Taishan Cafe Clement/12 Ave
Had my first rice clay pot last night. It was listed as the Special Combination and was a bagain priced, delicious combo of yellow eel, frog legs, and lop cheong. The crispy rice was a very tasty bonus.
I didn't find the review until this AM. Looking forward to expanding my Taishan experience.
Thanks for giving it a try. I'd noticed the colorful awning while driving by, but couldn't get a reading on the place. As you can see in this photo of the front of the restaurant,
"Taishan Cafe" is in small print that's impossible to read from a vehicle in the roadway. It makes claims of being a clay pot king, and that becomes clear when you step inside and see the menus posted above each table.
In addition to the dishes on the menu depicted above, Taishan also has a page of homestyle Toishanese/sei yup dishes, such as sauteed intestines, and offers sushi rolls (!) as well. Never fear, the restaurant has English language menus too which include everything but a couple daily specials posted on the wall.
I had lunch there with my parents on Tuesday. We ordered three dishes, as shown here.
We wanted one of the preps wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed in a bamboo basket. I picked the Taishan salted chicken . . . unfortunately. Unlike the other times I've had this dish where the chicken starts off raw and is cooked by the steaming process rendering it silky and succulent, this was a dried out mess. Here a poached chicken is hacked into pieces and then reheated in the steamer. None of the smooth texture or rice flavored with rendered chicken fat. Yet, the lotus leaf fragrance on the rice was lovely, and even better when some of the seasoned soy sauce was added to it.
The second dish shown in the photo was duck with taro root, $6.95, the special of the day. I liked the slightly sweet and savory seasoning, but this had a coarse, dried out feeling too. Sauteed with slices of fried taro, the reheated roast duck was parched and mostly bone fragments. The large type of taro was used for this dish, rather than the smaller, tastier and smoother roots, and it turned into a grainy-textured starch bomb. We did bring the remains home with us, as my mother never wastes anything. Yet, even she, the queen of resuscitating leftovers, hasn't figured out what to do with it.
Our third dish, spareribs with black beans clay pot rice, $6.95, at last, was something we'd consider ordering again. Definitely rustic and country-style with no tenderizing and all the fat intact and untrimmed, the spare ribs had more black beans than versions found at the effete Hong Kong-style restos in town. My mother thought it should have even more salty fermented flavor to be authentically sei yup-style. Besides black beans, the aromas and flavors spoke of garlic, dried tangerine peel, and some sweet spices, as well as the green herbal garnishes. The rice was perfection, crisping all the way to the edge of burnt yet not crossing the line. As good as the crispy rice turned out, the spareribs might be better in the lotus leaf steamed prep here. But I will certainly order some other clay pot rice dishes at Taishan.
In truth, the best thing we had was the complimentary house soup (lo faw tong). It was a long boiled brew of lotus root, peanuts, and lots of chicken skin and bones. Almost milky in appearance, the homey, long-simmered flavors were a welcome tonic for balancing out the high salt content of our meal.
The food here is inexpensive, uncomplicated and rural with no citified pretensions. Also, full of bones, salt, fermented flavors, offal, and fat. At lunchtime the room filled up fast with Chinese immigrants in workmen's clothing and young mothers. One mom was chewing bits of food and then feeding them to her infant...it's been a long time since I've seen that. The room still has a new sheen to it, and the tableware is quite nice. The young man who waited on us never spoke a word of English to me, but he did understand my mix of English and Cantonese questions. I would go back to try more from the menu, but my parents were more borderline.
I went here is with some family members that tried this place out before. They recommended the clay pot, but somehow I didn't order even one dish of it-my bad.
They have the Chinese menu on the wall, so I had to ask the waiter for an English menu because i can't read Chinese.
I ordered the lotus leaf food in a large bamboo steamer these dishes:
spare ribs w/ black bean sauce $5.95-maybe 10 small spare ribs w/ bone in a soy sauce rice, steamed in lotus leaf. ok. not one black bean in the dish. kinda bland.
pork meat cake w/ preserved veggie $5.95-small cuts of pork meat mixed with some picked veggie. Same boring rice, not any flavor.
house special combination $5.95-there's yellow eel, Chinese sausage, spare ribs. Best of the 3. Still boring rice, bland flavor.
Under Chef Specials:
Taishan salted chicken w/ ginger sauce half $7.50-cold hacked up half chicken w/ the oily ginger sauce. Sauce was fine, chicken ok.
With tip and tax $30. I would go back if in the area to try the other dishes maybe: the clay pot $7.99, beef stew clay pot (they didn't have when I went), Taishan coca cola Chicken half 7.50/whole $12.
On the take-out menu they have drinks like tapioca milk tea, ice lemon tea, HK style milk tea, HK style coffee, sweet desserts: ginger milk curd, turtle jelly, plum porridge, snow fungus, snow frog, bird-net, shark fin w/ papaya, fried rice, chow mien, special combination $6.95 like teriyaki chicken, Korea BBQ pork; appetziers like deep fried taro root, white vinegar chicken feet, etc..but then the waiter said that they don't have everything on that menu either. Best to ask or call ahead if wanting a specific dish.
One unisex bathroom that didn't have hot water when i went. Pretty chilling in there, they might have the A/C on even in Autumn 10/15/06. I didn't see a credit card sign, so I'm guessing Cash Only place.
I didn't pay attention if they are closed any day, but their hours are 11am-11pm.
SF has the biggest population of Toyshanese from China (geographically about an hour train ride north of Guangzhou). I hear more Toyshanese spoken in SF Chinatown than Cantonese especially along the Pacific/Stockton parts of the Chinese markets.
LOL SOP is a very biotech/pharmaceutical manufacturing red tape/documentation term which I easily picked up on from my past (you're in that field but in the biz part aren't you).
With regards to the picture of the wall menu, that's a nice variety of rice clay pot + lotus leaf steamed rice offerings. From what I can make out:
Left side (lotus leaf steamed rice in bamboo container dishes):
1) Toy Shan Yellow eel
2) Field chicken (aka FROG)
3) "Jiu Pai" - not sure what this is but could be combo (meats/veg/mystery) but overall best translated as house special
4) Black Chicken
5) ? not sure but looks like preserved sausages (lap mei).
6) salted chicken
7) salted fish pork patty
8) preserved veg pork patty (mui choy yuk beng)
9) dried shrimp pork patty (ha mai yuk beng)
10) five spice pork spare ribs
11) mushroom and chicken
12) mushroom and quail
13) five spice lamb stew/brisket (like beef but lamb cut)
14) five spice beef brisket (ngau lam)
Right side of menu (clay pot)
Pretty much mirrors the lotus leaf steamed stuff, except clay pot versions as ingredients.
15) pig tongue with chung choy (not sure what that is)
16) beef with chung choy
17) can't make out the key character/theme ingredient of the menu
Big pot $38 (4 to 6 ppl) includes daily soup
Medium pot $28 (3 - 4 ppl) includes daily soup
Small pot $18 (2 to 3 ppl) includes daily soup
It is also SOP and generally from what I've been told that the seasoned soy sauce contains some MSG, whether it is already on the rice or served as a side.
hhc, since you've been to China Palace in Milpitas, if you like the lotus leaf steamed rice bamboo containers, you might find something simliar there (I've had something identical there, except instead of rice they used banh cuon/cheung fun and it was a white board special).
Bumping this up to let everyone know that they are opening a second location in the outer Richmond (45th & Cabrillo). This used to be the old defunct Happy Immortal. They are opening May 1.
Ooh thanks for the reviews and suggestions! I'm living vicariously through all of you now - when I next come back to the bay area in a month or so, I'll have to try this place and perhaps take my grandparents there, since they live in the Richmond and are from Toishan.