Located on the corner of Jackson and Kearny in SF Chinatown, DPD tends to stay open pretty late and Id stop there from time to time on the way home. The ownership seems to turn over every couple years, although it has stayed an island of Shanghainese food surrounded by a sea of Cantonese. However, in the latest iteration, the new marquee proclaims Cantonese and Mandarin cooking and is festooned with a Grand Opening sign.
A parking space appeared before my eyes when I was driving by late Monday night, so I decided to give the new cook a try. Taking the Mandarin branding to heart, before looking at a menu, I asked for cold zha jiang mian. No luck, its not something they make, in fact no cold noodles at all. Then I asked for some cold small plates or appetizers nothing on that front either. On closer examination, the Mandarin side of the menu seems to be limited to the hot and sour soup and Mongolian beef variety. The staff spoke to each other in Cantonese and I figured out that the real name of the restaurant is Zhong Shan, a part of Canton province.
As the only customer in the place, three sets of eyes were on me as my waitress tried to help me pick from the menu. She suggested some soup noodles, but I said, no, its too hot today for that. One of the other staff then bolted off to return with a glass of ice cold water. I cant remember that ever happening in a Chinese restaurant without asking! Eventually I ordered the salt and pepper quail ($2) and the mixed seafood braised noodles ($6.50).
A rice bowl-size serving of the house soup of the day was complimentary. With one sip of the black bean, lotus root and oxtail broth, I quickly changed my mind about not wanting any hot soup. Very nice, similar to my moms, with a bit of dried orange peel fragrance. Things were looking up.
The quail was one of littlest Ive seen, served whole (sans head) and looking a bit disheveled resting cockeyed on the plate with legs akimbo. The small bird was drizzled with browned peanut oil and fresh jalapeño slices and scallion slivers stir-fried in the wok. The glassy skin was mahogany colored and lightly crisp, but the flesh was overdone and dried out. The wing tips were fried to a crackle, but not all the bones. So this was neither a tiny bird to be crunched up skeleton and all nor a juicy-fleshed morsel to be nibbled from the bones. Yet, at two bucks, if the chef can get his timing down, the fresh seasonings were tasty and there could be something special here.
The delectable braised noodle dish (yee mein) was a generous serving heaped on a big platter. A tangle of spongy-textured noodles soaked up the tasty stock and was tossed with seared flower-cut squid, thick scallops and prawns, tiny choi sum, and fat slices of black mushroom. The choi sum (baby bok choi) were the sweetest and smallest variety, about the size and length of my little finger. While added in good quantity, the black mushrooms had a slight bitter taste and were not fully hydrated. More than half of this went home with me for lunch the next day. Very satisfying and a good value too.
I noticed that all the tables were set with forks, not a chopstick in sight. While I didn't need a pair for the dishes I ordered, none were ever offered to me.
Even though Im sorry to lose a local Shanghai restaurant, from this initial sampling, there may be a better cook in the kitchen than theres been for a long time. Prices have stayed low, most dishes are priced from $5 to $7.50. Basically, I had a three-course dinner plus leftovers for lunch for about ten bucks. Ill be ordering more from the menu and hope to hear reactions from others who try it.
901 Kearny St.