When you see an old-timey place boarded up do you get that sinking feeling that more patronage from you personally might have saved it? Thats how guilty I felt when the windows were newspapered over at Woey Loy Goey. This basement restaurant just off Grant on Jackson Street in San Francisco Chinatown had been an institution. My father had repeated stories about his starving student days at Cal, treating himself to a 10¢ bowl of plain noodles in soup here and asking for extra chopped scallions to have more vegetable!
A few months later I noticed construction crews inside and learned from them that this was a remodel job under the same ownership. Finally, the grand opening was in December and I had a chance to try it anew last week.
Now there are fish tanks with live seafood crab, lobster, striped bass and catfish. But even though the interior is spruced up and freshly painted, it still feels like an underground dive. The menu seems much the same with the kind of Cantonese-American food served in the 60s. Prices are still low with many dishes at $4 or less. Remembering that someone on this board was craving duck yee won ton, a dish I hadnt eaten in decades, I looked for this old standard on the menu and found it.
Duck flavor yee won ton (in Cantonese, op gung yee won ton) was listed as $4.95, although my bill said $4. Yee-style of won ton means that the dumplings are deep-fried to puff them up and then served in soup giving them a soaked spongy texture. The big bowl had about a dozen won tons in a broth darkened by duck gravy and the requisite oil slick. This was topped with diced carrots, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, button mushroom slices, cubes of Cantonese roast duck, and some sliced snow peas. I appreciated that the carrots and snow peas were fresh and not frozen or canned, making this a more updated style. My one complaint would be that this batch of won tons werent puffed up with enough air bubbles to get the right spongy character. Otherwise, this was a tasty and filling supper.
Sitting at the counter, I saw a number of rice plates pass by that looked very good, especially one with eggplant and stuffed tofu squares. The portions are generous but the plates arent heaped to overflowing, consistent with the prices here. At dinner, a big bowl of chicken bone soup is provided as a complimentary starter as had been the custom in old Chinatown.
This isnt great Chinese food --- its cheap, quick and comforting. Im glad that there are still places in Chinatown to find this kind of meal.
New Woey Loy Goey Restaurant
699 Jackson St.