This quiet and seemingly ordinary residential neighborhood in the vicinity of Balboa and 35th is home to two special places Sweet Temptation and Simple Pleasures - that have been reported on several times on Chowhound. While I had enjoyed both before, I had not noticed their juxtaposition until a friend and I were there recently. Such innocent yet sensual names, maybe theres more lust and longing going on in the cool gray Outer Richmond than I had imagined. ;-)
My dinner companion was newly returned from a month in Europe with a longing for regional Chinese cuisine. I suggested we sample Shanghainese, the specialty at Sweet Temptation. I had ordered two dishes in advance Wuxi-style spareribs and Crab steamed dumplings (xiao long bao) that I had not tried here before. The crab dumplings (20 pieces) are made from the body meat of a live Dungeness crab, and the legs and claws are served separately with a choice of preps.
Our waitress addressed me in Cantonese, asking how we wanted the rest of the crab prepared. She suggested ga lei (curried) or yim jiu (salt and pepper). My friend wanted yim jiu, causing me to ask incredulously where he had picked up Cantonese culinary vocabulary. He shrugged and just said that it sounded right. In addition, we picked fried silver threads bread and Shanghai-style fried noodles with sauteed eels from the menu.
I had brought a bottle of wine in a paper bag. I popped the cork and poured it into ceramic tea cups. As we toasted each other, he asked what we were drinking. I said, you tell me. He replied, no, youre the one who plays that game. To which I said, youll be able to tell. So, he sipped and said that it tasted German. Tell me the reasons, I asked. He said, well, it has that German sweet and dry taste at the same time. Exactly, I replied, as this was the 1997 Merkelbach Urziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett from the Mittel Mosel. It was in very good form with a delicate spice, fruit cocktail, spritely sweet-tart balance and a crisp cleansing finish that was a fine companion to our meal.
The Wuxi spareribs were a heaped plate of pork back ribs cut into large sections, braised in a sweet anise-y master sauce and then covered with brown sauce. Sauteed Shanghai baby cabbage hearts (qing cai) that looked like apple green jade pieces rimmed the plate. The ribs were cooked until soft, but had a stringy texture rather than melting tenderness. While tasty, the braising liquid dominated the flavor overtaking the taste of the meat. The sauce was balanced toward the sweet side and was not as complex as some.
The silver threads bread was not as finely layered as other versions, nor was the fried exterior as crackly. I would not order this again.
The fried noodles were thick and mahogany colored from a finely balanced sweet soy sauce prep. The tangle of sauteed eels was somewhat chewy and not that interesting. I might have enjoyed this more with just the sauteed veggies and noodles alone. Ill opt for the deep-fried eels next time.
The salt and pepper-fried crab legs had a somewhat greasy batter but good seasoning with bits of jalapeño, scallions and cilantro for extra pizzazz. The crab itself was good, but not as delicious as our own local crabs in season. It felt weird to be eating Dungeness in July.
The highlight of our meal was the two steamer baskets of crab dumplings. A ridiculous bounty for two people! I showed my friend how to pick them up gently with a spoon, nip the wrapper with the teeth to release the steam, dab them with a bit of vinegar and fresh ginger, and then slurp away. It was as enjoyable to observe his delight in this new discovery as it was to consume them myself. The wrappers were thinner and the dumplings a bit daintier than my earlier experience here with the regular version. The many tiny pleats of the top knot were knife-edged. The soup inside was intense, perhaps a bit too salty, but oh so flavorful. We didnt hit a single dry well. The second basket had cooled down too much by the time we had finished the first one. It would be better to ask them to be steamed and served sequentially so that the second set of dumplings remain steaming hot.
Wed had a 7:30 reservation, luckily, as Sweet Temptation was packed by 8pm with a continual line of people waiting up to the time we left at 9pm even on a weeknight. We packed up our leftovers (which were many) and headed across the street to Simple Pleasures for some quiet, tea and coffee.
One double espresso for him, and then I hesitated over the tea menu. He pointed to blood orange green, which to me seemed like a weird sequence of words. My mind wasnt processing that this could be a green tea flavored with blood oranges! It was full in aroma with the citrus pungency of blood oranges and mild in taste with a slightly bitter finish. On a Wednesday night we were treated to live music, 12-string guitar, that helped us wind down the evening. This is really a special coffee house with comfy fittings, interesting art and good things to eat and drink.
Thank you to Limster and Windy for sharing these neighborhood secrets with us!