The venerable Sam Wo closed four years ago after 100 years on Washington Street. At the time, I really did not expect it to reopen.
To the Ho family's credit, investors and a new venue came together and Sam Wo was reborn in October 2015. I did not go right away, holding out for late night hours when my salad days memories of Sam Wo were formed. Then last month a parking space opened up in front as I drove past, and I spun around the square to grab it. Just before 10pm, the place was about half full. Period marble-topped tables and backless wooden stools make up the seating. But instead of the world's rudest waiter, I was taken care of by Howard, who I would nominate as the world's kindest server. And he let me in on a secret --- in the month of May the hours would be expanding to midnight and beyond on most days.
Remarkably this new home did remind me of the old place. Deeper than it is wide with a basement below and a narrow staircase to reach the main dining room above. The dumb waiter though only goes down to the basement and can't shuttle the food to the second floor. I also happened to hit is on the night when a duo was serenading customers with ukelele tunes. And the kitchen was experimenting with making a beignet or malasada-like fried dough for dessert. I had a sample of a cinnamon-sugared one that was a bit on the tough side, still a work in progress.
For me, a revisit of the standards:
BBQ Pork Rice Noodle Roll 叉燒卷粉 4.95 - The one must-order here, an appetizer I've not found anywhere else in Chinatown. Served cool room temp, the rice noodle sheets used as the wrapper are steamed in house several times a day. They're a bit thicker and chewier than the more delicate cheong fun at dim sum houses and sturdy enough to pick up with fingers or chopsticks. Tender slivers of barbecue pork, shreds of egg omelet and cilantro make up the filling. Cut into sections, all the flavor elements come alive when dipped into the housemade hot mustard sauce. Jars of the mustard are available for purchase.
Fish Jook 魚片粥 7.50 - The type of fish changes depending on what's available in the market. Not so crazy about this day's selection that was too strong in taste and aroma. And the rice porridge was on the watery side, seeming like it had been reheated too many times.
Chinese Donut 油條 1.75 - For dipping in the jook, this non-sweet cruller was hot and fresh. Yet not as crisp and browned as in days gone by, I suspect due to a change in cooking oils.
I saved ordering the raw fish salad, the other thing I used to get, for another time. What's your usual at Sam Wo?
713 Clay Street (at Kearny)
San Francisco, CA
Monday 11:00am – 4:00pm
Wednesday 11:00am – 4:00pm 6:00pm – Midnight
Thursday 11:00am – 4:00pm 6:00pm – Midnight
Friday 11:00am – 4:00pm 6:00pm – 3:00am
Saturday 11:00am – 4:00pm 6:00pm – 3:00am
Sunday 11:00am – 4:00pm