This ones for Ruth Lafler, who spotted this little corner spot after our dinner on the same block at Destino. Dim Sum Day & Night and Hawaii BBQ painted on the window had caught her chowhounding eye.
Last week after an appointment at Davies, I jumped off the streetcar here to try it for lunch. I asked the proprietor if he was from Hawaii, and he said, no, but one of our cooks knows how to make the food. The menu includes eight Hawaiian items priced from $5.25 to $5.95 at lunchtime and a buck more at dinner. Then theres a page of dim sum without prices. Other than that, the menus offerings are mostly standard Americanized dishes with nothing particularly Hunan about them. I could hear the lively chatter of Cantonese coming from the kitchen. At lunch time the place was fairly busy, but the lady of the house still had time to sit down and chat with the regulars who appeared to regard her with a great deal of affection. About half the crowd seemed to be ABCs in business attire.
The customer across from me was tucking into a plate of #3, chicken karage (sic), $5.25, that looked really good. The owner said that it was made with dark meat and was the most popular of the Hawaiian dishes. My mind boggles at the possibilities for kara age, which is the Japanese version of Chinese-style fried chicken, in the hands of a Cantonese chef in a Hunan restaurant in San Francisco preparing it Hawaiian style!
I sprang for #8 in the Hawaiian section, BBQ marinated short ribs, $5.95. This was preceded by a complimentary cup of so-so hot and sour soup and a bit of shredded cabbage salad dressed with seasoned rice wine vinegar. About eight thin cross-cut ribs were piled on a bed of shredded cabbage and served with a scoop of rice (Chinese-style long grain rather than typical Japanese-Hawaiian short grain). The tasty well-balanced marinade wasnt overly sweet and the ribs had some good grilled complexity.
Encouraged by this, I decided to try the dim sum and ordered the dao miu gao (vegetarian pea shoot dumplings). Steamed to order, it took a little while but these were surprisingly good. The translucent white rice wrapper was springy tender and not too thick and the pea shoot filling was fresh as can be. I guess I had assumed that the dim sum at an out of the way place like this would be frozen, but these obviously were not. The owner told me that they make their own dim sum every day or two and then cook them to order.
So I ordered dessert, nai wong bao (egg yolk buns) to see how the steamed bread-y things fared here. Not as well, as these were overly firm and had probably been held a couple days then reheated. Yet, the custard filling was very good.
My bill with tax was $14.20, meaning that the two baskets of dim sum were priced at about $6. This is higher than comparable quality in Chinatown, but not completely out of line. I wouldnt hesitate to order either Hawaiian food or dim sum here again, although Id check first on the dim sum prices to avoid undue sticker shock.
1819 Market St.
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