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Clement Street Chow (Richmond district, SF)

Melanie Wong | Sep 25, 200402:54 AM

The last couple weeks I've been in the vicinity of St. Mary’s Med Center both day and night. I made the short drive to the restaurants along Clement Street near the Arguello end several times to keep family members fed and happy with take-out and quick sit-down dinners. Our family emergency turned into a chowing opportunity in a neighborhood that none of us frequented very often. Here’s a quick rundown in no particular order.

Wing Lee – two storefronts, one with dim sum and the other with bbq and steam tables. From the dim sum side, I’d have to retract my previous rec for the pork siu mai, as they’re gooey with too much starch these days. My brother said his favorite item here is the beef siu mai for the bits of juicy waterchestnut and better texture, but they were sold out on three different visits. Best item we tried was the sharks fin dumpling, bigger than others with very thin wheat wrapper and more complex taste and texture with carrot, wood ears, pork, shrimp, and maybe a few strands of faux sharks fin even. Also liked the shrimp and chive dumpling with the white wrapper, oddly, the har gau were not as good. The chicken and mushroom jook was super with lots of succulent chicken and meaty pieces of black mushroom and satisfyingly thick pearly texture of the well-flavored, gingery rice porridge, and the yau tieu was good too. From the steam table side, the chow fun was unremarkable, and the special rice plate with two items turned out to be no bargain. I had picked the two things that looked the freshest. The chicken and vegetable stir-fry was OK even the though the snap peas were overly mature. But the fried tofu dish with chicken turned out to have a sticky sweet and sour sauce (with no yellow or red food coloring as a tip off!) that was just plain weird.

Clement Restaurant – two storefronts at 621 and 623 Clement, this may be the mystery place mentioned in the recent thread about dim sum on this stretch of real estate. One side has steam tables and the other dim sum. The steam table stuff looked even less appealing than Wing Lee’s, so we only tried the take-out dim sum offerings. Good har gau here with thinnish slightly chewy skins and big pieces of shrimp, among the few take-out har gau that my finicky dad will eat, it turns out. Very nice baked pork bun with a yeasty and not sweetened bread and abundant filling of slices of leanish bbq pork wet with silky gravy that’s more savory than sweet. My mother thought it had too much gravy and prefers the somewhat fattier pork from Café Bakery on Noriega, yet this is a good choice in the unsweetened old-fashioned style. The hot dog roll was decent, made from the same unsweetened yeasty dough, but I prefer the Hong Kong cake-y style. The preserved egg (pei dan) and pork jook earned high marks for its thick and creamy texture made with good stock and plenty of add-ins. Also liked the yau tieu as an accompaniment. Misses were the bok tong go (sweet rice cake) that was too wet and gooey, jin duey (deep-fried sesame balls) were overly thick and doughy, flavorless lo bok go (daikon cake), and the sharksfin dumpling that couldn’t compare to Wing Lee’s.

Gourmet Dim Sum & Café – at 651 Clement, it’s the other candidate for mystery dim sum. The har gau here were even better than Clement’s with wrappers that were a shade thinner and more tender, whole shrimp, and rounder flavor with a little more sesame, according to my dad. Handmade lun jum fun (silver needle rice noodle) sautéed with shreds of carrot, black mushroom and celery had nice chewy texture but a bland preparation. At home we sautéed some prawns and then mixed in and reheated the fun in the same pan to give it a flavor boost. Prices are a little lower here with less selection than the other two, but I bet there’s more treasure to be found.

Alex Bakery – another downhill and retraction. The dan tat (custard tart) here was second only to Golden Gate. But this latest sample had hard, tough crust and skimpy flavorless custard. The chicken pie fared no better and we threw away our purchase after one taste.

Cheung Hing – some feel that this is the weakest in the Cheung Hing group, and after this try-out, I’d agree. While a good quantity of bbq pork on the rice plate, there wasn’t much flavor and the meat was kind of lean and hard. The braised Napa cabbage was malodorous and tired.

China First – known for inexpensive, homestyle cooking, this fit the bill for a couple late night dinners. I could almost see a visible wince from my mom at the idea of paying for soup, but she liked the salted egg, mustard green, and pork soup so much, we came back a second time to order it again. The hearts of mustard green weren’t as well trimmed and tender the second time, but still worth trying. The flavorful clear stock and silky texture of the succulent pork slices made this shine. The canned grass mushrooms were a distraction, but the basic yee mein underneath were great with chewy, spongy texture and bursting with flavor. My brother thought these noodles were some of the best yee mein we’ve had in ages, and we didn’t mind eating around the metallic tasting mushrooms. The piece de resistance was the steamed eggs with clams ($6.95, one of the specials posted on the walls), shown below. The savory and oh so smooth custard was infused with the essence of clam and was satiny and ultra-fine textured as it slithered down the throat. The clams were perfect doneness with chewy, tender bite, although some were not as fresh and sweet as the best ones. The second visit we tried the steamed eggs with shrimp ($4.95) with less success. The bottom edge had some bubbles and rubbery spots from too high of fire and the eggs had not been strained before cooking, leaving some of the tough and string-y parts of the white. We were also disappointed that small bay shrimp were used. But the top half of the custard had lovely silky smoothness and good flavor. Steamed pork hash with salted fish was decent though the salted fish was too hard. Other misses were tough, overcooked, greasy and thickly battered salt and pepper calamari, overly sweet curried tomato beef chow mein, and undercooked steamed oysters with black bean sauce.

Ocean – it was a pleasant surprise to step inside and discover a fresh coat of paint and updated décor at one of the street’s Hong Kong-style seafood pioneers. It had been a year or so since I was last here for dim sum (not the best, but good value for the money and cheaper than other sit-down places) and I was happy to see that the prices, food and genial service have stayed the same in the freshened up surroundings. The walls are no longer plastered with handwritten specials but the menu hasn’t been reprinted, so you need to negotiate special dishes with the waiters. While there are no tong mein (soup noodle) dishes on the menu, our server told my mother they’d make whatever she wanted. She ordered char siu (bbq pork) and mustard greens with egg noodles. A few minutes later he came out to ask if ho fun (rice noodles) would be OK as the kitchen had made an error with our order. This was a late lunch for us and we didn’t object in the interest of getting to our food quicker. A fortunate mistake, as the fresh rice noodles were wonderfully slippery and chewy, each pulled apart and separated from the other. Beautiful jade green mustard green hearts were cooked just to the point of softness and maximum sweetness. The char siu was some of the tastiest we’ve had lately, and very tender though not fatty. If they don’t roast their own, I’d love to know who makes this for them. The cleansing stock needed a little salt to bring out the full depth and was MSG-free. The soup was served in a big tureen and we were a little worried that we’d be charged for a double order, but no. We also had an order of salt and pepper fish filets made with rock cod. The light dusting of spice on the pieces of fish was rather mild, but punctuated with slices of fresh jalapeño and scallions. Even though we were ravenous, we could have fed a third person easily. The tab was $15 with tax and tip.

Singapore-Malaysian – my first time to return since the chowdown here and my sister’s first visit. The otak-otak was rubbery and tough. Also disappointing was the roti canai, too wet and soggy, although the curry sauce was nice. The saving grace was the fried Hainan chicken. Stephanie said she liked the seasonings so well, she didn’t want to sully the delicious flavors by dipping it in the sambal. The gingery rice infused with chicken stock was also very tasty.

Schubert Bakery – shared a strawberry Napolean with my dad. Rich and sublimely smooth custard, beautiful ripe berries, firmly crisp pastry that didn’t soften up by the end of the day.

Café Pera – the baklava was not as good as I remembered, too wet and not enough nuts. My mom thought the baklava from the Greek festival was much superior.



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