This post will be long but heres the punchline. Authentic laksa the quintessential Singaporean/Malaysian curry noodle dish is available at HuLu House Vegetarian Restaurant (Kirkham @ 12th, 415 682 0826). Hurry there and order yourself a bowl, its far better than Straits, Banana Garden or Singapore/Malaysian. This restaurant MUST stay in business!
A little history, proving that lightning can strike twice in a given location. Sunset Star used to be possibly the worst restaurant in the Inner Sunset, somehow surviving at the godforsaken corner of 12th and Kirkham. I went there on my birthday one year and had a bowl of won ton noodles whose miserable flavour surely cancelled out any longevity promoting effects of the noodles.
Then a miracle happened. The place changed hands and for a brief golden age one could get outstanding Szechuan food from Sunset Star (the couples delight tripe and beef dish was the equal of Little Szechuan). It was too good to last and the food collapsed into generic take-out Cantonese after the chef moved on.
Thus I was intrigued but little encouraged when Sunset Star was reborn as HuLu House Vegetarian Restaurant it opened tonight. Buddhist vegetarian is usually forgettable, and what were they thinking opening in the middle of nowhere? Reading the menu made things MUCH more interesting. In a manner analogous to the overrated Golden Era, these folks were cooking Buddhist vegetarian ingredients with Singaporean/Malaysian recipes.
I had to order the vege laksa, its a keystone of the Malaysian hawker food pantheon and unlike beef rendang (for example) is poorly rendered at Indonesian restaurants in town. Authentic laksa contains chicken, so the vege version lacks a certain, well, meatiness. Its also made with thick rice noodles, while my favourite renditions use ropy egg noodles with the occassional addition of thin vermicelli. Now for the good news. As soon as the generous bowl arrived, I smelled the aroma and knew the flavour would be OK. Good laksa has a milky, opaque broth redolent of coconut milk, with fierce orange-red spots of oil rising to the surface. The curry spices are very warming but the heat is modulated by the richness of the soup. HuLu House adds fat cubes of fried tofu (dou fu pok), tasty vegetarian goose and vegetarian fish to the traditional bean sprouts - no hard-boiled egg unfortunately. Its not your grandmothers curry laksa but in a city starved of the real thing it will serve. Triangular, flattish samosas were typical Chinese versions of the Indian appetizer, good value at $3. Complimentary lor bak ko/radish cake was OK but should have been more radish-y. I intend to eat at HuLu frequently and will soon work my way through the limited menu. Immediate must try dishes are vege nasi lemak (coconut rice) and the oxymoronic vege Hai Nan rice hey, it cant be worse than the sorry, overcooked gai fan youll find in local restaurants. Special dessert is $3.50. With luck it will be pulut hitam, the lovable sweet black rice served with coconut milk. Or ice kacang, or cendol with palm sugar, or bu bo cha cha...
I spoke to the chef who is Singaporean, she had a sunny first-day optimism about the restaurants prospects. Ill be doing my part to keep tasty Malaysian food alive in San Francisco. Follow my lead!
Low End Theory