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Sam Lok - SF Chinatown Chowdown Lunch Series #8 Report

  • n

Oh ma la!

On Friday, May 7th, a dozen ravenous hounds descended upon Sam Lok. With help from prior Chowhound posts, an email from yimster, Melanie, and our waiter who spoke decent English, we ordered up a storm of Sichuan dishes...

Fish and Preserved Vegetable Soup (2 Way, With Fried Fish)
Couple's Delight
Pickled Vegetable Salad
Cucumber Salad
Pork with Garlic Paste
Dong Zi Kou Zhang Cold Rice Jello
Tiger Skin Jalapeños
Water Boiled Beef
Stir Fried Pork Kidney
Pork Sholder in Garlic and Ginger
Dry Fried Pork Stomach
Kunming Lamb
Chungquing Chicken
Sichuan Green Beans
Garlic Eggplant

Total cost per person was $15.

A dessert of Golden Gate Bakery egg custard tarts and coconut macaroons were provided courtesy of ChowFun.

Your opinions, my fellow hounds?

Sam Lok
655 Jackson Street
San Francisco

About the SF Chinatown Chowdown Lunch Series

Each week an ever changing group of hounds lunch at a Chinatown restaurant. We focus primarily but not exclusively on Chinese cuisines. All types of hounds are welcome to attend: veteran chowdowners or newcomers; experts in Chinese cuisines or those just starting to discover them. Seats for each lunch will be alloted on a first come, first serve basis to those on a mailing list being maintained especially for these lunches. Email njachow@yahoo.com if you would like to be added to that list for future lunches in this series

The SFCCLS are private, volunteer assisted events. No agency relationship, express or implied exists between any parties and Chowhound, Inc. These are not Chowhound, Inc. sponsored events.

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. r
    RWCFoodie (Karen)

    Many thanks again to Nick for organizing these weekly forays into Chinatown. It's redundant, but I'll say it again; it's always great to gather with the Hounds for some good Chow and conversation!

    With the arrival of the first dish, Dong Zi Kou Zhang/Cold Rice Jello, I was happy; the taste of Sichuan peppercorns and chili! Next was the Pickled Vegetable Salad, I believe cabbage, broccoli stems, carrot, etc. in chili/sesame oil; yum! And it just got better (to me) from there.

    The Couples Delight, thinly sliced tripe and tongue, and the Pork Belly with shreds of green onion were 2 of my favorites. The Pork Kidney with wood ears and bamboo shoots was tasty but I would have enjoyed it more if the pieces of kidney were larger. I couldn't detect any "off" flavors in the kidney (almost never do in an Asian restaurant).

    Oh, I almost forgot, the Dry Fried Pork Stomach was very good; I would defy anyone who is anti-offal to not like this dish.

    I liked my lunch; sure, I've had better Sichuan food, but this was tasty and a good time and they validate for 2 hrs free at Portsmouth Square! What more can you ask?

    Lastly, here's to ChowFun for working on his chili tolerance and for once again providing Golden Gate egg tarts and macaroons!

    1 Reply
    1. re: RWCFoodie (Karen)

      Any thoughts on how Sam Lok's Sichuan food compares to China Village's? The last time I was at CV, we ordered a bunch of things, including pork kidneys (fire-bursted pork loins - not actually loins), boiled-water beef. Where the heck are these people getting their hua jiao, that's what I want to know.

    2. My opinion is that this was a very good lunch with very good food. There are so many Cantonese restaurants around here serving bland and uninteresting food, that it is a relief to find a Chinese place serving non-Cantonese; and if it is it is done competently, as it was at Sam Lok, that is an extra bonus. (I know that Cantonese is refined, elegant and the French Food of Asia, but most of the time around San Francisco, it must be too refined and elegant for me, because it is often just boring).

      The meal started off on the right foot with the cool, crispy and spicy pickled vegetables served at the same time as the Dong Zi Kou Zhang Cold Rice Jello. The “jello” presented an interesting juxtaposition of tastes with the reserved coolness of the rice gelatin being offset with a very spicy sauce.

      After munching on veggies and gelatin cubes for a while the dishes started arriving just about as fast as the waiter could bring them. The waiter, by the way, had a slightly maniac manner to him, he would bring a dish, announce it and laugh. It was sort of like he was saying “Take that! Pow!”, and waiting to see if the crazies sitting around the two tables would really eat it. Nick and I think he brought more food than we really ordered.

      The Kunming Lamb was excellent with a marked taste of cumin to go along with the general spiciness. I also liked the Dry Fried Pork Stomach, which had a really interesting spicy kick to it.

      The Water Boiled Beef is mis-named as it had a sauce with real spicy character. It could have been much better named as Chinese Chili con Bok Choy! When all of the meat was gone, I finished off the sauce by mixing rice with it. Yummy.

      I also liked the spicy Sichuan Green Beans and the Tiger Skin Jalapenos served with soy sauce. (The Jalapenos were grilled and the dark grill marks are supposed to look like tiger stripes).

      The only dish I wasn’t crazy about was the Fish and Preserved Vegetable Soup (2 Way, With Fried Fish). Although it had a really nice vinegary, Thai-like broth, it was full of fish bones and Chinese mystery ingredients & I did't finish it.

      As the meal went on, it seemed to get hotter and hotter. I managed to get about two-thirds of the ways through the meal without it, but eventually had to break down and drink some water.

      Good place. Good lunch.

      1. I really enjoyed this lunch -- a great pick-me-up spice kick on a Friday afternoon.

        The starters were lovely -- the pickled vegetables were still-crunchy, unlike what I'm used to with kim chee or the Japanese equivalents. I also enjoyed the rice jello with the mystery topping -- it was some kind of minced black stuff and the whole thing was doused in chili oil.

        Some of the dishes were new to me. I liked "couples delight" though I don't know what its name signifies? It had a wonderful light sauce (peppery with lots of peppercorns, chili oil, maybe a little vinegar?) that was delicious when mopped up with rice.

        Another favorite was the cucumbers -- I've never had cooked cucumbers that were spicy. When I first saw the dish, I assumed it would be a cooling one, but it was fiery in its own way. Really enjoyed that.

        I preferred the fried catfish to the fried chicken dish -- the chicken was bony and didn't taste as freshly-fried as the catfish. The catfish was pretty heavily battered but I still enjoyed it as a counterpoint to the peppers it came with.

        I liked the pork shoulder -- it was probably one of the mildest dishes we sampled, but was interesting and falling off the bone tender. A huge portion too.

        The boiled beef was good but I didn't like the gumminess of the meat itself. I LOVED the sauce though, and could eat it like soup.

        A very fun lunch --thanks for the good company and good eats!

        1. w

          Once again, thanks to Nick for setting up another of these delicious events -- and the macaroons and egg custard tarts from Golden Gate as supplied by Derek were way over the top. Thanks for pulling out all the stops!

          After wallking past this place numerous times, it was nice to finally give it a try -- and I'm glad I did. It is not particularly fancy nor expensive, but several dishes stood out as ones I would definitely order again on a repeated visit:

          Pickled Veggie Salad: very similar to Korean kim chee's, but less vinegar flavor and crisp, fresh carrots and cabbage. Refreshing.

          Tiger Skin Jalapenos: as one who is not too keen on spicy peppers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that these are actually sweeter than hot, but still had a nice kick to them. Nice presentation with the "stripes", too. Not as intimidating as they appear.

          Pork Shoulder in Garlic and Ginger: not spicy, but was not meant to be. Very tender pork with bok choy accompaniment, in a tasty sauce of oyster variety? A tasty and welcome break from the hot flavors of the other dishes.

          Kunming Lamb: very thin sliced lamb, with green bell peppers and onions. Nice hot and soothing aroma as well. My favorite.

          Garlic Eggplant: texture just right, and excellent hot taste, too.

          Some dishes I probably would not order again: Fish and Preserved Veggie Soup (bland and not much else), and the Cold Rice Jello (nice sauce, but the rice jello lacked any discernable flavor).

          The Sam Lok service was very attentive and dishes came "rapid fire" with very little time to waste -- lots of fun. As always, another very delightful time with a very friendly group of Hounds.

          1. Reading these postings this morning has reminded me of a great lunch and set my mouth watering.

            After thinking about it for a couple days, the most memorable dishes were the couple's delight, the pickled vegetable salad, the cold rice jello, and the kunming lamb.

            The whole scene was hilarious. Paul was right that the staff was cracking up at us ... I got a big laugh from the waiter after I requested that the empty couple's delight plate be kept at the table so that I could eat the sauce with rice.

            The cold rice jello goes on the list for me because the sauce was delicious as well. I would love to have more of that.

            The kunming lamb had an interesting taste and a good spice that continued to build as I ate it.

            I agree with beanbag about the water boiled beef. Give me some of that sauce over rice any day ...

            Thanks to all for a great lunch.

            1. can't write much now, but basically, two thumbs up. this was the best of the few series stops i've made it to. all the dishes seemed to have been rather carefully prepared, by the A team, as it were, which you don't always get at lunchtime. balanced, complex, but in your face flavors, and good textures. light, understated, complementary use of numbing 'ma' peppercorns enhanced the overall seasonings.

              my shanghainese soul also loved the mild, tender, earthy, pork shoulder. and the lamb, reminiscent of xinjiang lamb kabobs.

              the soup was not my favorite, as it's unbalanced sourness did not stand well on it's own, nor did it seem to complement the ma, la, and hsien of the other dishes.

              1. c
                ChowFun (derek)

                It is 3 days later, and my mouth and lips have not recovered from the assault on them...my nose is running and my head is beginning to itch just thinking about it! I don't know how (or why) you all can eat such heavily-spiced food??? I tried everything that came my way, attempting to "desensitize" my mouth and tongue...it didn't work...a lot of pain and no pleasure! (but then again I'm not into S & M either)...if there were actually recognizable elements, like lamb and beef and fish under all of that, I certainly could not discern it... the only relief I felt was to plunge my tongue as deeply as I could, into a Golden Gate egg custard tart and leave it there for a good minute, praying that QuanYin would "heal me".
                I don't know whether to "Envy" you all, or "Pity" you!!! (and I hate to have to keep blowing my nose at table!)
                The experience didn't kill me (although, a number of my taste buds have entered the great beyond) so I guess it has made me stronger.
                I vote for piquancy, subtlety and delicacy, I vote for spices to be "at the service of" the food they are matched with...I want to taste duck, or chicken, or sweetbreads, or scallops or foie gras (not Pc!).. and not ______ (fill in name of spice)..I prefer spices to be SO balanced, that they actually create a whole new "flavor" ....so much so that I am almost unable to tell you which blending of spices has been used for this new creation!
                (does the body make new taste buds..or are they like brain cells lost on Acid?)

                10 Replies
                1. re: ChowFun (derek)

                  I think you must be a bit too courageous going for the spiciest food on earth thinking you can somehow nuke your tastebuds. I remembered when I was little, eating my way thru spicy food is like taking little baby steps. You should start with the lowest degree of spiciness and then built your tolerance higher and higher. Now I eat spicy food with joy albeit much perspiration still there. Let me know when you get there. Food nirvana is waiting for you !

                  1. re: ChowFun (derek)

                    Wow, I understand and sympathize w/you. It happened to me once, trying to be open-minded about spicy food. Never again!

                    1. re: ChowFun (derek)

                      No shame in that. I probably drank about a gallon of cold water after I left the restaurant and popped a couple of Zantac to try to sooth my stomach. Still didn't feel right come dinner time, nor was I hungry, but I popped into the corner store and got myself a nice and cold Its-it. It did provide some relief...see, we should have had some ice cream afterwards like we joked about.

                      1. re: ChowFun (derek)

                        Sorry about you heated lunch. But the other posters are right you can and will built up your ability to eat hot and spicy food. In fact it will make you enjoy mild food more also. You will be able to improve your taste bud to define the limit of tasting better as you eat more and more hot food. I will arrange for another hot meal when we return from our vacation. In fact our frist meal in Vancouver will be a hot one. Bryan has give me the address for the best Dan Dan Noodle outside of China. I can hardly wait for the "sea of red death".

                        Years ago I too was not able to eat spicy hot food but I just built up my ability to eat hot food. Now I can eat a lot hotter but not as hot as I would like. I wish you luck in develop this.

                        1. re: yimster

                          On the issue of developing a 'tolerance' for spicy food, I have a slightly different take: first, different types of spices may impact you differently. For example, I can take habaneros type of spiciness (capsicum/ sic?) with no real problems, but can't handle anything with large amounts of plain old black pepper. The latter makes my throat close up. You might want to pay close attention to the types of spices to see if one is particularly painful for you.

                          Secondly, I have actually found that my tolerance has decreased as I have gotten older, not increased. The spicy stuff still tastes as good as it ever did, but my stomach now is more likely to protest after...so really, I am not sure one builds up a tolerance over time. Perhaps one just learns to eat through the pain. :-)

                          and to make this SF/Chowdown specific, I assume that you know, or hopefully the other Chowhounds reminded you, that starch (presumably steamed rice in this case, plain tortialls and bread also work) is a much better remedy than water...try it next time to cool down your mouth! (won't help with the stomach aftermath though: for that I agree with Melanie's assessment that a little ice cream works wonders :-))

                          1. re: susancinsf
                            janet of reno

                            The black pepper thing must be genetic. I have the EXACT same problem. (disclaimer to those who don't know: susancinsf is my identical twin). I also tend to do better with dishes that have a variety of spices in addition to the capsicum (ie Indian dishes).

                            She's right about the starch too. Water just spreads the oils from the capsicum around in your mouth. Because capsicum is oily its not really "diluted" by water. When I lived in Mexico I learned this to be the trick to jalapeno eating. You bet your friends you can eat so many without drinking any water. Of course, you don't tell them you'll be eating so many bolillos. :)

                            1. re: susancinsf

                              I have another angle on the age-thing: my family had dinner at China Village a couple of weeks ago, and my dad (age 74) remarked that he couldn't tolerate spicy food as well as he had in the past. He attributed it to the fact that mucuous membranes (in the mouth) thin as you get older, making them more vulnerable to the chemicals in spicy foods.

                              I didn't realize we had identical twins posting on this board! It must be fun to share this activity, even though you live miles apart.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                janet of reno

                                The funny thing Ruth is that we were both on the board for awhile before we realized it. I saw a post Susan had made mentioned in the chownews, went back to read the entire post, and after I read it realized that I knew that email address!!! (So I emailed her to tell her she had made chownews which inspired her to do the right thing and subscribe....).

                                BTW and back on topic, was it yimster who mentioned that age causes the mucous membranes to thin and therefore decreases the tolerance to spice? I wonder if this is also true for the stomach lining and other organs....To get back on a Bay Area thread, many years ago I took my boyfriend and his father to the China Station restaurant in Berkeley, where we ate Hot and Sour Soup (among other dishes). The hot and sour was particularly hot that night. Boyfriend's father ended up in the hospital that night having a gall bladder attack. He blamed the soup, and of course me for ordering it. It was the beginning of the end for that relationship.

                                1. re: janet of reno

                                  My Dad and yimster are two pretty trustworthy sources!

                                  Although it's too late to save the relationship, I doubt it was the hot and sour soup. The most common trigger for gallbladder attacks is high consumption of fat, so it was probably the greasy Chinese dishes rather than the hot Chinese dishes that did him in (vbg).

                              2. re: susancinsf

                                I need to be more to the point in that you can learn to eat more spicy food via you taste buds. That you can learn to do, but how you stomach takes it is another story.

                                You are right on the target using rice or other starch to cut the heat. The stickness of the rice will pick up the pepper and you can pass out of the mouth. Water help spead the heat.

                                As I have gotten older the my taste buds have learn to eat the heat but my stomach longer take the heat as well. So I do not eat hot as oftne now. But I still like the fire in the mouth, but only once in a while.

                                Aa rule of thumb I find that black pepper does not get hotter with the more of it you eat. While white pepper built and built up the hot scale with the more you eat. So be careful with the white pepper it will make you turn red. I hope Chowfun does not read this so that I can try it out on him next time.

                          2. Memory fades, but here goes...

                            Fish and Preserved Vegetable Soup -- one of the last dishes to arrive. My senses were fatigued by the rest of the food, I wish I could have tried this earlier. I liked the tom-yum-esque tartness.

                            Couple's Delight -- still my favorite dish, a must order for any visit.

                            Cucumber Salad -- always like this one for its simplicity...crunchy ma la cucumber.

                            Pork with Garlic Paste -- was better last time I had it here. Onions were good but pork wasn't very flavorful.

                            Dong Zi Kou Zhang Cold Rice Jello -- I really liked this one. The jello had little flavor, but I enjoyed it as simply a clean textural base for the crunchy, spicy, peppery sauce

                            Tiger Skin Jalapeños -- jalapeños and soy sauce, who knew? Good, but didn't have the promised grill mark stripes.

                            Water Boiled Beef -- Sauce had an unusual starchiness, like it contained pureed potato or something. Not bad, just surprising. Meat seemed a bit overly tenderized, but loved sopping up the sauce.

                            Stir Fried Pork Kidney -- found my portion of kidney overcooked. Otherwise didn't care for.

                            Pork Sholder in Garlic and Ginger -- very good.

                            Chungquing Chicken -- my least favorite dish of the day. Very tough, dry, old (was this made yesterday?) nuggets of chicken with tiny, sharp bones.

                            Sichuan Green Beans -- very fresh beans. A winner.

                            Garlic Eggplant -- Sauce tasted very sweet to me. Didn't like.

                            I still have little experience with sichuan food beyond Sam Lok so I can't offer comparisons. But I definitely enjoyed several of the dishes and intend to return here occasionally when I want non-Cantonese Chinese food.

                            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...