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Apr 6, 2007 03:59 PM

BYOFish to Silver House in San Mateo

A few weeks ago we took our dad to Silver House in San Mateo for an early dinner before heading back to Salinas. A large party took the table next to us, and I caught part of their conversation with the waiter about how the pheasant, duck, and fish they'd brought in would be cooked. I paid attention because we used to take our catch to Chinese restaurants to be prepared but I'd thought the practice had long died-out. Also, this group didn't seem to include any Chinese or Chinese speakers so I was even more curious. I asked the woman sitting near me about the wild game and fish cooking. She confirmed that this is one of the last places she knew that still did this and said that Silver House always did a wonderful job. We left before their food came out so I can't report on looks alone even. I did ask the manager how much this cost, and my recollection is about $6, maybe $8, per pound.

Anyway, if you're not a hunter or fisherman, you can still have a wonderful dinner at Silver House. This was our first time here, and the level of cooking is much more elegant and skilled than I had expected for such an unassuming place.

We had fish filet (flounder) with tender greens that was expertly cooked with a very light and non-greasy sauce garnished with yellow leeks. The yee mein had a satisfyingly chewy texture, swollen with tasty stock. My dad's oyster cravings were met with a beautiful platter of steamed oysters with black beans. So sweet, tender and plump, William said that he usually likes a more robust black bean sauce, but with oysters this great, it would be sinful to add anything more than this light seasoning.

Image of fish filet with tender greens and steamed oysters on the half shell with black beans -

The complimentary old fire house soup --- oxtail with lotus root --- and free dessert made this even more of a bargain. Our total with rice, tax, and tip was less than $30.

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  1. I want to say a bunch of things at the same time--thanks for sharing, love it that there still are such places, wish you would've stayed to see how the duck-fish-pheasant came out, your photos made me drool like an idiot on the keyboard, ...

    6 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Thank you, and you're welcome! I'm adverse to food porn and am just trying to capture each dish the way it looks to me on the table without any styling on my part. But I gotta say, those oysters were near luminescent in their freshness and careful preparation. I think that dish was something like $9 for 6 oysters and so worth it.

      If Dad hadn't been with us, I would have figured out a way to stick around longer to see dishes at the hunters' table. The wife said that he bagged the pheasant that morning at his hunting club in the Central Valley. Iirc, the waiter said the halibut (from an Alaska trip!) would be steamed, the pheasant would be fileted and stir-fried with pea shoots, and I didn't hear about the duck. Like I'm sure you are, I'm extremely curious at how a Cantonese restaurant would handle a wild duck.

      Polar Bear's report -

      P.S. Last Saturday, our host served some smoked game bird as an appetizer that a friend had shot and smoked (and was kind enough to remove the shot). We debated over whether it was chukar or ring-tailed pheasant and came to no resolution.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        For those of who used to hunt pheasant, quail, duck, and dove in the Central Valley, the first task was always plucking and removing the shot. Thanks again.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          The recreational salmon season opened yesterday (april 7) . . . time for a home visit, Sam, it should be a good year.

        2. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks for sharing the fact that Silver House can do Bring Your Own Fish/Game/Bird. Had you not eavesdropped, nobody would have known!

          Aside from the great Chinese white board, Silver House does a superb roast duck in addition to some of the best yellow fur "princess" poached chicken (using free range chicken that's meaty and not boney with little meat like the kind at Grand Palace in South SF [also nice in a different way but not as nice]). The roast duck is as refined or upscale/pretty as say ABC Seafood, but cheaper and very hearty, and has more roast flavor than quite a lot of Chinese BBQ takeout places in SF.
          Much much better than the salty and uber fatty version at 99 Ranch market in Foster City (some of which border on unhealthy and disgusting in appearance) and definitely nowhere near as salty as Marina market deli San Mateo/Foster City.

          I wonder how that version of roast duck will fare using a wild duck. Another prep might be pei pa style, but I can't for the life of me remember what that tastes like.
          The other would be more chiu chow style, involving a marination that is a cross between a light soy sauce broth with something as fragrant as ngoc mam but different (called lo sui, which is also a way to prepare marinated fried tofu).

          1. re: K K

            Thanks for continuing to talk about this spot, KK, so that we finally gave it a try. The cooking is far more refined than I expected and such a deal at those prices. I'm looking forward to trying the roast duck, and hopefully next time the famous razor clams will be available.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              My mistake, I meant to say that the Silver House roast duck is a little bit coarse compared to say ABC Seafood in terms of appearance and texture, but you can taste more of a roasty flavor and it is definitely better for dininig in and consuming it within the hour of serving. For a shall we say high end midscale Cantonese restaurant, they really outperform (good value too) and kudos for them mantaining quality everytime I've been (not frequent anymore), which has always been crowded.

              The English part of the white board, while more along the lines of non-Chinese friendly, did have a special once that was basically minced squab with other ingredients that you eat with lettuce cups and hoisin sauce, that was actually not bad. My brother's a sucka for these things and while I've mild interest in it, I have to say it was quite decent.

              Not sure who the manager is, but the guy who's usually in during the evenings behind the cashier who wears glasses, his name is Oscar I believe.

              Most Cantonese restaurants are willing to make what I call "standard" dishes even if they are not listed on the menu. Examples include any vegetable in season stir fried any way you want, or simple clay pot type dishes that might be common fare in other places. I'm not 100% sure if the following are on the menu, but we've requested them before with really good to great success. And prices are reasonable too.

              Clay pot dishes that are also very nice here include salted fish with tofu and chicken, salted fish with eggplant, sacha beef with vermicelli bean thread noodles and onions (superb, as good as or surpassing R&G Lounge's).
              A simple beef dish to get here is stir fried beef with oyster sauce, which they do a very nice job of (the key is good wok breath). I like the fact they don't try to stiff you on the bill by giving you less beef and more filler material, like other restaurants with carrots, lower end veg, peas in pod etc that if in excess borders on a mu shu feel.

              Like you said, very nice old fire soups and we usually get comped on desserts (either a taro+sago hot soup, or red bean soup) that also are better than other restaurants that make it either too watery or too sweet with little substance. If you don't get dessert, feel free to ask if it is included (they usually will bring it out),

              My family and I have been coming here on and off for over 10 years. Quite amazed that it still hits the spot and fairly consistent.

      2. Oh my, I was introduced to this place 10 years ago, by a dead collegue of mine, when I worked in San Mateo. Sadly, he passed away from cancer in his 40's. Thanks Mr. Popp, RIP. He also introduced me to Little Sichuan, La Taqueria, and of course Silver House. We mainly had the lunch specials. Every few years when I go to shop at Hillsdale Mall, I would stop by this place. They have your basic Cantonese fare, good portions and prices. I remember 2 distinct dishes.

        1. Bai Fan Yu, those small white colored sardine like fishes (I heard in HK there's been some high level of chemicals in these fishes. Manufacturers would the chemical to make the texture more tough/hard/fresh)

        2. Clams in clear broth with wine.

        5 Replies
        1. re: badbatzmaru

          Your pronounciation is Mandarin :-). The Cantonese equivalent would be bak fahn yu, which is close but more downward tones.

          The version at Silver House are larger sized, more like smelts but equally delicious with more meat per bite. The ones in Hong Kong are white after cooking, probably more transparent when raw, and are very very small. Sounds like a similar biological reaction to uhm...denaturing protein/enzymes (I gave up my biology learning in high school and can't remember anymore), like when you fry a raw egg and the transparent raw liquid eggwhite turns into a more solid white firmer texture the longer you cook it. Cheap homey comfort food, typically stir fried with salt/pepper and or a bit of soy sauce. Bay Area restaurants that have this just do the salt pepper coating + deep fried. Some families throw in some egg to stir fry with it. Apparently bai fan yu is also eaten in Taiwan amongst certain parts of the population (also at home) though I've only heard about it and didn't see it on the streets in Taipei. Definitely seen in Toishanese home cooking too.

          You're right, Silver Houses's version of the salt pepper smelt, when available (white board item I think?), is fantastic. It seems a tad bit smaller than the smelt you get from Chinese supermarkets, or the kind in the frozen bag at Whole Foods (which is also not bad for home use), but definitely way bigger than the tiny baby sardines/anchovies in Hong Kong/Asia. You can find a lot of dried anchovy type baby fish in the Japanese and Chinese supermarkets that are small and white with black eye dots, cold/frozen section (also great stir fried at home with or without egg). I'm not talking about the ones that are really dried up and in the dried foods section, those are not very tasty in comparison (and in some cases horrid when stir fried with vegetables, but that's an acquired taste).

          The Japanese equivalent or distant cousin of this would probably be ice fish, "white bait" or the real name, shirauo, which looks more like the kind one would find in Hong Kong (the smaller babyish kind). Two weeks ago I found these frozen in Nijiya. Not cheap but I would imagine that would easily replicate that Hong Kong flavor. It can also be eaten raw with minced ginger, soy sauce or ponzu and green onion on gunkan sushi, or steamed in salt water with a brush of sauce on top of nigiri. Typically not found in Bay Area sushi restaurants as this is classically a lower end item that most people here would not order or know how to appreciate (sadly), but should be very common in Tokyo at the very least (and probably a food staple of budding sushi chef/apprentices in training). Other Japanese restaurants would probably do a version of this as tempura or as a cooked appetizer that sounds lightly decadent.

          Clams in clear broth with wine sounds good. I forgot what that is called in Chinese. Interestingly the Japanese equivalent of that would be asari sakamushi (steamed in sake), of which Sushi Sam's in San Mateo constantly has that on their white board as a much pricier appetizier...

          1. re: K K

            KK you are a barrel of laughs, yellow fur chicken (huang mao), hahah, lol. And good recommendations, thanks. Please continue to add oil, I much appreciate your reviews.

            One question I have of you and others who throw out some Cantonese phrases or translations, do you actually spell it the way it's supposed to spell? I know there is Cantonese pinyin or other romanized systems. I use only PRC pinyin because I learned it in high school, even though I speak Cantonese at home.

            1. re: badbatzmaru

              Oh, my bad. I guess I usually just spell it phonetically, the way it sounds to me. Did not know there was a better way to do it! :)

              1. re: badbatzmaru

                Disclaimer: I'm not the first one on chowhound to have directly translated huang mao or wong mo chicken as yellow fur. Several others have done so in the past well before I have. I don't think there's a formal translation for this. Not all "yellow fur" chickens are necessarily free range chickens, but just so happens most of the better restaurants use that, and some you can tell because there's so little meat, but has a lot of flavor.

                "Add oil" lol...that's Cantonese and Mandarin slang. And coincidentally the Japanese equivalent is gambarre or in some pronounciations heard as ganbatte (meaning "keep it up"), but that's off topic.

                I don't know anything about pinyin, you're asking the wrong person. I just type it in the way it is enunciated as best as possible. e.g. Chiu Chow could be teou jeow or something of the sort, but it basically means the same thing.

              2. re: K K

                The salt and pepper smelt are on the regular, printed menu, $7.50. We ordered that, but our waiter said that it would be made with larger sardine-like fish as they were out of the smaller smelt. This was a fantastic version, thanks to you both for the rec! The coating was just a faint dusting, so light it flaked off. These were a bit greasy but they were so delicious, very salty, big hit of chili heat from the fresh jalapenos, and tons of garlic too. The bones were soft enough to eat, though my dainty mother was quite expert on nibbling the soft flesh off and extracting the whole skeleton.

                We also tried the short ribs in black pepper sauce on sizzling platter from the white board. It was fine, not the best version, but certainly tasty and the short ribs were tender and meaty. We liked the braised tofu dish too, delicious saucing and delectable tiny choi sum underneath. The oysters weren't quite as pristine this time and the kitchen revved up the black bean seasoning to be in balance, but still very good and enjoyable.

                Image of three dishes:

                We're enjoying Silver House a great deal.

            2. My dad went fishing in the delta a few weeks ago and caught some large mouth black bass (mon cho?) He brought them to Cheung King in Chinatown (on Jackson, near the corner of Kearny). He had the staff cook both fish - one way was stir fried with veggies and the other was steamed then drizzled with hot oil. It cost him $2, I believe, and the whole group seemed to enjoy it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Cindy

                Rockfish/Lingcod season starts June 1 along our coast, so there will be more options for bringing in your own fish. A friend of mine took his 9-pound lingcod to Koi Palace last year, and they cooked it 3 ways (soup, clay pot, and stir-fry). He wasn't footing the bill, so he didn't know the cost. But I'll bet KP charges more than $2.

                1. re: baron45

                  That sounds like a great prep for ling cod . . . I'm still hoping our friendly neighborhood fishermen bring some salmon our way. (g)

                  Thanks to you both for sharing a couple other options for BYOFish.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Salmon season started on April 7 (sportfishing) and results have been sporadic averaging under a fish per rod. However, that's fairly typical for this early in the season and numbers should improve into summer. I think the commercial season starts May 1 locally but started yesterday further north.

              2. my brother's in laws are discerning hk diners, and have been going to silver house for over 10 yrs. it's one of their dress down standbys. i've joined in for several good meals there, dunno why it has a low profile (or why i never mentioned it).
                i recall they have some big (big!) clams on special sometimes. not razors, but kind of similar in taste and presentation. good stuff, and i didn't even know about the byo option.

                2 Replies
                1. re: echo

                  It's clearly well established in the community. On our friday night, more than half the customers were non-Asian chowing down on potsticker appetizers with carafes of house wine. I appreciate that it still has plenty of options for those looking for Hong Kong-style seafood too.

                  1. re: echo

                    We were there again on Friday night. This place should be talked up more. After we were done, I saw a table that had a couple orders of surf clams, clear steamed, served on the (big!) half shell. Maybe that's what you had?

                  2. After a three-year hiatus, I was back at Silver House last month for a solo lunch after finding Yummy World closed on a Tuesday.

                    I ordered the yee mein on the lunch menu for $8, which came with a cup of soup. Whereas the house soup in earlier days was quite good, the soup at lunch time was terrible, tasting like chicken bouillon powder and too much MSG.

                    The yeefu noodles still had great texture, but were quite oily and the seasoning stock was too salty. Just plain ol' button mushrooms were used rather than a mix of Asian-type mushrooms, and they were near raw.

                    Yee mein -

                    Silver House
                    2224 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403

                    Yummy World
                    2216 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403