Last night the last four of us to stagger out of the picnic grounds went in search of dumplings. We had hoped to pay another visit to San Tung, but with the bluegrass festival celebrants getting out at the same time there was a huge line outside the restaurant and many others on Irving Street. I suggested that we expand our horizons to a spot more distant from the park to get away from the crowds and we headed over to S&T Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant on Noriega and 33rd. (larochelle said to be sure to call it "Hong Kong Seafood" 'cuz that's what the big sign outside reads). At 7pm, this restaurant was full too, but with only a short line. The female staff managing the walk-ins were no where to be seen and one of the waiters took down my name and said we'd have a 30-minute wait. That was fine with us, more time to study the live seafood tanks and the many menus: a glossy color photo illustrated multi-paged menu, a laminated front and back single sheet of chef's specials, a wo choy menu in Chinese starting at about $30 (that we soon learned was not available on weekends), and a banquet menu in Chinese with an entry level of $88 for 4. Looking at the reservation book, most of the tables had been prebooked for 6 to 7pm start times for larger size parties. Luckily we'd arrived a little ahead of the affluent, Hong Kong immigrant crowd trying to get tables here.
We ordered four dishes, plus steamed rice, which was too much food considering we weren't that hungry and because the portion size is quite large here. First up was the daily house soup, an old fire-style (lo faw tong) served in a covered, tallish tureen. It really hit the spot for those of us trying to fend off the nasty cold that's going around. Our waiter said that it's been simmering away since 11am, and it had the richness of long-cooked chicken bones, sweetness from carrots, and was more meaty than herbal in taste.
I had been admiring the lively spot prawns in the tank. On the small size, these were priced at $19 per pound. We got a pound, just poached or blanched bok cherk-style. The plain, blank preparation showed off the sweet and tender flesh and juices that accumulated in the heads. Due to the small size, they were kind of a pain to peel, but for me, so worth it, especially sucking on the tasty heads. The dipping sauce was light, steeped with fresh chilis and scallions, and didn't overwhelm the fresh, sweet flavors of the delicate shellfish. Alderete said he had observed the prawns being fished out of the tank and these were live when they hit the cooking pot.
Ruth Lafler and I had studied the menu carefully. Towards the back of the multi-paged glossy menu is a section of chef's specials. It has photos, but the descriptions for those dishes are in Chinese only (with the price in dollars clearly marked). We pointed to the ones that looked interesting, and appreciated our waiter's willingness to explain them to us. Earlier he had translated the $88 menu for us, which we decided to skip because of the sharks fin soup. We picked the crispy tofu with tender greens topped with a spicy meat sauce. The ground pork flecked with chopped garlic, pickled vegetables, and fresh jalapeño chilis was sooo tasty with a lively step of tart salty flavors jazzed up with spicy heat. This was great with the plain rice and larochelle's favorite.
Our fourth dish was stir-fried beef with lily bulbs. That was my idea and I wish I hadn't ordered it. The lily bulbs looked like white onions but with far less flavor and a starchy texture. The thinly sliced beef had a thin line of gristle through it, like the chi dei yuk cut similar to flatiron steak. The beef looked pasty and didn't have the fragrant qualities of a good stir-fry. Also, there was too much celery in the balance. While I enjoyed the leftovers reheated for lunch today (enhanced with a slug of oyster sauce), there wasn't anything special about this dish.
The complimentary dessert was red bean soup and fortune cookies. With a small order of the house soup to go, our tab was $76 with tax and tip. This was a good scouting trip, and we're looking forward to exploring more of the menu.
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