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Restaurants & Bars 5

Back to the City: RoHan, Kam Lok, 8 Immortals

Melanie Wong | Jul 3, 200404:14 AM

After several days away, requirements for my first meal back in the City were spicy heat and chopsticks. The girlfriends came up with the perfect TGIF suggestion: RoHan Lounge for soju cocktails and Korean small bites.

We each had a couple cocktails ($6 apiece) that gave us the opportunity to try most of the specialty drink menu. My two – Happy Family and Asian Blonde - were way too sweet and fruity for me. My favorite tastes were the cucumber martini and one that combined ginger, lime and mint.

Foodwise, my favorite was one of the specials, skewers of chewy and rare marinated flank steak chunks and scallions dipped in egg wash then fried. It was served with a very complex and garlicky sizzling hot chili oil condiment. The pork bul go gi was delicious, maybe not quite as well-grilled and charry but more highly seasoned and flavorful than the versions at my last two Korean outings. I think I liked the sweet potato croquettes more than the others did, nicely browned and crunchy outside with sweet creamy centers served with tonkatsu dipping sauce and very good daikon kimchee. Somehow the little cakes reminded me of falafel and I couldn’t help but wonder what the croquettes with the spicy kimchee might be like rolled up in lavosh. The hoisin marinated grilled chicken breast wasn’t shabby either, loved the black and white sesame crust, but it was white meat afterall.

The dishes were nicely presented, and while brought up to date, I didn’t feel that any authenticity or flavor was sacrificed in the process. This is some of the tastiest bar food around. Price per person was $26, half of that for beverages.

Next we wandered over to Toy Boat on Clement for some dessert. I loved the vanilla and orange creamsicle milk shake topped with handmade whipped cream. It was actually more orange-y and tastier than a real creamsicle. I sampled the hot fudge sauce and would cross that off the list of possibilities.

* * * * *

Chipping away at the sleep deficit with a solid 12 hours of slumber and barely rolling out of bed before noon, I headed to Chinatown in search of noodles for lunch on Saturday. A few months earlier I’d noticed that there seemed to be some change afoot at Kam Lok with an updated menu and some different faces on the floor. I’d stopped going there a few years ago when quality sank, but decided to take a seat at the basement counter to check it out anew.

Kam Lok is a Cantonese seafood specialist and I was hoping that there might be a $10 or so special on lobster lo mein that many places feature as a lunch lead in. I inquired, but my waiter shook his head and told me that lobsters are priced at $14 per pound and are absolute top grade, not seconds. I ordered a one and a half pounder with ginger and scallions on yee mein ($3 upcharge over lo mein).

Before the main event came out, I enjoyed the complimentary house soup, oxtail and carrot this time. Served in a big bowl, the meat and veggies had given up all their flavor and texture to the intensely flavored stock. I savored the bronze liquid leaving the rest, and could feel its magical restorative powers almost immediately.

The lobster was paraded out on a giant platter. For my $24, I got some showmanship as well. Arranged with the head at one end and the tail fins at the other, the claw pieces were placed in anatomical symmetry along with the remaining chunks of lobster on the bed of spongey noodles instead of being jumbled up. Delectably seasoned, the sweet and firm meat was perfectly cooked. The head had been cleaved from the body at just the right point to capture the rich tomalley. This was one of the best lobsters I’ve had in recent years. My waiter told to take my time and savor the dish, which I did with great gusto punctuated with sucking and slurping sounds. Most of the noodles and some leftover lobster went home with me and were even tastier after the noodles had absorbed more of the juices.

Dessert was a complimentary plate of ice cold orange slices.

Could Kam Lok be back on its game again or was this a one-off? I’d love to hear from anyone who has been there recently.

* * * * *

After Sunday’s funeral, the wake was a family dinner at Eight Immortals Seafood Restaurant. Seventy of us took over the upstairs dining room. The menu and quick impressions:

Fruit salad – melon balls, lychee and pineapple chunks dressed with mayonnaise served with wedges of crisp iceberg lettuce, an old-fashioned Cantonese-American dish that I haven’t had for years, a refreshing starter

Dried scallop and fish maw soup – above average

Roast pork – tasty seasoning rub through and through with tender fatty meat and crunchy skin, wonder which barbecue house made this

Fried squab – cut into quarters and served with seasoned salt, quite decent

Yellow-crowned free-range chicken (wong mo gai) with ginger condiment – very good rendition with firm skin, red at the bone and just the right amount of salt

Crispy chicken with shrimp chips – decent job, shrimp chips were hard and underdone

Duck with pickled ginger – my favorite of the meal, chunks of Cantonese roast duck on the bone braised with a sweet and spicy pickled ginger sauce, this might be Eight Immortals Special Sauce Duck on the menu ($8.50 for half duck).

Abalone, sea cucumber, black mushrooms and lettuce with oyster sauce – cut up rather haphazardly and thrown together with zero presentation, yet very tasty and surprisingly good for an inexpensive place like this

Salt and pepper filet of flounder – very salty and greasy, lots of jalapenos and scallions

Steamed lobster with ginger and scallions – overcooked and watery

Shrimp chaufa – just okay, but it was fun to meet the Peruvian branch of the family for the first time and eat this dish and drink Inca cola with them

Orange slices

Why two chicken dishes? Apparently more people came to the service and dinner than expected and the restaurant didn’t have enough of the wong mo gai prepped to go around. The remaining tables were supposed to get the crispy chicken as a substitute, but somehow our table scored both.

When we departed around 6:30pm, there was a crowd downstairs waiting for tables and more lined up outside. The dinner tables were piled with enormous portions of food. I picked up the to-go menu and was struck by how low the prices are: rice plates or noodles for $3 to $4, standard stir-fries are $3.50 to $5, and other than a few special seafood, duck or squab dishes, just about everything else is less than $6. The wo choy menu starts at $28 for six-courses. While the food and the ambience are definitely a notch down from nearby Ming’s Diner, the 20% difference in price more than makes up for it if money’s tight.

Perhaps the best part about Eight Immortals is that it’s on the same block as Marco Polo. Afterwards, we spent our lucky money on some exotic flavors of gelato to sweeten our mood.

RoHan Lounge
Korean Fusion Restaurant and Soju Bar
3809 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Kam Lok Seafood Restaurant
834 Washington St.
San Francisco

Eight Immortals Seafood Restaurant
1433 Taraval Street
San Francisco
(Between 24th & 25th Ave.)


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