Lotus Garden Chowdown Report 12/15--Excellent service, wine, crab ... Outstanding company!
(Sorry for a perfunctory start to this thread (I do wish I could do the evening justice ...).
Walking in half an hour late, I bore that pointy finger of blame and was taunted into starting this thread. But oh, oh my, the blizzard of courses, the wines, the charming conversational threads up and down the long table of chowhounds at this cheerful Bernal/Outer Mission joint reknowned for it's crab dishes and warm service .... well, further details will have to await following threads. Beloved Chowhounds Susan C. and Yimster organized the menu and wine pairings. Savvy chowhound, Windy Wonka, obtained a copy of the menu, which should help. Our new Seattle-to-Bernal transplants were warmly welcomed and found to be lovely and genuine company. Look forward to their future posts! Seattle's loss is certainly San Francisco's gain.
A few thoughts:
1: The service was unbelievable. Unobtrusive but supernaturally efficient and ... omnipresent. I had fresh tableware before every course (and there were several!). The presentation of foodstuffs along a long banquet table was a perfectly meted bounty--I wanted for nothing. The cheery offers to refill my wine glass honestly never annoyed me; cold water or steaming rice were always easily within reach. Were we the guests of honor in someone's home kitchen? Did anyone else feel like they had a cheerful personal footman telepathically anticipating their every whim? I loved those cool bowls of lemon water which instantly appeared with fresh napkins for cleansing after the crab course.
2: And what lovely crab. Cleaved in fourths, prepared in a soy-based, aromatic (but light) sauce and liberally covered with tender crab shreds and chunks also in the same sauce. Tender and delicious, the savory crab flavors were delightful in that sauce, excellent when wrapped in the fresh leaves of lettuce it rested upon.
3: Outstanding vegetable preparations. The green beans were especially flavorful, crisp, and well, a delight to munch upon.
Thanks again to Susan C. and Yimster for the organization. The joy of the asian "family style" dinner trully shone brightly tonight.
Tonight thirteen chowhounds gathered at Lotus Garden to welcome two new hounds from Seattle.
Vietnamese Seafood Crepes
Raw Beef Salad
Vietnamese Pot Stickers
Vietnamese Garlic Crab
Curry Coconut Chicken
Fried Ice Cream
I will the dishes and let the others have their say first.
Welcome Kathy and Andrew.
(Does this mean I inherit the chocolate factory?)
I was an early regular at Lotus Garden and hadn't been by lately. (This didn't stop Kathy from remembering my favorite dishes.) Agree about the crab, although if you're looking for a Thanh Long/PPQ style crab, this isn't it, both saltier and less garlicky. The banh xeo and green beans were perfect.
The tomato and pineapple soup reminded me of the complimentary soup at Hung Yen, before the dot com invasion ruined it, when I ate lunch there every week. I think the Vietnamese potstickers and raw beef salad are better at Yummy Yummy.
The wine I brought was a 2003 Dr. Heyden "diamant" trocken Riesling ($18 at Arlequin). I thought the Rulo Viognier that Kathy and Andrew brought from Walla Walla went well with the food; the Rulo rosé seemed to be a hit too.
Total came to $32 each, including a generous tip and possibly a little corkage (Susan?) for 6 bottles of wine.
As always, wonderful to meet a bunch of new hounds and lurkers. Where else can you talk about street food in Hanoi and Bastille Day in Paris and diving in the dead sea, between courses, with finger bowls and plates of food appearing without any effort?
? yes, the conversation and company were wonderful as always, but perhaps I missed the 'chocolate factory' part of the conversation? :-)
I live three blocks from Lotus Garden and hubby and I think of it as our number one 'go to' neighborhood place when we don't feel like cooking or getting the car out of the garage (except, alas, on Monday nights, when it is closed.) I think it might have been one of the first places I ever tried in my neighborhood, and from the start, I was hooked by the very, very gracious service.
Indeed, the first time I ever went into Lotus Garden, there was a large group like ours taking up the long center table (that was pre-Chowhound for me so for all I know it could have been another Chowdown!), and I remember being worried that service for hubby and I at our two top in the corner would suffer as a result. Took about one minute to realize what a needless worry that was...
Service is indeed unobtrusive but very caring. These are folks who truly want you to enjoy yourselves and the food and leave happy, and who have pride in both service and cooking, and it really shows. Last night was no exception.
What I particularly enjoyed last night though, was trying some new dishes, and wondering why they weren't always on my favorites list as a regular! It was really nice to get a fresh perspective.
I've always loved the soups there, personally I think they are all winners, and I often order the hot and sour catfish, or the similar hot and sour prawn; both very warming on a cool evening,with a comforting yet interesting mix of flavors and a unique freshness. (I've never been there at lunch btw, when Pho is offered, but someday will have to try that as well.)
The dishes I hadn't had before were the crepe and the raw beef salad. How I managed to miss both is beyond me; all I can say in my defense is that the pork balls on the apps menu are also very good (I've never met a meat ball I didn't like), and when we don't order those we usually just have soup and mains...However, the crepe in particular will be on my regular choice list from now on, and if it is better at Yummy Yummy, well I really have to check Yummy Yummy out! Ditto the beef salad...bet it would be refreshing when the weather gets warmer.
I thought the eggplant was a highlight as well; it was cooked perfectly, as were the green beans. We had a bit leftover, and hubby appreciated it even cold later on, when he got back from class. The chicken was nicely spiced. As for the crab, well, I could have eaten twice as much :-)
I am not a fried ice cream fan but this seemed a little too frozen even after the frying. My recommendation for dessert would ordinarily be to walk over to Mitchell's afterwards for baby coconut ice cream, but after all that wine, I was happy just to be able to walk home...
Corkage is officially $7 per bottle, but I am pretty sure they ended up charging for less bottles than we brought out. I brought along a bottle of Adler Fels 2002 Russian River Gewurtz, which I thought went nicely with the potstickers, and a Quivira Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc, which was sort of eh.
Anyway, it was a great evening, and again, thanks to Yimster for the help with menu planning, thanks to all of the hounds who contributed bottles, and thanks to Suekiyaki for the great chocolates!
and yes, welcome Kathy and Andrew! If you haven't figured it out by now, you picked a great eating neighborhood! :-)
I'm sorry I was unable to attend last night, it sounds like a great gathering.
I also live close by, and can comment on the pho. The first few times we went there, when it first opened, that's what we ordered, based on the pho bowl that used to be part of the signage. As a result, we seriously underestimated this restaurant -- I don't think their pho is worth a trip (however short) unless you're *really* jonesing for it.
But the dinner menu is full of wonderful items, as you've noted. It can be hard not to get in a rut. We like their crepe, but think that it's done even better across the street at Angkor Borei, which allows us to save room for those lovely pork balls. Will also have to try Yummy Yummy, as banh xeo is one of my favorites.
I can't wait to be able to enjoy the raw beef salad again, I've found the chicken salad to be a very unsatisfying alternative. It needs more herbs, onions and a more deeply flavored dressing. Another good item is the Vietnamese grilled beef, which is grilled at table and served with all the accompaniments for a salad roll. I think they do a very good job with these types of dishes, the garnishes are always plentiful and flavorful, and they don't skimp on the herbs.
And you're right, you really can't beat the service.
Just to clarify, I'd give my nod to Lotus Garden's crepe but Yummy Yummy's raw beef salad. The potstickers are probably a tossup.
Agree about Lotus Garden's pho; I can think of a few better pho's nearby without heading out to Irving, including Sugar Bowl on Mission in Daly City.
The grilled beef salad sounds delicious.
Thanks, Windy. Maybe I should give the Lotus Garden banh xeo another try.
And to clarify: the Vietnamese grilled beef comes with seasoned vermicelli "cakes," lettuce, rice paper, pickled garlic, herbs and sauce for making a salad roll at table. But it would make a great salad, I wonder if you could ask for it that way?
It was wonderful to meet SF Chowhounds. Thank you so much for the company and the great food. I really liked everything we had. I definitely need to have more of that crepe, and I had never had "porcupine" pot stickers like those. Hope we can do it again soon!
I am sorry about pointing my boney finger. Next time maybe you can take a lesson from Chowfun and get there a hour ahead of time.
Enjoy finally meeting you. I have read your post from a year about dinner with Hanna. Like you a fairly nice dinner in the South Bay. Lucky than me, I was stuck in the kitchen.