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suggestions for sf >> chinese dinner?

  • c

Hi.

I am in search of a delicious, very hot chinese meal this evening in san francisco. Where might I find it?
The erudite commentary as to region and origin of the food is extremely welcome.
Thanks
Cait

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  1. I assume that you are looking for hot as in spicy. For hot chinese food, szechuan is the way to go. (Do a search for szechuan or sichuan and san francisco - there are older posts describing what are typical szechuan dishes that are good.)

    Try the szechuan food at Sam Lok (not to be mistaken with Sam Wok) in Chinatown. Had a pretty good Szechuan meal there but it was about 2 years ago. That's the best I've seen in the city for Szechuan food. Details: 655 Jackson St.  San Francisco CA (415)981-8988. (Actually, if you do go, I'd really appreciate an update.)

    The szechuan cold noodles might be worth trying if you're by yourself and can't order a whole bunch of things. Otherwise, get the beef in chilli sauce (the direct chinese translation is water cooked beef) and the beef and tripe dish (I think it's called husband and wife - an appetizer).

    24 Replies
    1. re: Limster
      c
      Cait Shortell

      Thank you. I will get back to you and all the other chowhounds with my impressions of this evening's dinner at Sam Lok.

      Caitlin

      1. re: Limster
        c
        Cait Shortell

        Sam Lok made us cast a sentimental eye toward our recent stay with family in Veracruz, Mexico, where pork is clearly pig!

        I am not sure if Sam Lok is known for its pork dishes, but the meal we chose was heavy on the animal. We ordered a pork shoulder braised with ginger and garlic, string beans deep fried with minced pork, and dumplings stuffed with pork and green onions in chili oil.

        Upon Limster's suggestion, we ordered a single non pork dish: "couple's delight," a lacy carpaccio of beef and tripe in chili oil garnished with a fine dice of peanuts and cilantro. To my taste. Delicious.

        Our waiter was very polite and concerned with our ability to tolerate the alleged spiciness of the dishes we ordered. The funny thing was, they weren't that spicy! Although chili oil was an ingredient of the couple's delight and the dumplings, the other two dishes had absolutely no spiciness.

        Despite the voluptous generosity of what seemed to be the entire shoulder of a pig, languishing in its fat and skin, the pork's gravy was lackluster, brown, with frozen peas and carrots. I couldn't detect ginger or garlic. Instead, a distinct lineament flavor and dryness lingered on the tongue, as if the pork were cured beforehand in mothballs. Perhaps it simply wasn't to my taste - in Mexico I did refuse second rounds of chicharrones and when my sweetheart fed me pig skin only saying "come on, just try it" but not revealing its identity, I admit, I was a bit mad. So maybe I just don't go in big for the genuine article. Still, the pork shoulder at Sam Lok lacked seasoning.

        The string beans didn't dissapoint. The pork in that dish was minced and the excessive saltiness was right up my alley.

        I would definitely visit Sam Lok again, in order to try some of the other interesting dishes and perhaps find that elusive spiciness (and seasoning) I desire.

        1. re: Limster

          Oh man, the szechuan cold noodles at Sam Lok has to be one of the most difficult dishes I've ever had. All 4 of us nearly gagged on them (seriously) the szechuan peppercorn-oil was way too heavy and numbed my entire mouth and throat. Don't get me wrong -- I love Sam Lok and I love spicy food. But that dish was nasty. The szechuan pickled vegetables, however, is one of my favorite dishes in the world, great every time. Similar sauce but well-balanced.

          Maybe the chef slipped the time I had the noodles?

          1. re: franklint

            Szechuan food can be very very spicy - I break up a sweat and down lots of water when I'm eating it. (I'm talking several large glasses.) But it shouldn't be as bad as you described, especially since in my experience, the other dishes at Sam Lok wasn't as spicy as the stuff I've had elsewhere. I hope it's just a case of bad luck. The alternative explanation would be that the kitchen isn't very good at this dish.

            1. re: Limster

              Szechuan peppercorn-oiled and spicy are different. (The English language lacks a good word for 'spicy-hot' food -- 'caliente' in Spanish). In fact, Szecuan peppercorns have a numbing effect that dulls (or compliments) spicy-hot food.

              Sam Lok can get spicy, you gotta ask for it. They get a lot of tourist groups so I bet they have been more or less forced to compromise with the spiciness.

              I'm still curious about the cold noodle salad. I want to try it again with someone who's familiar with it and see if it's the way it's supposed to be. I get obsessive when my palate is challenged like that. That dish was incomphrehensible.

              1. re: franklint

                Yes - you're absolutely right! The term is ma2 la4 in mandarin. ma2 = numbing and la4 = spicy/hot.

                1. re: Limster
                  m
                  Melanie Wong

                  Thank you for the Mandarin lesson. (g) I'm looking at the menu for a Shanghai restaurant and see ma2 la4 tang1 (numbing, spicy soup). Any idea whether this is a regional specialty and what the specific preparation might be?

                  Link: http://chowhound.safeshopper.com/23/c...

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Afraid I've never tried the dish before. Haven't encountered that many ma2 la4 dishes outside Szechuan cuisines that I remember, but then again, my repeitoire isn't that big. Shanghai is rather cosmopolitan, and it is conceivable that they might have picked that up.

                    1. re: Limster

                      This discussion reminds me of a Chinese banquet I set up in Wash, DC several years back. It was a Hunan restaurant, and I told the owner that I didn't think the food should be too spicy, since most of the people would be uninitated to Hunan cuisise (all lo fon). Big mistake. It was the flattest, most tasteless meal I've ever had, and I then realized that one person's spice is another person's blah.

                2. re: franklint
                  c
                  Caitlin Shortell

                  So perhaps my tongue was so numbed by this unique kind of spiciness that I never felt it. Hmmm. That seems implausible. I think they just figured we couldn't handle it. Oh well.

                  My problem with the pork shoulder was that it really didn't convey ANY flavor aside from that of the earthy, lineament pork variety.

                  1. re: Caitlin Shortell
                    m
                    Melanie Wong

                    Braised pork shoulder is a dish that needs to be prepared in advance and then reheated to customer order. This one sounds like it may have been in the refrigerator too long and picked up some off-flavors. Or some of the special Chinese medicinal herbs used in the cooking broth were not to your liking.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I've never had this pork dish at Sam Lok, but I liked the version at Little Sichuan. If that is any indication, the flavors are quite pure and simple: lard-sweetness and a smooth young ginger flavor. Didn't catch any strong medical quality to the dish there, wonder if Sam Lok's version is different or just inferior.

                      1. re: Limster
                        m
                        Melanie Wong

                        There are versions made with meo2 cai4, dried herbs, that might impart a linament taste to the uninitiated.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong
                          c
                          Cait Shortell

                          The medicinal tea I take twice a day made of chinese herbs cooked down has a different and much more pungent odor and flavor than the pork shoulder. Yet I would be curious to know what medicinal herbs and for what purpose are in the pork dish. I wasn't aware that the food was medicine, in a sense. Interesting.

                          1. re: Cait Shortell

                            I don't know the specifics of the dish you had since I haven't been to Sam Lok and don't eat that much Sichuan food. But there are versions that are braised with dried herbs that impart elusive flavors and are reputed to restore the body's balance.

                            1. re: Cait Shortell

                              There's a long tradition in Chinese cuisine of medicinal food. Some of the vegetarian Chinese places in town offer medicinal foods -- Shangri-La, i believe, has a section on their menu for medicinal foods. It is, to some, an acquired taste.

                  2. re: Limster

                    Water is one of the worst "antidotes" to too much fire in food, beer not much better: Milk products, breadstuffs, or plain rice will put out the fire. After, you may cool your mouth down with a cold beverage, but first it's necessary to put a substance in the mouth that actaully counteracts the spiciness. In East Indian restaurants, yogurt is best, breads and rice next. In Chinese, Thai, Korean, you'll have to make do with rice or, if avaiable, breads or bread-related items.I don't know if plain tofu would work or not.

                    1. re: Fine

                      Thanks! And to think I never learnt anything after all these years... :)

                      I really should know better, because a pal of mine in the lab downstairs works on capsaicin - the active ingredient that makes things hot. After reading your post, it just occurred to me that this compound does not dissolve in water.

                      1. re: Limster

                        Right you are! Capsaicin is fat soluble, not water soluble. Cheese, butter or whole milk will tame the flamiest of mouths.

                      2. re: Fine

                        I've always had milk with Mexican food for that reason, but it's chancy ordering milk in a Chinese restaurant.
                        we learned about that in organic chemistry class, along with how to prevent a hangover. (College of Marin, about 1968)

                        1. re: Kim Cooper

                          Ok, after this tantalizing hint, you have to disclose the organic chemistry hangover cure! My own, for the record, consists of the following, taken in just the right order:

                          - Water
                          - Aspirin (or better yet, Aleve)
                          - Coffee
                          - Breakfast -- grease, carbs, salt and hot sauce

                          For a havy-duty hangover I revert to the traditional Russian pickle liquid. Nasty yet effective.

                          Can't wait to hear whay science has to say on the subject!

                          1. re: Mad Russian

                            OK, what happens to alcohol in your system is that it turns into an aldehyde and then into an acid. The reaction from alcohol to aldehyde is faster than the reaction from aldehyde to acid, so there is a buildup of aldehydes. This is what causes the damage -- and, yes, it causes as much damage as it feels like it is causing! So, the key is to speed up the second reaction by neutralizing the acid ---
                            So, first, drink a lot of water with your alcohol. Then, before you sleep have something alkaline -- milk, baking soda in water, or just lots of water. this helps speed up the neutralization of acids and prevents the hangover (more or less succussfully -- the best way is not to drink too much!)

                            1. re: Kim Cooper

                              What does the hair of the dog do? It is usually my last resort and works wonders...

                              -David

                              1. re: Mad Russian

                                I don't remember them saying anything specific in chemistry, but I would guess it's just an anesthetic, and just adds to the damage in the long run.