Last Monday I tried to take my mom to Patisserie Philippe for lunch, but in the downpour, the garage was full and I couldn’t find a space on the street close enough to dash in without getting drenched. Next choice was closer to her afternoon appointment, Bay Fung Tong on Balboa, but we discovered that it was closed. Nearby I remembered King Sing, which I’d tried when it was a “Mandarin” and Korean-Chinese Shandong type place. It’s had a few changes of ownership and now sports a “grand opening” banner and a name change on the marquee to King Sing Hong Kong Restaurant. The interior is transformed too, now sleek and contemporary with dark woods and wine racking for what looks it will be a bar when the construction is complete.
The restaurant was still using the printed menus from the previous incarnation (King Sing Mandarin Restaurant) but has a supplementary page of Cantonese/Hong Kong-style dishes listed in Chinese available between 11am and 3pm, priced from $5.95 to $7.95. These lunch specials are also displayed in handwritten signs on the windows. Our waiter happily obliged when I asked him to read/translate them for us. He mentioned that King Sing changed hands three weeks ago.
We ordered three items to share, won ton soup noodles and two items from the specials menu. Soon two servings of the house soup came out. This day’s “old fire” soup had the long-simmered taste of the bones, plus some barley, carrots and bits of pork in it, a good start.
Our first dish, Yu xiang eggplant ("fish-flavored"), $5.95, featured perfectly cooked, slightly carmelized, velvety pieces of Chinese eggplant. But despite this dish’s textural lusciousness, the taste was decidedly bland. At least it wasn't too salty or sweet, which are common faults. When I asked our waiter why this was missing the traditional missed pork, he said this dish is popular with vegetarians and that’s why there’s no meat. When I then pointed out the absence of sufficient garlic and chilis, our server whisked it away to the kitchen before we could protest, and brought it back to us with a new red-colored chili sheen and some minced and sautéed garlic mixed in, making it much, much tastier. This dish was tastier still when we got the leftovers home and my mom reheated it with the fresh jalapeno and scallions from the pork chop dish. The eggplant was great with steamed rice.
Next was a big serving of salt and pepper pork chops for $5.95 from the Chinese menu. Artfully presented on modern white porcelain with the seasoned salt sprinkled on top (see crystals) and a cluster of the scallions and fresh chilis, but it would have tasted better if the seasonings had been tossed to combine with the meat. Breaded a bit too thickly, but otherwise prepared well with greaseless, succulent, juicy pork. Quite a satisfying dish, and excellent value of price to quality and quantity.
Now we were wondering what happened to our won tons. Checking with our waiter, he said, “I cancelled the order. Too much food for the two of you, so I cancelled it.” Then he turned tail and dashed off. Mom fumed, “Who does he think he is?”, but later she thought it was funny that a new restaurant didn’t jump on the opportunity to oversell us. We figured that the kitchen ran out of wonton wrappers or something that morning. In any case, with less food in front of us we made it to our appointment on time easily.
The dishes we ordered were good enough that we’d return to try more. Service at King Sing was still disjointed but well-meaning. Our waiter spoke excellent English, and didn’t hesitate to help us with the menu. There were never more than two other parties during our meal. Portion sizes are big at this point with above average quality. Some times this doesn’t last long beyond the opening weeks, so this is a near-term opportunity to enjoy clean and comfortable surroundings at relatively low prices.
King Sing Mandarin
501 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94118