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Oct 18, 2000 05:48 PM

What's the big deal...

  • c

Would someone please tell me what is the big deal about House of Nanking? It is a lousy Chinese restaurant, folks, and not worth going even it were empty, much less packed with lines out front.

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  1. Thank you! I can't figure out what is going on with that restaurant and why everyone thinks it is completely awesome. It seems like one amazing culinary black hole to me that many of my friends who don't know any better have fallen into. I'm glad you asked that question and I'd like to know what other people think.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Tida

      at the risk of being accused of piling on....House of Nanking really was good at one time. But that was many, many years ago. I remember eating there amidst the rice bags and having some wonderful dishes. He used to pass tidbits of food to the folks standing in line and chat with them when he could. The last time I ate there he wasn't cooking and it was not very good....that was many years ago....I can't believe all the folks standing in line when there is a very good place at the end of the block with no line...DPD restaurant...

      1. re: gordon wing

        Exactly! And DPD even serves authentic regional food, like House of Nanking used to.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          What dishes do you guys like at DPD? I have not been for many years, at least 10, and vaguely remember dumplings, and liking the place. I think I am in an ordering rut with Chinese restaurants because I am not getting good things at new places I'm trying out, so appreciate specific suggestions.

          1. re: Anne

            I have to admit that has been a few years since I've eaten at DPD (two or three?) but I'll try and give you some ideas about how to approach the ordering. If I remember correctly, they have an emphasis on Shanghai that means to try the steamed dumplings, lion's head meatballs and squirrel fish...all specialties of the region. Eel preparations are also popular. There very well be other things that they do well but why order dishes from other regions when in doubt? Restaurants sometimes fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people...not to mention that the palettes of some cooks just won't allow them to execute food they aren't as familiar with. Traditional Cantonese cooks don't use much chilli paste or heat in any form so when they cook Sichuan or Hunan food it just doesn't taste authentic. At least that's my theory.

            1. re: Anne

              It's been about 3 years since I've been there too. As I posted in an earlier thread, the place has been remodeled but the prices on the menu in the window have stayed rock bottom. The selections also seem to be more pure in Shanghai offerings with Cantonese standards edited out. Maybe there's a new cook.

              Shanghai dishes often have brown sauce, are oilier and a bit sweet. Try the steamed shaolin style dumplings, rice cake noodles, pork in brown sauce.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Thanks for the pointers. I live in Chinatown so it is easy for me to try things out. I heard the DPD has been sold in the last 3 years, but it is worth a try. They were known for Shanghainese, right? I really don't know one from another as well as I ought, but then I only really care if it is good, not authentic. The biggest problem I usually have is I am eating alone or only with one other. I get bored easily I am afraid, or that I cook many Chinese dishes and I love my own cooking. Of course, I cannot make the pan-fried noodles and many other things either. Will report back soon.

                1. re: Anne

                  Yes, Shanghainese cuisine. I look forward to your report.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I ate at DPD last night and was pretty happy. we mostly ordered off the back page which lists the specialties. The prices are seriously low and the place was quiet and comfortable. We had sizzling rice soup (at my daughter's request) which was ok. Also we had both the pork and vegetable dumplings and the Shanghai buns which both seemed to have the same stuffing or very close. The dumplings were more gingery, and the buns (which seemed like a dumpling, just folded differently and steamed on cabbage leaves) was served with black vinegar for dipping. We also had tender bamboo shoots with shredded pork, which I liked very much. The pork was sliced slivers of lean pork butt. It also included long green onions and sliced tofu that was pressed and seemed smokey (don't know what it was). These ingredients were stir-fried and had that wok-seared quality. The lady was nice enough to show me the can the shoots came from, since I wanted to know how to get these baby tender shoots. Delicious.

                    I tried to get help with ordering, especially asking if only one or the other dumpling was needed since two seemed too much (it was). She just said very good when I ordered the bamboo shoot dish and sent her daughter to us when I had questions about the dumplings, but didn't get any answer. Overall they were really nice, though, and the bill was $20. We are going to go back and try more things.

                    1. re: Anne
                      Melanie Wong

                      That sounds great, Anne, thanks for reporting back. The time I walked by and noticed the remodel, I couldn't believe that the prices on the posted menus had stayed so low!

                      If you like bamboo shoots, you should try spring bamboo. So tender, almost spongy.

      2. Here is my take on it, with some actual facts. When it first opened, quite some years ago, there were only about three people working there, all the cook's family. They were really nice people. The owner cooked everything himself. I especially remember some made to order buns that were good. He is from Shanghai, but apparently has his own personal spin on dishes. I was in Singer & Foy Wines (now defunct) when Patricia Unterman, the then pink section reviewer, came in and told us to eat there right away because she was writing it up and we would not be able to get in for awhile.

        I ate there and really liked it. It became popular after the review. Downtown workers frequented it for lunch but it was pretty empty in the evenings until the review. The owner told me this story: One day about 20 people from the Chronicle called in and said they were coming in for lunch. He found out that they had seen the review (pre-newspaper distribution). So word was leaking out. As soon as the review hit, he was sold out of food, it was Chinese new year and he could not order supplies. He said people would have eaten the table legs if he cooked them up.

        I think a line started forming after that. I doubt the owner has drawn a breath since. I think that the place started getting on every cheap eats list published. I stopped going, and it just seemed like it turned into a strictly for tourist place (maybe it always was, but I liked it). I did take an out-of-towner there once and he remarked that it was so busy that even the Chinese couldn't get in. I went 3 or 4 ears ago, and they were so busy, I think they expanded too, the owner was not cooking, the service was not nice anymore, they started telling you what to order, and the sauces tasted the same.

        I'd say a victim of its own success.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Anne

          Thanks much for the story. When I read the first post inquiring about it, I couldn't believe H of N was still around.

          I lived in SF when it first opened, and was one of the lucky few who got to it pre-review, dragged by a friend who said: you -have to- try this place. It really was something special. Even before the insane popularity, it never seemed to be -of- Chinatown: the crowd was a multi-ethnic band of food obsessives, and the cooking was completely individual. The vegetable buns were really great, and there was a chicken in beer sauce that was out of this world. The best thing was to go in the afternoon, and just tell the chef to bring you whatever he felt like cooking.

          By the time I moved out of town, the food was obviously downhill, and the crowds were out of control. That was in 1992. I wondered at the time what could possibly happen to this place, given that the poor guy and the tiny kitchen were stretched way beyond their limits.

          A sad story about how success can be almost as bad as failure.

          1. re: Steven Stern

            Of course, just my luck, I got to SF in 1992! That figures, because the food I had at H of N was really terrible. I had a tofu dish that was simply plain tofu with sauce poured over it; none of the flavors melded. One of my really big beefs (so to speak)! I tried H of N a couple of times after that since I used to work in that area, but it was always the same. I gave up in 1995.

        2. If your going to the housse of Nan King for a fine sitdown meal your obviously going to the wrong place.
          A meal at Nan King is more akin to being processed than fed. But to say that Nan King is a lousy restaurant can only mean one thing. And that your chinese is not in line with the "House" or at you don't like being told when and what to eat. IF you prefer a more civilized Nan King style meal, try Brandy Ho's up the street On Columbus.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ron

            I suspect that I'm willing to eat at far funkier Chinese restaurants than most. That's not my problem with House of Nanking . . .


          2. I don't know about House of Nanking, but along the lines of DPD in terms of low prices although not Shanghaineseness, I would like to recommend a place whose name I cannot remember. All I can tell you is it is on the northwest corner of Jackson and Hyde, and the lunch special is something like $3.50, comes with very tasty soup and enough of whatever dish over rice for lunch and leftover for dinner. I'm generally not hugely into Cantonese food, but this stuff is really well done. And the people are so nice! I ate there by myself once and the waitress came over to chat and gave me a copy of the Chronicle to read (ok, maybe that was cruel actually!). Seriously, if you're ever on Russian Hill around lunch time, try the small Chinese place whose name I can't remember. You won't regret it!


            1 Reply
            1. re: Ben

              Are the walls still covered with business cards?

              I'll never forget a dinner with a voluble college friend at U-Lee. We were having an excellent chicken and asparagus with black bean sauce, among other things, and she was telling an incredible (true) story about a drunken amorous moment in a park in Eastern Europe during which a pair of glasses got crushed - and the guy at the next table suddenly interrupted, saying he couldn't help himself because she was such a great story teller. It was a small, local place where that just seemed natural. You don't find that kind of atmosphere at too many places.