Thursday, July 21, 2022

What We Ate In San Francisco (In Addition To Eight Tables)

While last month's posting gave a detailed look at our wonderful dinner at George Chen's Eight Tables in San Francisco Chinatown, there were a number of other dining highlights on the trip.  On our previous trip last October, we had planned to eat at Lai Hong Lounge in Chinatown, only to find that they had not reopened from their pandemic closure.  However right before leaving on the trip I saw a news items saying they had indeed reopened, so this was a logical first stop.  The restaurant used their hiatus to do a remodel, the most obvious changes being moving the main entrance to the other end of the building closest to Broadway, and the insertion of a banquet type backdrop on the back wall.  While I have noticed that some restaurants that have reopened after a long layoff have suffered a major drop in quality, Lai Hong Lounge has not.  This is their tofu vegetable trio.  The trio was three different items, a tofu eggplant, a tofu mushroom and an egg tofu variety.  

Meanwhile, the coffee ribs have migrated from the dim sum menu to the dinner menu.  A heavy dose of coffee, which actually affected my sleep.

While looking for new Chinese restaurants that may have recently opened up accessible to my meeting in downtown San Francisco, I ran across bao, in the Mission District, which had an extremely interesting modern dim sum menu.  It was not within walking distance, but before I left Los Angeles I was checking San Francisco transit information and found that they had changed to an app based system where cash fares were actually charged a premium over buying online tickets.  It took this dinosaur a while to figure out, but I did download the app.  And when I jumped on the Muni at Mission and First, I also placed an online order at bao.

The bus stopped on just about every block, so it took almost twenty minutes to get to 16th and Mission.  I then walked the two blocks to 17th and Valencia.  That actually was not much faster than if I had walked!   By the time I got to bao, my order was ready.  The baked Malaysia chicken curry bun was huge!


They also had my favorite crispy baked bbq pork buns.   Only some of the restaurants have this in Los Angeles, but they're all over the Bay Area.

My original plan was to stop by the newly opened G & Y Bakery & Cafe on Clay Street, which opens very early in the morning, on the first of my three daily morning walks from Chinatown to my downtown meeting site.  Imagine my surprise when I dropped by and saw that there were no baked goods for sale, and that G & Y was essentially a Hong Kong style cafe.  So I had to wait until dinnertime.  This is the corn in fish sauce, which is offered in either deep fried with batter or pan fried without.  Both this and the broccoli beef were excellent.


After dinner I went on an evening stroll through Chinatown to check out to see if there were any more new developments in Chinatown since last fall's trip.   It was great being back at the Royal Pacific Motor Inn, which had closed for two years because of the pandemic.   For last fall's San Francisco trip we ended up staying at the Sam Wong Hotel on the same block.  While similarly located to be in the middle of Chinatown, it can't match up with the Royal Pacific's free parking.  Indeed our bill for four nights at the Royal Pacific was less than the room rate for the Hilton on Kearny St. for just one night, without parking.


It was interesting to walk by the House of Nanking.  As usual, business was booming and the outdoor seating was full.  House of Nanking has been the most crowded Chinese restaurant in Chinatown for decades, with nary a Chinese patron for most of the time.  Well, I did eat there once back 20 years ago, and there is an occasional Asian face in the audience.  But generally when you go by the House of Nanking, you might as well be in Copenhagen based when looking at the faces of the diners.  Not to say that the food there is bad, even though it's probably in my bottom 10 for Chinese food in San Francisco Chinatown, but combined with their pricing, most Chinese diners have enough sense to avoid this place.


Looking for a snack during break time downtown, I found two nearby branches of the same boba chain, Happy Lemon, one of them apparently a block away at 425 Mission St.  However, when I got to the spot that Google Maps indicated was the location of Happy Lemon, it was 555 Mission St., and no signs of anything looking like boba.  So I went up the block to manually find 425 Mission St., which based on the numbering would be slightly north of First St.  But the first address with a “400" number was 415 Mission St., and the numbers went down from there.  So I turned on Google Maps and asked for directions.  I’ve always had trouble following Google Maps for walking directions, and I didn’t know if it was going crazy or I just didn’t understand.  But I ended up going east on First Street and being directed to something called Minna Street, a short block east of and parallel to Mission Street.  Dubiously I kept going, and magically there was Happy Lemon!  And I could see it was directly behind a building on Mission Street.  555 Mission Street, to be exact.  

Anyway, I ordered what they called a Bubble waffle, which is merely a fancy name for a regular Hong Kong Waffle.  The waffle itself was OK, but I ordered the salty cheese topping which made all the difference in the world.  It was delicious, though it was sweet, not salty.  Afterwards I discovered the mystery of the street address.  This branch of Happy Lemon was in a complex known as the Salesforce Transbay Transit center, which included not only office space, but a transit center, and a third story, blocks long park.  The main entrance to the complex is on Minna Street, but for some reason carries a 425 Mission Street address, and any part of that complex carries the 425 address.

The next dinner was at Grand Harbor in Burlingame, which I chose for the wonderful view of San Francisco Bay on top of the food.

Dinner started out with an exceedingly rich chicken broth.

This is the salty egg yolk deep fried shrimp and pumpkin.  The shrimp is separate from the pumpkin, so you had to pay attention to which one you were eating.

An interesting pairing was diced filet mignon and broccoli with fried egg tofu.


The best dish was an old favorite of mine, egg whites on a bed of fried glass noodles.

This was a simple looking vegetable dish, but the gingko nuts turned it into something outstanding.

I thought dinner was over when they cleared the table, but then these red bean buns showed up.

I would have been puzzled by this life sized photo of Guy Fieri in the lobby had I not seen the episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that visited Grand Harbor.  I am puzzled, however, that Grand Harbor was featured on that program, since it is neither a diner, drive-in nor dive.

Looking to pick up breakfast on my way to my downtown seminar, I passed by Yummy Dim Sum on Stockton St. at 7:50am just as they were rolling open the gate.  I inquired if they were open for business and the lady said yes.  I saw that an order of three baked bbq pork buns was only $1.80, and I got two orders.  I actually had to wait a couple of minutes as they pulled the buns out of the oven, and then brushed on the glazing.  And I don’t think that these buns were better than those at other neighborhood bakeries.  But so hot and fresh out of the oven, they were fantastic.

Right on the edge of Chinatown, where Clay Street meets the financial district, I stumbled onto a new Taiwanese cafe called Yilan Bento.  I ordered the popcorn chicken, which was the biggest order of that item I had ever seen.  It was equal to a full sized entree at a regular Chinese restaurant and I struggled to finish it. 

Another find in the heart of Chinatown on Grant Avenue was the newly opened Jade Chocolates.  Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine a Chinese eatery with “Chocolate” in the name, as any kind of dessert had historically been a deep afterthought in a Chinese restaurant.  However, the 21st century has seen a proliferation of dessert shops, though Jade Chocolates is the first I know of to include an emphasis on chocolates.  I picked up a gigantic baked bbq pork bun for $6 or $7 which was absolutely horrible.  Mostly bread, little filling, and the bread wasn’t even sweet.  

On getaway day I picked up a couple of items in Chinatown before checking out of the Royal Pacific for the drive back to Los Angeles.  At Blue Sky Cafe on Powell Street, I had orders of har gow and pork with vegetable dumplings.

And a block further down on Powell Street I was at a grocery store called Wendy & Moon, which I had read also had prepared foods, such as this chicken banh mi.

It was then over the Bay Bridge to our final stop of the trip at the recently opened Pearl Bay in Fremont. The first thing that struck me about the restaurant was the wall of seafood.


Then came the giant video screen, not showing sporting events or music videos, but rather some of their top dishes, amazingly gigantic.

Of course we had to order my favorite crispy baked bbq pork buns.

Fried pork dumplings were excellent as well as visual.

Spinach and shrimp dumplings.

Guangzhou style pork dumplings.

And finally for dessert, mango pudding.

A great way to end the trip.  Pearl Bay has rocketed to the top of my list of favorite large Chinese restaurants for combining food and setting.