This place just opened a month ago on 1420 Irving (near 16th I think). To put it very simply, IT'S THE BEST HONG KONG STYLE CHINESE I'VE HAD IN SF. (OK - I was just there 30mins ago and am still quite excited.) I'll lay down some caveats first: (1) I've been deprived of high end Chinese food like this since my last trip home to Singapore (more than a year and a half) and therefore (2) my palate isn't going to as nit-picky for Chinese as it could be, and (3) since I don't drive, I haven't ventured down the peninsula at all (except for Little Sichuan in San Mateo) hence my comparison is with SF places.
Before I get to the good stuff about what we ate, I'm asking you to support chowhound. And here's why. I nuts about that restaurant, in fact I've just used the adjective "BEST" up there. But the best part is, it's highly unlikely that you would ever read about this place in any other media source any time soon, if ever - it's out of the way on a quiet empty stretch of Irving street, it's unlikely that they would make any announcements to the press, and most professional restaurant critics in the area wouldn't be able to read the Chinese-only specials menu. To make things even better, other intrepid hounds will check this place out and provide their educated and independent opinion. They will chime in and put things right if I'm wrong, or if I'm right, verify my delight so that you can be more confident about going there to indulge. You can never get this level of confirmation or interactivity by reading other media sources. Subscribe to ChowNews (see link below) and you'll find that posts like this one are merely a tiny drop in the vast bucket of deliciousness. (No - I don't benefit in anyway from this, except that Chowhound stays around.)
Now the food. We had walked in expecting another neighborhood place, and this place blew us away with delicate and polished treatment of the ingredients.
We started with Geoduck clam sashimi (it's a fairly common dish in Hong Kong style Chinese places). The long muscle of the clam is is sliced thinly and served in a dragon boat of crushed ice rimmed with lemon slices with a side of wasabi and soy sauce. The slices of geoduck clam on the ice almost draws out pleasurable gasps. The clam is chilled just enough to bring on a crisp sensation on the tongue. The slices of clam are thinner than sliced bacon, yet substantial enough to give a snappy and satisfying crunch (think mirugai but better). Each slice is fresh and sweet and still singing of the sea - this is a perfect combination of texture and flavor.
Next, a platter of mixed appetizers. We devour the honey roasted spare ribs; the meat is tender, juicy and the crimson sweet glaze is perfect. The long noodle like strands of jelly fish are also superb because - they are more resilient than usual and the crunch is heftier. The sprinking of sesame seeds echoes the faintest dash of sesame oil here, and there is also an invisible touch of chilli for an subtle spark. Beneath the jellyfish are little soy beans cooked in a penetrating syrup that lend another textural dimension to the dish, a soft sweet crunch, like little buttons if you will. Also present are cold slices of pork (head cheese, according to my buddy) and beef (lean, satiny, with veins of fat). The former is framed with a crunchy gelantinous layer (skin?) and latter is resonant with meaty flavor. On hand is a thin vingery sauce with chilli flakes and shallots to enhance the meat.
After that, braised abalone and sea cumcumber with the stems of Chinese mustard greens. Where to start? The rich sauce is derived from a flavorful superior stock; the slices of abalone with their deep flavor are so tender that they can be split by the spoon (how long did they braise it?); the sea cumcumber is delightfully gelantinous and at just the right level of chewiness and gumminess, permeated with the rich complexity of the sauce; lastly, the succulent stems of the mustard greens lend a light tinge of verdant bitterness to the stocky and robust flavors of the dish. What luxury!
The last dish is a whole live black bass, pan-fried with a spicy honey sauce. The sweetness is wonderfully demure but omnipresent in the soy based sauce. There are lovely pin-pricks of piquance from the chilli and fragrant whiffs from fresh cilantro and caramelized shallots. The fish itself is delicious - the elegantly white flesh is so tender that it glides over the palate, the skin is so crispy that it gives out a most plesant crackle when one bites into it.
Service was exceptional and well orchestrated. The maitre'd came by to check with us several times, dishes were changed after the the appetizer platter, tea and water were rapidly served and replenished. It wasn't a cheap meal ($110 for 3 people not counting tip) but considering the quality of the food and service, it was exceptional.
At the end of the meal, I chatted a little with maitre'd, especially about the special dishes that require advance ordering. Some highlights that require 2-3 days advance notice include the buddha jump over the wall and crispy skinned chicken stuffed with glutinous (aka sticky) rice (Melanie - I'd love to hear a comparison with the one at R&G). All this, together with a lot of the good stuff is on a Chinese only page at the end of the menu (frog and pigeon and crab and the geoduck clam sashimi are found here). I'm sure that they would be happy to translate. I asked if they also had lobster sashimi - and yes they do (not on the menu). Also not on the menu, a lobster two ways, as well as lobster segmented with chinese ham and mushrooms, something I'm quite eager to try.
This place also does dim sim daily for lunch, with plates going from $2.30 to $5. I'm tempted. Seriously tempted.
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