Before appointments at St. Mary’s yesterday, we had lunch at Panda Country Kitchen for the first time. My mom and I have lunched at its predecessor before and it was nice to see the spiffed up interior under the new management. Even better was spotting the restaurant review posted in the window for Mountain View’s New China Delight ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/33009 ) and learning from our waitress that its former Sichuan chef, who had also worked at Su Gia in Newark ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39773 ) was commanding this kitchen.
The menu has a smattering of the usual Americanized suspects (e.g., Mongolian beef), but is chockfull of regional Sichuan dishes and has segregated many of them on the “house special” page to make it easier to order. At lunchtime (11am to 3pm, M-F), an additional menu with lunch specials, three for $13.99 or $4.99 each, including steamed rice and soup.
Since I was with my parents, I made an effort to ratchet back from too much ma-la. We were off to a good start with a baby bok choy and silken tofu soup of the day with delicious albeit subtle homemade stock. The Cantonese styling of this and the Cantonese waitresses made me a little worried about whether the Sichuan cuisine would be lost in translation. But then the kung pao squid appeared, dotted with a generous amount of whole Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chili peppers, and we were off to the races.
Kung pao squid -
This dish was a little too sweet for my taste, but the extra sugar did keep the heat in check. My 92-year old father adores kung pao squid, but recent attempts at ordering it have all been too tough for him to eat and we’d kinda given up. No problem here, very tender and sweet tiny squid tubes cut into lacy flower petals, per the photo linked below.
Close-up of flower-cut squid -
That said, I’m not sure I’d order this dish again without my father. I thought it was too wet and sweet, and I didn’t like biting into the whole black peppercorns and Sichuan peppercorns.
I much preferred the shredded pork with smoked tofu. My mother especially liked the tender Chinese chives on this dish. The knifework was not as precise for this and the pork wasn’t as finely cut as it should be, but the taste was all there. While lean, the small strips of pork were tender and juicy and the natural sweetness of the meat came shining through.
Shredded pork with smoked tofu -
Though the kung pao dish was only moderately spicy, the full flames of ma-la heat roared in the mapo doufu. One bite of it and my tongue went numb instantly. No stinting on Sichuan peppercorns or chili peppers here. Soft and silky tofu, nubby coarse ground pork, and complex spices with a full complement of heat for the authentic taste. This dish was too highly spiced for me to eat much of it, but I did love tasting it with a big mouthful of steamed rice.
Mapo tofu -
The place was never more than half full during our time there and we were served quickly. It was easy to find parking mid-day, as it’s so close to Park Presidio, as had been my experience when we used to patronize the former occupants during lunch hour. I’m happy to have another Sichuan option in the City, especially at value pricing.
Edited to add: A link to elise h's post,
Panda Country Kitchen
4737 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118
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