Monday night I stumbled upon an incognito Sichuan restaurant in the outermost Outer Mission. From the outside, Maple looks like any ol’ Chinese neighborhood place, the kind that survives on take-out business. In fact, it does provide online ordering and free delivery. Even less inviting were the stacked up chairs and surplus stuff stored in the front window making it appear as though eat-in customers might not be welcome. Also, the old signage of the previous occupant, Daily Restaurant, has not been replaced yet. Still, we persevered and stepped inside. Behind a screen we found a spare but freshly painted interior decorated with photos of the house special dishes. Mainland Chinese diners filled two large banquet tables, and we figured they might be on to something.
Besides General Tso’s chicken and egg foo young, the menu has a section of house special dishes that includes Sichuan standards and a few Shanghainese preps as well. I asked our server where the chef was from. The unexpected answer --- Tianjin. He added that the Sichuan dishes are his specialty.
Two of the dishes we tried were very good. Chongqing chicken, bone-in, made with hacked wing joints was prepped in deep-fried style with a light batter rather than dry-fried. Good spiciness level of mouth heat from the blizzard of dried red chile pods and some numbing of Sichuan peppercorns. The chicken meat had a smooth succulence. A bit greasy, but these bites were so addictive with fried garlic and sesame seeds popping with the salty ma-la seasoning.
Even better, the potato shreds with vinegar dish was as exemplary as we’ve had anywhere, comparable to ex-China Village Master Chef Liu of Fresno’s Hunan Restaurant on a good day. I asked for it medium spicy, and it hit that level exactly by leaving out the dried red chile pods. Expert knife work on the hand cut julienne, cooked exactly on point to still be firm and crisp yet not taste raw, plenty of the haunting scent of a well-seasoned wok, exact salting, almost subliminal vinegar note, a bit of Sichuan peppercorn, just enough oil, and fresh jalapeño and bell pepper for color and flavor contrast.
Spiced shredded pig ear cold appetizer was good too. Not overwhelmed with five spice, seasoned with a touch of sesame and shreds of tender scallions, this was cooked a bit softer than my own preference. My brother liked the texture.
Water boiled beef exploded with a complex of dusky seasonings and ma-la heat, growing hotter with each second of maceration in the murky red oil. Underneath, the Napa cabbage soaked up all the goodness. A ton of slivered garlic, and no Chinese celery in this version. The slices of beef were tender but had little beefiness, seeming to be from a low grade cut.
Potstickers were cooked to a crunchy brown on one side. But other than that, they had little else to recommend about them. With no juice inside, these seemed like they were frozen and not much better than what can be made with frozen supermarket brands.
Service was quite good. Our server, a young man, was fluent in English. He cleared space on the table for our large order and commandeered the adjoining table for the overflow. Later he packed up our leftovers for us. I asked him if there were any Tianjin specialties on the menu and he suggested that we order the shui jiao or the beef pancake roll next time.
Prices are average but serving size is quite generous here. We could have easily fed four people for under $50 with what we ordered. While I would not drive across town to eat at Maple, it’s a spot that I would certainly return to when I’m in the area near the Daly City border.
Please report in if you try it.
5820 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94112