Long have I mourned the untimely passing of the Fountain Court that once graced the corner of Clement and 5th Avenue. I still have yet to find a suitable replacement, but that corner is no longer just a grave of food memories for me.
I had lunch today at a small and rather dingy place called China First, a couple of doors eastward of the corner of 5th along Clement. The invitation came from a Shangainese friend who described the place as his kitchen away from home.
He ordered in Chinese and very quickly, so I don't know if I have the names of the dishes right. We started with a very rich, deep-flavored beef broth that came with meaty bones and a few carrots in the bowl, and then moved on to frog (yes, whole cut-up frogs) with bitter melon and spicy tofu with shredded pork. The frog and bitter melon took a few bites for me to get used to the new, strong flavors, and then it was delicious: bitter and rich, with just a hint of salt from the occasional black bean. The tofu came with a very thick sauce but was otherwise flavorful, slippery, and moderately spicy. Even the tea was good, well-infused and strong.
The tab came to $15 for all that and rice and arrived sans fortune cookie for that really authentic touch. The place was nearly full for lunch, with a diverse crowd well-seasoned with Chinese faces. Highly recommended!