I’ve been going to Sams since I was in grade school, my mother was friendly with the owner and her business was down the street but my nostalgia doesn’t prevent me from saying its just OK.
Now I really want to go to SF just to try Ming Kee! I need to go back to Ruby BBQ again though, its been too long since my last visit.
As far as Ricebox goes, I’m disappointed its not good from what I’ve had. I hate the fact that he feels he needs to cater to what he perceives as “white people” expectations such as no MSG or doing those cheese bao things. I mean I don’t use MSG in my roast meats and I can produce better stuff.
I can’t remember if I’ve had their BBQ spare ribs before, but if I did, it wasn’t super memorable. Bit of a crap shoot with that one I think… you may be better off exploring the less traveled part of the deli menu such as:
brined chicken feet, brined duck wings and feet, brined duck tongue, soy sauce squab, brined duck. I have never really dived into them, but have tried their very famous white chicken feet (year ago though), it is brined and rubbed with ginger powder (or at least that’s what I tasted), quite refreshing, a touch crunchy / chewy, and delicious (good beer appetizer too).
I don’t think they have roast squab. The above are sold by weight and are not part of the rice plates. You should be able to order them with staff and tell them dine in. Or line up with the locals, buy them by weight to go and enjoy them at your hotel or AirBnB.
The word “brined” is a bit odd of a translation, it’s more like simmered in a marinade of secret ingredients and herbs over time (lo shui).
@JLee you’ll definitely get more mileage exploring other options in addition to Ming Kee to make the SF trip more worth while. Be happy to provide some Cantonese / Hong Kong style / Southern Chinese specific recommendations for your food trip, if anything to research and be inspired further, and for documenting what we have left in California.
Better yet, have a few of you FTCers come up here, we do a group lunch/brunch there, I’ll meet up and we go to town and do a spread of the marinated/brined section dine in, get half or whole duck. Croissant, pastries, and coffee run afterwards, and then Hakka Cantonese in the evening with all the salt, fat, and cholestrol you can muster into your system, maybe should do a wine and sake dinner there, lol.
I def need to make another trip to NorCal its been 2 years since my first and only food trip to the city so I have barely scratched the surface. Only Cantonese food I had was at Kam Po Kitchen, how does that rate in the local scene?
I would love to do a food crawl with a local though in the future so I’ll def keep it in mind!
That’s no longer the place to go to apparently. The original chef sold the business to new owners and we thought he went retirement…and I’m not sure if it is still is at the quality it once enjoyed. He has however resurfaced elsewhere recently which I will take one for the team with my friends in the near future to do the legwork first, but probably needs time to ramp up. But going back, Hakka Restaurant is/was otherwise good value though.
I’m unclear what the specialties are with the current ownership of the old restaurant. But when the OG chef owner was in the house, the legit salt baked chicken, pan fried stuffed tofu with a killer sauce, a very specific rendition of sweet and sour pork (or was it spareribs) using pickled garlic bulbs to provide an additional nuance of sweet & sour, some innards/pork stomach type dishes, and my friends really loved the salted egg yolk crab and typhoon shelter style not crab but clams. The Hakka braised pork belly with pickled mustard greens is a crowd pleaser, although Hakka Cantonese renditions of the pickled greens tend to be more sweet…Hakka Taiwanese versions of the pickled greens are far more pungent and rustic, but perhaps that is the way to go to help cut some of the heavy flavors. I’d say just cut it with a good Riesling haha.
I do not eat in SF Chinatown much, if at all and never really had a lot of exposure. Most of SF Chinatown is predominantly Toishanese but even they do a lot of different things from Hong Kong style Cantonese, Hong Kong cafe, roasties deli, noodle shops, pastries/bakery, and other uncategorized randomness. With that said there are places that are still tasty and give you that stuck in time old school feel, and others that are just stomach filler type neighborhood places.
I grew up with traditional Hong Kong Cantonese, and even after all these years in Northern California, am still used to and gravitate towards that genre more. Never been to Kam Po but a quick glance at the pictures probably wouldn’t be a place I would do a targeted walk in to try things.
With that said, there are still some interesting places in SF Chinatown worth dropping by to see, photograph, experience, document, and understand in the grand scheme of things.
Mow Lee Shing Kee & Company - artisan producer (traditional hand crafted) of Chinese preserved meats, sausages of pork, duck, quail (yes quail). Liver sausages. The smell alone is quite amazing…pungent, salty savory aromas combined with cured fat. There’s more to preserved meats than just Lap Cheong. Gotta give it to the person who invented this stuff and how to enjoy it with a simple bowl of steamed rice, or kick it up many stratospheres with the various preserved parts for that special claypot. I believe the family that runs this place are Toishanese, but this is more or less the only game in town. I personally have not bought anything from here, but really worth a trek to visit and to deep dive into the food culture.
Lucky Creation - strictly Cantonese vegetarian, and very well known amongst the local Buddhist Vegan community (and SF American vegans). The gems are actually in the deli portion by the cashier…get the wheat gluten (original sweet and sour flavors, curry is also great). Fantastic texture… well loved even by some of the veteran legit Canto chefs up here, reminds them of the “Jai” (vegetarian) shops that specialize in this stuff from HK. Once a year they also do vegan mooncakes and I recall they actually tasted quite decent. Otherwise my go to dish there is a plate of stir fried e-fu noodles with vegetables and I add $3 worth or so of fried tofu, drizzle chili sauce. Not sure what kind of mushroom based superior broth they use to cook/rehydrate the noodles but it tastes quite good.
VIP coffee shop - super old school HK cafe that looks quite beat up and run down. Not the greatest looking food, but the vibe is nice. HK milk tea is not bad at all (hot). Not sure how it compares to SGV HK cafes, I’ll have to recalibrate someday.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company - at any moment now, this place could shut down. Next generation doesn’t seem to want to take it over, and rents are getting super expensive. These days there is usually a line…not too long ago people only came it to take pictures and eat a sample, but luckily at least people still buy something. One of the last of the greats…that they actually make them in house and fold them by hand. The gems for me are the large unfolded wafers. As long as you keep them in an air tight container, they will stay crunchy for a while and the flavor blows away a lot of egg puff/eggette HK style snack preps by the dessert shops. Great eggy flavor, not too sweet.
Yee’s Restaurant - large portions and for SF Chinatown not bad of a roasties shop. You want to go early enough and try roast goose. Big boned, and unfortunately quite gamey, but other than there and Guangdong BBQ house, not a lot of places you can get it. Guangdong will sell whole goose and do both versions: marinated and roast. $60 something I think for a whole goose, I assume it’s sourced from Canada. This is not a destination stop but if you have a hankering it ain’t bad. Roast duck and char siu are decent for Chinatown.
Yuet Lee - the chef owner I think came from Hong Kong since the 1970s and his place has been frequented by lots of celebrities. If you already have had a lot of alcohol in your system, or let’s say you had an awful meal somewhere else (e.g. if Mister Jiu’s made you feel so downtrodden you needed to redeem yourself with some legit OG Canto stir fry), then Yuet Lee is definitely the place. The grease and umami from the soy sauce and wok char for their beef chow fun is great. I kind of like the red sour plum sweet and sour pork…black bean sauce clams might have a bit too much cornstarch thickened sauce but the wok hay is solid…and do not miss the “dai ma dzahm” claypot which I think has roasted pork belly and shrimp paste…fantastic rustic style comfort food, and I was told the deep fried typhoon shelter style pork intestines are a must. They have quite a few other specialties too, so don’t focus too much on what the celebrities like to eat (western and those that visited from Hong Kong whose mugshots are plastered all over the place).
Golden Gate Bakery - it’s mixed opinions about this place with locals…yes it’s super pricey now and the waits are long, but I still really enjoy the delicious egg yolk center. The crust ain’t bad. My family still enjoys it. Some say it’s for yelpers and tourists and blind followers, but one cannot deny this is iconic. I’d say it is still very well constructed and not too sweet.
There may be more but this is a good list to start.
I don’t cook at home… so buying ingredients is wasted on me. . I just eat and write/talk a big game!
R&G has sold to new owners less than a year ago who laid off a majority of the original staff. They were fantastic back in the day, and I have no intention of trying the current version with the new owners, which I’ve been told by trusted sources (local industry folks) that it is not worth visiting. They are just leveraging their name and brand now.
The former owner/manager has moved on to Harbor View which previously was Crystal Jade and well before that the legendary Harbor Village. Most of the original R&G crew are also there. It’s not bad overall but some dishes could be better. HV’s menu is a touch all over the place to cater to a wider crowd. Heard good things about their dim sum.
Thanks for the heads up on R&G. I thought Harborview was pretty good but had no idea it was the replacement for R&G. I did think of another worthwhile place in San Francisco–Dim Sim Corner on the street level of the historic Cathay House restaurant. They sell stuff from the Koi Palace dim sum commissary as well as some interesting stuff of their own.
Thanks to you, @Chowseeker1999 and threads like this Ming Kee is on our not leaving without going list. Question: do I have to eat brined feet to join the meetup?
Sorry about the bad experience at Rice Box… twice @Chowseeker1999? It’s amazing you were willing to go back. This is a bummer for me. I’m in search of the illusive unicorn - amazingly skilled, traditional Chinese dishes made with elevated (free-range, humane, organic, blah, blah). I’m not an expert, but it seems that this is a good example of the experience and expertise it takes to execute these dishes and no matter how talented you are or how much experience you have it takes years sometimes generations to perfect them. The search continues…
I hope you get to try Ming Kee on your next trip! (And “no” you don’t have to try brined chicken feet.)
Rice Box is unfortunate; and yes, quality ingredients alone, or knowing about “triple roasting” alone isn’t enough. But we’ve seen great chefs break through the “legit barrier” and deliver amazing food even if they are the 1st generation trying to cook this stuff.
For example, don’t forget about our down-to-earth, friendly, sweet Chef Zone, delivering our favorite Fried Chicken in the city, with quality ingredients. Or Chef Wes Avila (also so nice, and humble), delivering some fantastic dishes that bridges the gap of his traditional Mexican and American roots, melding it with classic French culinary training.
That’s the problem I see in America is that there are almost no trained Chinese-American chefs in terms of them spending years honing their skills and bringing it back to do our own food. Most of the ones I see end up staying in cooking western food or they end up being far too westernized and approach the food from a Western technique but Asian ingredient viewpoint when in fact I personally think its better to approach it as Asian technique but its ok to use local western ingredients. There is definitely a skill gap that you can’t just half ass and try to jump across. At the end of the day you need to put in the time, you generally can’t achieve anything with nothing.
Yah, there are lots of great new generation cooks doing traditional dishes. Some even perfecting them with elevated ingredients. I was specifically speaking of Chinese cooking. It seems hard to master the technique of the real, traditional dishes. Possibly even more so than French. But it seems there’s not a lot of new generation cooks doing it.
For me personally a big challenge has been several factors:
Family doesn’t value these culinary traditions. Not saying its widespread but it isn’t uncommon, food is just seen as a necessity but little more value than that. If my family had to choose to keep our culinary traditions alive or if I could be a doctor/engineer/lawyer, then they would throw away their heritage without a second thought.
Language barrier: My cantonese is pretty rough, and I can’t even read or write my own name anymore. There’s a pretty big obstacle in language that prevents us from learning more about our own food. Having to solely rely on English material sucks. I do try to watch Cantonese media but being that I’m not good at searching the Chinese web I’m at a disadvantage.
No mentors: The old guard is dying out and in a way its their stubborn fault too. For too long they didn’t want to teach others their secrets or techniques or share insights because they believed those skills made them individually valuable which is true but now there aren’t enough willing cooks they have nobody to pass it on to. Western Chefs like Thomas Keller have always passed down all their knowledge and look at all the French Laundry alumni they have gone to do great things while at the same time bringing back prestige and honor to the original teacher and institution as well. I do believe a rising tide lifts all boats and it applies in this case.
So these are my gripes about the challenges of trying to learn how to be a better Chinese chef. If I wanted to pursue only Japanese food I would have tons of resources at my fingertips and probably have an easier time but I guess I’m a fool who is attracted to a dying art.
I don’t know if you have friends who would be willing to translate for you, but one of our local super talented (former) executive chefs Andy Wai up here, used to helm Harbor Village San Francisco which back in the 1990s was an official branch of a famous seafood restaurant in Hong Kong. I’d say outside of Chef Yum of Yum’s Bistro, he is one of the Cantonese cuisine greats. He actually published two cookbooks, unfortunately mostly or all in Chinese. However you can either mail order them and maybe one of the bookstores in SF Chinatown would have them (similar price but cheaper so you don’t have to pay shipping), and definitely worth spending the time studying (and I guess google translate a lot as need be). Or perhaps there’s some Chinese bookstore in LA that might have it? He covers a lot of ground in Cantonese cuisine across those two books (lots of banquet type dishes too) and even had some of his own recipes from the past. He’s no longer working in a restaurant unfortunately.
Also use google translate, copy and paste chinese characters into youtube and see what comes up (e.g. specific dishes). We could have a separate thread in the cooking section, post a question about a dish and maybe some of us can help find say a youtube resource or online and do a quick translation.