Two weeks ago my cousins hosted us for Uncle Ben's 80th birthday bash at R&G Lounge in San Francisco Chinatown. I'd had dinner here in January ( Chinese New Year's Eve at R&G Lounge - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... ) when things seemed to be getting back on track after a two-year decline. In the wake of this latest banquet, the kitchen in top form again.
Our four tables had the area behind the bar on the ground floor. There was some traffic of wait staff running back and forth to the kitchen to serve other tables, but it gave us a great measure of privacy and room to stretch out. Our elders did not have to climb any stairs and the rest rooms were easily accessible on this level.
First course was a cold appetizer platter of jellyfish, 5-spice beef shank, pork hock, char siu, and smoked salmon. The freshly roasted and honey-glazed strips of char siu were particularly good. The jellyfish had good texture but was relatively bland. This is the first time I've seen smoked salmon on the cold plate here.
The eight treasures winter melon soup was as good as it gets. Not able to procure the right size or shape melons to create tureens of whole melons, the kitchen instead cut out the winter melon flesh into celadon-colored serrated edge discs. The ethereally light and greaseless stock was chockfull with bits of fresh scallop, prawns, Virginia ham, black mushroom, grass mushroom, loofah, roast duck, poached chicken, pork, and white lotus seeds. One of the best versions I've ever had.
My enthusiasm for the return to excellence is mostly pegged to how good the glutinous rice stuffed chicken turned out. I've this dish here dozens of times, and this one was spot on and back to earlier heights. Perfectly fried, and the stuffing was glorious once again with fresh and dried scallops, lop cheong, black mushroom, fresh and dried shrimp, and fatty char siu. The pearly rice was exactly on point with al dente, sticky texture.
The stir-fry of geoduck clam with "gold and silver" turned a lot of heads at my table among those who'd never tasted this giant bivalve before. The sweet and tender clam meat was expertly cooked to preserve its pristine fresh flavor and texture. The "silver" bean sprouts and "gold" leeks still had some crunch.
A single giant Maine lobster with ginger and scallions was a great menu choice while local Dungeness crab is out of season. Firm, sweet morsels of lobster bathed with savory ginger and scallion juices, each piece of shell was licked and sucked to get every bit of flavor out.
Sea scallop, beef and sugar snap peas with XO sauce was next up. I've had this dish made with a combo of scallops and squab or with ribeye steak alone, and this one was very good too. The house style of XO sauce here is fairly mild in spice and heavy on the conpoy. The snap peas were a bit large at this time of year but still very sweet.
We thought we had room for no more. Then the beautiful slab of smoked black cod appeared. One of my favorite preps, this was the first time I've had this dish here. And, it won't be the last, as this was absolutely amazing. Lusciously rich flakes of oily sable fish were tinged with a light smoking and barely sweet spices.
The feast began to wind down with the jade-colored mustard green hearts and thick black mushroom in oyster sauce. Juicy with just the right snap, the succulent greens were very refreshing at this point in the meal.
Long-life noodles (yee fu mein with grass mushrooms and yellow leeks) were a bit too soft. Also, I didn't think these were as tasty as the rendition we had for new year's eve.
The dessert course was red bean soup and cookies. I didn't try these as I was saving room for the birthday cake, Stella Bakery's Sacripantina. In a half-sheet size, the edges were decorated with amaretti. I held out for a piece cut from the outside edge and it confirmed its sacred reputation again. A great ending for a top-notch banquet.
Birthday banquet photo set -