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Apr 30, 2001 02:43 AM

R&G Lounge Update

  • m

We’ve had prior discussions on this board about some of the inconsistencies at R&G Lounge in San Francisco Chinatown. A couple recent banquets have turned up some more hits, and a couple misses for the record. I’m not sure of the exact terms used for these dishes on the menu, but the server should be able to figure out what you mean.


Dry-fried whole live shrimp – When the tanks are teeming with live shrimp, you gotta order some. We’ve had them steamed, served sushi style followed by the deep-fried salt and pepper-style heads, and now dry-fried whole in the shell with a bit of garlic and scallions. You’ll need to peel off the shells but do this with your teeth so that you can enjoy all the flavor that’s collected in the shells and legs. They’re so incredibly sweet and succulent, and of course, you must suck the heads to enjoy every bit of deliciousness.

Filets of flounder – Our pocketbooks protested the price gouging for steamed live fish during Chinese New Year’s celebrations, so our waiter suggested this for our fish dish instead. A real winner - meltingly tender slices of brilliantly fresh flounder that somehow don’t fall apart on the plate. These are bathed in a subtly seasoned sauce on a bed of juicy hearts of mustard greens.

Eggplant with garlic sauce – For our vegetarian friends, we asked for the meatless version. Tender and sweet light-skinned Chinese eggplant slices braised to a state of utter unctuousness. The sauce was dark and dusky with lots of garlic and shreds of tree ear fungus and bamboo shoots.

Large pea shoots with garlic – Towards the tail end of the season for the small variety (tough and wiry now), the large type of pea shoots offers the same flavor but with more substance and juicier stems. Cooked with a little chopped garlic and pan juices to a turn, the leaves were oh so silky and the stems retained a bit of crunch.

On the house herbal soup – We’ve always skipped over the complimentary soup, going for something more up-market or trading the room in our stomachs for more sumptuous dish. But our friend from Taipei insisted and we’re glad she did. Very Cantonese to start the meal with a cup of broth to aid digestion, or as our waiter said, “it’s good for your intestine”. This is the liquid essence of countless chickens, ducks, pigs, cows and savory herbs. Just drink the broth and leave behind the spent remains of bark, twigs, bone shards and boiled-out pieces of fatty meat in the bottom of the tureen.


Steak kow and sugar peas with XO sauce – Usually I specify rib eye for this dish, but this time we went with the standard. As reported by someone else on this board, the steak kow can be pretty chewy. The standard cut of beef was tenderized with baking powder and pounded with some extra exotic spices, so the flavor of the dish was altered as well. The texture was reminiscent of chicken-fried steak but the hunky cubes of meat were almost too big to bite into. The sugar pea pods were very high quality - small and sparkling fresh - and the XO sauce was on form. Be sure to ask for rib eye steak when you order this.

Water spinach with fermented bean curd (foo yee ong choi) – This was great a year ago, but for our most recent dinner, it was overcooked. Too tough and stringy.


Our love affair with German Riesling for the Cantonese banquet continues with Alsatian white wines offering occasional diversion. Of the following list of wines from our last two outings at R&G Lounge, only the Hermitage blanc couldn’t find a marriage partner at the table. To the gentleman at Mustards Grill who was recently trying to convince me that Asian/Fusion cuisine kills wines, I say, read ‘em and weep.

1971 J. J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Auslese
1983 J. J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese
1998 J. J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Long Gold Cap Auslese
1997 Prinz Hallengartner Jungfer Kabinett
1999 Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtröpchen Kabinett
1999 von Schubert Maximiner Grünhaus Abtsberg Auslese (Single Fuder)
1992 Gunderloch Nackenheimer Rothenberg Beerenauslese

1998 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl Pinot Gris
1994 Ernst Burn Goldert Grand Cru Clos St. Immer “Cuvée de la Chapelle” Gewurztraminer
1989 Albert Boxler Brand Grand Cru Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive
1996 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Jebsal Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Noble

1983 Chave Hermitage Blanc

1989 Huët Le Haut Lieu Moelleux Vouvray

1993 Domaine Tempier “La Tourtine” Bandol

1997 Husch Vineyards Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer
1997 Dehlinger Unfiltered Estate Russian River Valley Chardonnay
1999 Joseph Swan Vineyards “Cuvée de Trois” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

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  1. &

    Baking powder to tenderize? That's a new one to me! You didn't by chance mean cornstarch, did you, which in my experience doesn't "tenderize" but merely turns sauces somewhat "elastic"?

    I'm curious--given our bad experience at R&G a year or two back--was your group primarily Asian? When two of us, both Caucasian, went, we were treated like tourists right off the infamous turnip truck (wish I knew how to say that in Cantonese--LOL).

    In general, aren't banquet tables given better overall treatment from both dining room and kitchen staff than two-tops?

    5 Replies
    1. re: "Fine"

      Baking soda is often used by some Chinese restaurants to soften beef and other items - like rehydrating dried squid....if you don't overuse it, the results are pretty impressive and can't be tasted. I'm not sure if the practice started here or not but beef overseas is generally tougher than US Beef ... but it's also a way to get away with a less expensive cut of meat. I think 1/2 teaspoon will "tenderize" a pound of meat.

      1. re: gordon wing

        My first time here and I have to chime in! We had a wonderful dining experience a year ago at R&G but my mother-in-law returned with a group last weekend and it was terrible! Apparently they are doing some renovation but still open for business. There was no tablecloth on their table, they were seated in what seemed to be the basement, the food was mediocore and the service incredibly rude. Such a disappointment! She wished she had taken her group to Empress of China instead.

        1. re: Susan

          Another spotty experience at R&G, we've heard it here before. FWIW, the main seating area is in the basement - there are more tables there than upstairs. Also, the servers in the basement speak more English than the guys upstairs.

          Empress of China caters to tour groups, that might have been a better choice for her.

      2. re: "Fine"
        Melanie Wong

        The guests at the dinner in January included two Chinese, one Native American and 8 round-eyes, and last week's dinner guests were three Chinese, four Indo-Pakistanis, and two Caucasians. The January banquet was organized by a group of friends from the Seattle area who bring their finest bottles of German and Alsatian wines to R&G for an annual event. These guys know how to order and they'll try anything - this is the attitude you need to have to get the best out of Cantonese restaurant.

        Perhaps some restaurants will cater more to banquet tables than smaller parties. At R&G, I think the code word is to have ordered the glutinous rice stuffed chicken in advance, letting the kitchen and staff know that you mean business.

        Our waiter, Litton, was very good. He doesn't speak as much English as Edward, but he was helpful in making suggestions, and was mightily amused when the white face in our group was the one who wanted the foo yee on the greens. However, the table and waiter you get is difficult to orchestrate. While the waiters have name badges in English, the names that the staff and hostess know them by is something different.


        1. re: "Fine"

          You're right, cornstarch is used to thicken sauces in Chinese cooking. I was referring to the restaurant "trick" of using baking soda (not powder) to tenderize meat-beef for example. Ever notice how tender the beef cubes are in a Chinese restaurant? It's not because they are serving filet/prime beef. I'm not a food scientist so I can't tell you how it works but it really does!

        2. Melanie, I hope you realize that (unless things have drastically changed since I hung around Chinatown, and I doubt it) the SF Chinese restaurant scene plays an incredible game of musical chefs (chairs). Not realizing that, many people, especially lo fon, will be surpised when their favorite spot serves dreck. But it does work both ways. If you can find out where the great chef went, you will discover a great NEW restaurant. I recall years ago the chef at Tao-Tao left to open his own place on outer Geary...the business at Tao-Tao dropped drastically, but what great meals we had very cheap for the first year on Geary. Since the city has gotten so big, it is not so easy to find out these things, but as the Germans say "there are ways."

          14 Replies
          1. re: Jim H.

            Yep, the chef who established R&G's reputation with the salt and pepper crab moved to Sun Hong Heung (across from Portsmouth Square) a few years ago to much fanfare. But then he returned to R&G and the customers came back. Don't know who's in the kitchen these days. But I will say that the stuffed chicken we had a couple weeks ago was the best one yet. We already love that dish so much already and on this night it was even better.

            Thanks for mentioning Tao-Tao. Many childhood memories of family parties there, the best in Chinatown in its day and priced accordingly. This was the place when the family really wanted to splurge. Many generations of kids played on that staircase and showed the little ones how the letters painted on the window said OAT-OAT from the inside. Somehow that was really funny to us as children!

            I'm sure that the great chef retired long ago, but please tell us where he was cooking. Wish you could have let me know then.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I don't remember the name of the place on Geary, but I doubt that it is still the same. Tracking the cooks can be all-time job. I did have an in, but he has retired from INS. I too recall fond memories of Tao-Tao. The most memorable was a party thrown by two good friends on their return from a successful week at Monte know how those Chinese like to gamble, and what better way to celebrate winning than dinner at Tao-Tao. I only wish that Jackson Cafe were still across the street.

              1. re: Jim H.

                Are you sure you're not part of my extended family? Jackson Cafe was our favorite for every day type meals. In fact I was talking about it with my sister today - we still miss it very much.

                Here's a link to an earlier thread mentioning Jackson Cafe.


                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Melanie...I am in fact one of the extended family. My wife and I (about 25 years ago) were made honorary Wongs at the international Wong Family Association meeting in San Francisco. The first lo fon ever so honored (and maybe the last). It was much fancier than the Jackson Cafe, but can you ever forget the world's greatest chow mein and steamed clams? I have many friends who yearn for that food...why has no one duplicated that chow mein? The secret of Jackson Chow Mein has indeed gone to the grave with the formerm chef. I must admit, however, that Young's Hong Kong style is almost as good.

                  1. re: Jim H.

                    Aha! That's why you have the culinary decoder ring! Otherwise I'd have to assume that you've been trailing my cousins and me around Chinatown for 20 years.

                    Young's is my old stand-by and the Hong Kong-style chow mein (thin noodles fried in a cake) is very good. And, yes, the clams with black bean sauce at Jackson Cafe have no equal. Likewise the Hangtown fry (oyster omelet). I wish Ms. Macky would come back and tell us how they made the cowboy coffee.

                    To stay on thread, the chow mein at R&G is not great. Another of their slumps. Yee mein is better, especially the one with crab and yellow leeks.

                    I have a line on another old-timey Chinese-American place that makes homestyle food. The first brief encounter was encouraging. Will let you know when I've had a chance to check it out more thoroughly.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Since you are checking it out...try and find something CLOSE to Jackson Chow Mein. I cook something almost like it, but I have many friends who pine for Jackson's. It had a certain something others addition to a discrete amount of duck fat. I haven't eated in R&G for years, but as I recall their chow mein was ho-hum. Usually, good chow mein predicts good food all around.

                      1. re: Jim H.

                        My mother saves the peanut oil and drippings from frying chicken to season hers and it adds some elusive browned/carmelized meaty flavors. What else do you remember about the chow mein at Jackson Cafe? I don't know that I've ever had it, since it was something that my mother made often and very well.

                        In general I agree with you about the chow mein litmus test. A drizzly day a couple months ago I ducked into Sun Hong Kong in Oakland Chinatown for a quick lunch and ordered the house special chow mein. Each ingredient was cooked perfectly and to a turn - roast pork, chicken, scallops, squid, prawns, baby cabbages. A good sign that the kitchen really cares when the simplest order is done so well.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          In high school and my early college years we used to go to the Jackson Cafe for a late evening snack after playing basketball and pinball. We would often have some form of noodles...tomato/beef was one of my favorites....there was always a layer of oil left on the platter when we were done-they weren't stingy with the oil. Loved the beef stew and tendon.

                          1. re: gordon wing

                            Tomato beef with Madras curry over chow mein was one of my favorites in college. Have you noticed that hardly anyone makes this any more?

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              There used to be a really fine restaurant next door to Sun Hung Hyueng (?), Nam Yuen, owned by Al Chin, a very savvy restauranteur. They were quite famous for their tomato beef curry chow mein...but you are right, I never see it anymore. Zep Wong and I used to eat at Jackson weekly, and we think it was the method of cooking the fresh noodles that made the difference. I believe the noodles were super fresh from a factory around the corner on Waverly Place (or maybe Beckett Alley). The noodles were lightly steamed (I think) and then pan fried with duck, pork, BBQ pork, black mushrooms, celery, green onions, and pulled cooked chicken breast dumped on top (oops...garnished on top). The grease combination has always eluded me, but I am sure that was the flavor secret. One of our favorite dishes was to take home an order, and make chow mein omelets for the whole family the next morning. Yummm. Jackson was indeed a true "chow mein joint", packed until closing time. While different, Young's is almost as good, especially the beef and green peppers in black bean sauce.

                              1. re: Jim H.

                                I know Zeppelin Wong! Not a relative, he's attended several functions hosted by my aunt and uncle, Ruby and Ben Tom, the gastronomes I've mentioned several times on this board. He has a young daughter, right?

                                Yes, Nam Yuen and SHH were the twin doeyens of Portsmouth Square. Many, many birthdays and family event celebrated at those two places (which were a little less dear than Tao Tao). It breaks my heart to see them abandoned these days.

                                The secret to the noodles is starting with really fresh and good quality egg-based noodles. You don't need to steam them, just pull them apart and spread them out in a Chinese wire skimmer and drop them into a pot of boiling water for less than a minute. Drain very well, then pan fry (in wok or large frying pan) WITHOUT other ingredients in chicken fat and peanut oil. Don't stir it around, let it form a browned cake, then turn it over and brown the other side. Set it aside to drain, dump out some of the oil, then work on your other ingredients in the same pan. Cook each type (beef vs. bell pepper) separately, then set aside to be combined later. This ensures that the ingredients get the right amount of time, not undercooked or overcooked. Then break up the noodle cake (assuming 1 lb. raw) with your hands into 5 or 6 pieces, put it back in the pan to reheat, add back in other ingredients and toss to combine. You can add a little chicken stock if it looks too dry.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  The recipe you give is almost classic Hong Style...which I really like. Jackson was not pre-fried. It was the droopy pan fried noodle bursting with greasy flavor. If Zep has a young daughter he snuck her past me. I know the Toms...especially Stanley of the Chong Kee Jan company. If I recall, they own the Empress of China building. Good first-class restaurant, great for large parties, and relatively reasonable. I always recommend it and have never had a complaint. Good food, great ambience, good service...and not a rip-off.

                                  1. re: Jim H.

                                    Yes, it would be Hong Kong style jin mein if the noodle cake were fried to crispness and kept whole with the sauce and other stuff poured on top, rather than mixed in and cooked together.

                                    "Chow" means pan-fried whereas "jin" is seared. The main difference is the amount of browning and how much you toss them. I suspect that Jackson's were pre-fried, but not so brown. I like to see some sear marks, even on the pan-fried style. The key to getting the flavors absorbed into the noodles is the pre-frying step. This opens up the pores so that when you dump in the rest of the ingredients and seasonings, everything soaks in and the noodles turn glossy.

                                    Did you know that Young's was closed for 5 weeks for earthquake renovations? It was supposed to be 2 weeks. I stopped by last week to get take-out and will try to give 'em more business to catch up. I got the sam see jin mein (three shreds HK-style noodles). I always ask for no bean sprouts, although I don't know if they normally include them. The shreds are pork, chicken and black mushrooms, starting the right way from raw ingredients and not cut up from cooked meats, plus some grilled onions and tiny choy sum in a garlicky sauce. This reminds me very much of my mother's version, although she uses no thickening at all in her sauce. So much deliciousness for $5.

                                    I'm still vetting the Chinese-American tip. In the meantime, I tried the curry tomato beef chow mein at U-Lee on the Hyde St. cable car line. This has the droopy flavor soaked noodles with decent amount of curry seasoning. My only criticism is that the sauce was too sugary, probably from too much ketchup, and the anemic tomato wedges added nothing to the dish. I wish that restaurants would use good quality canned tomatoes instead of bad fresh ones. Decent enough for $3.85. This seemed to be tradesmen heaven at lunch time. Only about 30 seats, and all occupied by Chinese men in various kinds of work shirts with their names embroidered on them. The walls are papered with business cards from all over the world with hand-written comments praising the pot stickers here (which other chowhounds have confirmed). The restaurant bills itself as Cantonese-Peking, and everyone working there was speaking Cantonese.

                                    I don't think that my Toms have any ties to the Empress of China building. My Aunty Virginia in Sacramento is a partner in the restaurant though. When I was at Cal, a group of us (I was the only Chinese) had a big dress-up night out in the City with a banquet I'd arranged there. I came across the photos recently. The banquet rooms are great for big functions. The last time I was there, a few years ago now, was when she had given me a $50 gift certificate. I brought one of the college friends who had attended the earlier dinner along with me. We had cocktails and ordered quite lavishly - lobster, Peking duck, etc. When the bill for the two of us came and he had to add about $30 to settle up, he commented that the supplement itself was more than he usually pays for a whole Chinese meal!

                                    My aunt and uncle said the same thing when I mentioned Zep's little girl. I guess she would be a young teen by now.

                                2. re: Jim H.


                                  just wanted to mention R&G's horrible service.
                                  I recently organized a surprise party there,
                                  and was faced with their unsurpassed rudeness and
                                  greediness. I really wouldn't be mentioning this,
                                  but I would be hard pressed to remember any other restaurant ever to treat me or my friends like this.
                                  What a bizzarre experience. See my comment on epinions for the complete description:


                                  Dima Rekesh