I had a fantastic meal at Louie's California Chinese Cuisine in the shadow of the Transamerica Building and had to post about it on Chowhound.
It's on Washington Street in Chinatown between Columbus Avenue and Kearny Street. We went on a Saturday night and almost had the place to ourselves.
We started with a nice white radish similar to what is served as na mul in Korean restaurants. Then came a salt=and-pepper crab that was fantastic. Obviously fresh crab and perfectly cooked.
Then came for me what was probably the highlight of the night, a tea-smoked duck. They smoke the duck by burning tea leaves, rice and I believe honey. The different smokes give the duck different flavors and textures. We were having fantastic wine with the food and the tea-smoked duck reminded me of a nice wine with a lot of depth and complexity.
They presented it whole for everyone to see, then took it back and cut it up and brought it out with pancakes like you get with Peking duck.
Next up was a seafood winter melon soup. If we had a larger group I guess we would have gotten it served in an actual melon and they would have scraped the side of the melon when they ladled the soup. We had a smaller group, but the seafood was an interesting contrast with the slightly bitter melon.
Next up was Chinese broccoli wonderfully flavored in s soup stock and other ingredients. I could have eaten the whole plate myself. Next up was preserved duck egg and fried shrimp in a sweet-and-sour sauce. I was glad I tried it, but this seemed to be the least interesting main course of the night. Too much of an overkill on the sauce, I think. Maybe they did it that way because we were mostly gringos at the table.
This was followed by a tea-smoked sea bass. I can be an adventurous eater, but some things I just don't like. When the lazy susan made it's way around to me all the fish left had lots of bones inside so I didn't care for this dish either.
But we were right back on track with the next dish, a Cantonese chicken. I haven't liked Cantonese chicken at other restaurants primarily because of the texture. There's something odd about the way it's made and cut, something they do deliberately. This had none of that and was deliciously tender. I could eat this Cantonese chicken all night. I dunno, maybe it wasn't authentic and that's why I liked it.
For dessert, we had cubes of mango and coconut milk. I passed on the coconut, which I don't like, but the mango was sweet and tasty.
A quick run down on the wines we had: We started with a 1996 Hauth-Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett that was probably the best match for all the food we had (disclaimer: I brought it). It's definitely a wine for acidheads, but that acid makes a good pairing for many of the foods. There's also just a touch of sweetness remaining. There's some petrol on the nose and the flavors are citrusy. The second wine was a mid 1980s Weinbach Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvée Ste. Catherine that unfortunately was opened about five years too late and was fading. The third wine actually a white zinfandel. It's the 2007 Storybook Vineyards Zin Gris and they do everything they can to make it sound like something other than a pink zinfandel, but that's what ti is. It's pretty tasty stuff. Bone dry and perfectly balanced, it has lots of fruit flavors. The next wine was another mid 1980s Weinbach, this one a Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence. This one was still drinking well. The nose was among the best I've ever smelled. I could have stayed in the corner and huffed the wine all night. Spices, honey, a floral component. It was a wonder. The palate didn't quite live up the nose, but it was still nice. The last wine was probably the best wine of the night. It's a 1989 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese. The guy who brought the Weinbachs was so impressed by the wine he wants to see if he can find some for his own cellar. Another nice, complex nose of diesel and honey and lots of pure apple on the palate along with honey and some good acidity. I think it would be a better match for Thai food because of the spatlese sweetness, but it was still a great wine.
Louie's served up a meal most Chowhounds would love and I plan on going again..
Louie's California Chinese Cuisine
646 Washington St.
(between Columbus Ave & Kearny St)
San Francisco, CA 94111
From left to right are the salt-and-pepper crab, the tea-smoked duck, the sea bass and the white zin.