked how we found their place. I said a friend told us about it. After the Yelp discussion I told Ray about Chowhound, which he had never heard of and that nice things had been written there about their restaurant.

Great find, Hyperbowler!

Zante Pizza in Bernal Heights [San Francisco]

That's how I remember it, though probably a couple of years ago. Bad crust and off the list.

Xinjiang style skewer roundup

It's been a long time (over 20 years) since we've been to Xingiang (Kashgar, Turpan, Urumqi,...) but what I remember is that there were many skewer charcoal grills on the street and the meat was always lamb, with tail fat on separate skewers. My memory is vague about the spices, but I think there may have been some optionally sprinkled on top after you ordered.

I think the style we get here is more from Beijing and also includes the more prevalent cumin lamb dish we see at every Sichuan restaurant, which is derived I guess from the skewer street item. Beijing Restaurant has both the lamb (and ?beef) skewers as well as the cumin main dish. There is also a variant, called toothpick lamb which I have seen at several places, particularly the very interesting Chengdu Taste in Alhambra (LA).

The picture is of a street vendor grilling lamb in central Kashgar around 1992. It was a wonderful place with an incredible weekend market, but is now sadly highly stressed by conflict between the Uygurs and the immigrant Han Chinese and very hard to get to.

Shanghai Chowdown at Bamboo Garden [Mountain View]

An interesting change of region at least for me as I haven't participated in this extensive a Shanghai (maybe really Suzhou) region menu in some time. I started out quite impressed with some of the "cold" items, like the tofu, and also, though not at the same level, the spare ribs.

The latter were a bit warmed up and started a theme of sugar and soy sauce that wound through the meal. This kind of red cook saucing is common in Shanghai, but there sometimes seemed to be little variation in it. Beyond the ribs, similar sauce appeared in the pork belly in bamboo, the croaker, and the eel. Actually, the variation in texture and featured protein in these dishes generally overcame the sameness of the sauce. I liked the pork belly served with glutinous rice in an elegant bamboo log. And my favorite dish of the night was the eel. The croaker seemed dry.

The tea smoked duck was also very nice, rather different from the Sichuan version of this. The rice cake pasta dish was well done. The pan fried buns with a pork filling looked beautiful but the inside of the thick dough seemed undercooked (unless this was some kind of texture play I was missing).

All in all a pleasant if not outstanding meal. Our initial goal had been to get Beggar's Chicken at Little Shanghai in San Mateo, but they are off for a vacation...

The company was charming and knowledgable. Many thanks to Hyperbowler for organizing.

SF Trip report from a Londoner

You really zeroed in on my fave taco truck and it's wonderful crisp carnitas. El Gallo Giro (think that's the right spelling) does lunchtime weekdays at Treat and 24th for those who haven't discovered it. Congratulations on finding this secret truck.

Otherwise, I think you made poor choices at Namu Gaji. We go for the pickles, okonomiyaki, and Wednesday's Korean Fried Chicken.

Also a but unfair to Nopalito where you could do better from the appetizers section. Tamales for example are always good.

Din tai Fung comes to Bay Area

I have just the spot, the place that Straits abandoned, but that's practically next to M Y China.

Dragon Beaux opens. [San Francisco]

We were last KP in Daly City yesterday and had the usual fine array of items. Interesting that I was least impressed, as you were at DB, by the Spicy Seafood Dumpling. Rather tough skin and a vinegar based sauce that did not impress. The Din Tai Fung thread reminded me that we had a superb version of this at DTF in Taipei, an example of the excellent non XLB items they have on the menu there.

Also we were offered the Abalone Pastry, but I passed on it (regrettably) as I was afraid we had ordered too much.

So, it seems that the common commissary has its plusses and minuses. If an item is good, it will be good at all locations... One of the links in the DTF thread notes that they also have a common kitchen (for some items) in Taipei, though the XLBs are always made locally behind the exhibition window.

We arrived at Koi Palace at 10:10 yesterday (Saturday) expecting to sail right in. We had to take a number and wait 20 minutes. I was told they had a table for 4 reserved for "a VIP member" and we could get it if they didn't show. So, I asked how to become a VIP member. Oh, they eat here every day... I said I come often, but that was not considered enough. Does anyone know what this VIP member business is all about? Never heard of it before.

Din tai Fung comes to Bay Area

Agree that the one we went to in Singapore (there are many) was not up to the Taipei places either in the depth of offerings or even in quality. But by our standards it was very good and I would be delighted to have one (or more) like that around here.

Din tai Fung comes to Bay Area

The family (including Frank) seems to move slowly and deliberately - which may explain why it took so long for the obvious Bay Area opportunity to gel.

Another common theme in their operations is the tendency to open several places in the same general area once they get started. That makes management and logistics easier. So, always the optimist, I am hoping for more Bay Area places out in the heart of Silicon Valley and then Millbrae, maybe, please, please ....

I am less hopeful that the depth of the menu they have in Taipei will come here as I think that is pretty unique and has not happened elsewhere in their operations. One can hope, but I expect ours to be XLB focussed.

Din tai Fung comes to Bay Area

A tourist trap in Taipei, yes, but what a tourist trap!

I would got to a pale copy even it if were on Pier 39.

Nothing but Forgettable Fancy Tasting Menus at Bay Area French Influenced High End Restaurants - RANT

Yes, the opening rant focussed on the high end French influenced places and the lack of choice. I am glad to learn that at least Quince (originally Italian influenced...) and La Folie still allow selecting your own menu out of plates larger than an appetizer.

But, if I wished for anything around here, it would be for a real French bistro, the kind you floated out of after a meal in the Paris Vème, with money still in your pocket. Haven't been in France for a long time, but I know there are still phenomenal 1 and 2 * family run places that mix both new ideas with old traditions.

We have great Italian in our area that you could imagine finding in Italy. Maybe our Mediterranean climate and great farms and ranches supply the right kind of ingredients. But, French has always seemed to struggle.

Of the places you mention, only Monsieur Benjamin makes me feel like I might be in some quartier of Paris or Lyon. Chapeau and l'Ardoise historically were far more French than they are are now. I recall a really authentic cassoulet at Chapeau, but that got dumbed down as time went on. Not sure it is even on their menu these days. Similarly, choucroute garnie at local restaurants are usually a pale reminder of what they should be. I walk by these places, always hoping, as I check out the menu, only to find another boring list of coq au vin, some overpriced variant of steak frites, duck leg confit, same old same old...

Dragon Beaux opens. [San Francisco]

As I noted, the quality was there. Apparently some items are made in house, others get trucked in. I don't see an issue with this as in any case the steamed items are made up earlier in the day and then steamed at order time. If there is a truck in the middle of the process, it can't make a difference -- so long as the items are fresh from the same day and not frozen...

Dragon Beaux opens. [San Francisco]

We hiked over yesterday (Sunday) getting there around 2:45 and were seated immediately. Apparently there was a huge mob with people turning themselves away at the main lunch hour.

The menu is shorter than Koi, but still very interesting with some items I don't recall seeing at the Palace (e.g. Garlic Pork Belly presented in a set of rolls standing on end -- looked good, but didn't get to try). Most outstanding was the generous and delicious Roasted Pork Belly with a perfect crispy skin. Steamed dumplings of various sorts were all first class and freshly made, up to Koi standards. The fried Taro Puff was so fresh that one had to wait for it to cool down to eat. The "Crab Roe Juicy Dumplings" were served in a soup spoon and nicely done.

Service was excellent, though maybe some 2nd day issues were apparent as several dishes had run out (e.g. the regular XLBs).

What a pleasure that we have a Koi-class dim sum place in the CIty. Prices more in line with Koi and cheaper than Yank Sing.

Nothing but Forgettable Fancy Tasting Menus at Bay Area French Influenced High End Restaurants - RANT

It is puzzling to me that Michelin doesn't do what you say (require no a la carte menu for 3 stars) elsewhere... Robuchon has 3 stars in Las Vegas and certainly in France neither Robuchon nor Gagnaire, both 3 stars, are not limited to tasting menu. I haven't been to France recently, but I find it hard to believe that there are tasting menu only 2 and 3 star places.

Nothing wrong with a tasting menu from a great chef being available and I will go for it once in a while. But my complaint is that we have lost the choice.

Maybe I overstated about Bauer, but he does influence lots of people looking for this category, and he simply gushes over these kinds of pretty plates. I do think that if we had a food critic like Jonathan Gold we would have less of the same old, same old we get at all levels here. I think foodies around here are just as sophisticated and bold as in LA (certainly more so than Vegas), and the cost of doing business is not that different, so why is the variety and choice so limited by copy-cat derivative menus?

I can't resist a little anecdote ... a cousine of mine who speaks her mind freely is a native of Lausanne and told Frédy Girardet one evening in the local patois, "Don't give me any of your pretty plates, Frédy. I want real food." 20 minutes later he returned with a whole foie gras on a platter, "Ça suffit, madame?"

Los Angelino from San Gabriel Valley ISO Best Inexpensive Dim Sum Palace

Koi Palace in Daly City and Tai Wu in Millbrae are mid price range (much less than Yank Sing) and excellent.

Nothing but Forgettable Fancy Tasting Menus at Bay Area French Influenced High End Restaurants - RANT

M. Bauer’s two rave reviews of Manresa and Quince today bubble over with enthusiasm about their extensive tasting menus. I guess he has to have a note pad to remind himself of what he ate. Whenever I have one of these menus, as refined and perfect as each item is, the next day I have no clue what I had eaten and no pleasure in the memory of a great meal.

Correct me if I am wrong, but no longer can one find the ability at the Bay Area’s most sophisticated (French influenced) restaurants to put together one’s own meal from an à la carte list or a list of choices for a fixed price 3, 4, or 5 course meal (with optional extra costs, of course). To be specific, I am talking about The French Laundry (where this nonsense started), Coi, Manresa, Benu, Saison, Quince …

I recall with pleasure meals at Manresa when you could have a wonderful and memorable meal from the offerings on the menu. For some time, Corey Lee also allowed variations, and during weekdays, there was an a la carte menu at Benu. No more. Coi had a vestibule where you could order a la carte. I believe Saison also offered the option. Now, none of them do!

This does not have to be. In Las Vegas, 3 Michelin star chefs, Gagnaire (at Twist), and Robuchon both at his main restaurant and at the Atelier, allow options. We had a phenomenal meal at Robuchon this year which included a whole roast Guinea Fowl with large slices of foie gras — something you would never get on a tasting menu of microscopic pretty plates. And L’Atelier is the perfect restaurant with marvelous choices in a relaxed atmosphere. I keep begging the people at these places to come to San Francisco. But apparently M. Robuchon is scared of us and now looking toward Miami. Could be it be M. Bauer’s stranglehold on our cuisine?

Similarly in Los Angles, which is strongly influenced by Wolfgang Puck, there are plenty of places with choices and where you can get a dish you always remember (Lobster Curry at Chinois).

I just posted three raves about new mid range restaurants in SF, so allow me this rant about the lack of great French influenced meals around here and the narcissistic chefs’ fetish of extensive tasting menus. I understand there may be some economies in the kitchen for this trend, but it is also a result of the dominance of Michael Bauer influence on this class of restaurant. Thank God, he can’t damage the middle range of places as badly, particularly the Asian ones, since he is so totally clueless about them that he can be ignored.

Bay Area Burmese Restaurant Roundup 2.0

Checked out Burma Love last night. Have not been overwhelmed with the Burmese restaurants we have been to previously (away from Burma), but that did not include Super Star as we are not big on ridiculous reservation/wait outside policies.

So, it is a pleasure that I can say I now understand what all the BSS fuss is about. They take great care with their preparations. The mo hinga was superb and presented with an array of condiments that allowed one to adjust flavor and texture.

The tea leaf salad was as good as it gets, though I might prefer a little less of the admixture of lettuce that seems (??) to be included to tame the dish for western tastes.

We also had and enjoyed the very generous Super Star Shrimp, which is quite authentic though extremely accessible to sweet loving American tastes.

Prices are Mission up-ish scale prices, but you get something for the $.

Along with Hawker Fare, how wonderful to be able to talk about 2 great new immigrants to the Mission!

Hawker Fare in the Mission [San Francisco]

Things are certainly looking up. A great restaurant from Oakland opens in the Mission! Will wonders never cease? Hawker Fare in a large attractive place on Valencia.

A few years ago, one couldn't find anything approaching an authentic Thai experience around here. Then came Lers Ros on Larkin, and its branches. And the superb Kin Khao. Now, frankly we are better off than LA (Jitlada) and Vegas (Lotus), where one previously had to voyage for great Thai.

The Chicken and Rice (called Kao Mun Ga on the menu and referred to as "poached chicken") was truly superb, moist, flavorful. Gosh, you would be happy with that in Singapore. As good, maybe even better than the great version at Kin Khao. One of the best dishes in our City.

We also had a fine papaya salad with crushed raw crab, spicy and perfect.

Meal at The Progress - San Francisco

I have not been a fan of SBP. The one time we went I was unimpressed and barely could remember what we ate the next day. Add to that the absurdly difficult reservations/wait in line policies, and this was off our list...

Progress on the other hand was a revelation. We managed to get a 945PM reservation last Saturday and they only made us wait a few minutes. The place is larger and more fun (for me) to be in. The service was excellent.

Portions are larger and sharable. Most memorable was the squab, deliciously roasted with a flavorful crispy skin, yet beautifully rare breast meat. The table next door told us to try the kiwi salad. I dislike kiwis, bland, boring things. But wow, this kiwi salad was perfect and complex. The "treasure" chest, a soup with a sour sausage, trout quenelles, dumplings, was also unusual and interesting. Also good was the lobster and tofu stir fry. Not quite at the same level were the porcini and Mt Tam dumplings in a good nettle salsa.

We will return as Progress is exactly the kind of place we like. Somehow less pretentious (at least for now) it delivers to deserve the accolades that SBP never did for me. I hope we will again be able to get a reservation - even at 945PM.

China Live megaplex [San Francisco]

From Zagat a new opening - the "Chinese food market" could be interesting, but their previous Shanghai 1930 had an overpriced menu in a fancy place and strange location opposite Safeway on Market St and failed. Suddenly we have a flood of high priced Chinese places, which may bring us something wonderful (maybe).

China Live, 644 Broadway St.
George Chen and his wife Cindy Wong-Chen (Betelnut, Shanghai 1930) and director of operations Richard Miyashiro (Boulevard, Hakkasan) have planned one of the most ambitious and anticipated openings of 2015: China Live. A complex many are calling the “Chinese Eataly,” the massive, 30,000-sq.-ft. space, designed by Avro/KO, is floors of possibilities, starting downstairs with an upscale, interactive Chinese food market with numerous stations, noodle bar, seafood and raw bar, demos, exhibition kitchen, a bar and a cafe and eating stations. Upstairs there will be an exclusive, eight-table restaurant accessed only by a back alley (dubbed Eight Tables by George Chen), a futuristic bar overlooking Broadway Street and a more intimate lounge, Madame's Parlour, recalling retro Shanghai. The forward-thinking project also includes an exclusive rooftop patio and plans to restore the building's underground movie theater, as upstairs will also house offices of The San Francisco Film Society.
ETA: Spring 2015

Hainan Chicken Rice or Khao Man Gai Recommendations in the Bay Area?

Kin Khao does a fine chicken and rice. Best I've seen in these parts, though haven't tried Lime Tree's version. Penang Garden's was not good and Banana Island's version passes if you get desperate for C&R as my SO does at times.

Chowdown Report: Penang Garden (San Francisco Chinatown)

Thanks to HyperB for suggesting this and to Vincent for the sake!

Maybe we are just too far from SE Asia...but I keep getting disappointed when I try to pretend I am in Singapore or KL. The old Straits on Geary, before they tried to go big time, was pretty darn good with excellent rendang, a memorable black pepper mussels, etc. I want to try the new Lime Tree as I have good memories of the little place on Irving, but haven't been there in a while. We have gone to Banana Island a few times over on Lake Merced Blvd and with careful menu selection have felt like returning. Their rendang is OK, the rotis are good, though the dipping sauce is milder than at Penang Garden, and they have a killer desert selection of rotis, best filled with fresh mango and covered with a bit of chocolate sauce and whipped cream... Best of all it is a happy place, generally filled with lots of Asian families and fun to go to.

So, how does Penang Garden fare. Atmosphere, service etc., not that warm and fun. Some of the dishes pretty good. I liked the Roti Canaiand Roti Murtabak, dipping sauce as it was quite spicy. The rotis are well done and fresh. I am confused about murtabaks as we had an incredible very Indian style version at Zam Zam in Singapore and I don't remember how Murtabaks are in KL, but frankly I wouldn't bother with them again at Penang Garden -- though others may enjoy them. I am just spoiled by Zam Zam.

The chile crab (2nd picture) is another dish worth talking about. I think the sauce is pretty close to Singapore chile crab, but, of course, as klyeoh and others on the Singapore threads will freely admit, our crabs are way better than the Sri Lankan things they get. klyeoh can comment if the pictured amount of sauce seems correct. Note the little fried breads, a correct accompaniment. So, this is a reasonable place to sample the, perhaps overrated, Singapore chile crab.

We didn't understand why the waiter strongly discouraged us from the black pepper preparation of crab that we were headed for. That can be a most interesting dish - and as I mentioned the black pepper mussels at Straits were a triumph.

Two big fails for us:

the chicken and rice (Hainese Chicken), a favorite dish of my SO who gave thumbs down on this (she likes Kin Khao's version). We ordered the dark meat version. I normally prefer dark meat, but at the famous Singapore stalls, the revelation was how much taste and juiciness there was in the white meat. The rice at Penang Garden was OK, but didn't sing.

the beef rendang was nothing short of a disaster. The meat pieces were often tough. The sauce was lacking in the many dimensions of even mediocre renderings (Banana Island).

I was most happy to find a curry laksa as I haven't found this in the Bay Area outside of the Singapore Airlines lounge at SFO. It was good, but I can't compare to the legendary laksa in Singapore as we never got to Katong Rd. There is another kind of laksa, Assam Laksa which has sardines in it and a more sour soup (tamarind and pineapple). This is what you get for laksa at Banana Island. I found the Penang Garden version to be far superior.

Other dishes: oyster pancakes could have used more oyster; the noodle dish didn't convince me of its value; the vegetables with lots of shrimp paste in a Nonya style were good, but not to everyone's taste; not sure what was the Thai style in the salty pork leg. Finally the durian pancake was filled with probably a canned durian custard...

In sum, might be worth returning if in the hood and desperate for laksa or a roti canai and if you want to sample a chile crab.