Hidden Hakka @ Szechuan Taste on Taraval
For years I’ve been curious about Szechwan Taste on Taraval with the marquee that hawks Hakka, a style of Chinese cooking that doesn’t often intersect with Sichuan.
But I was always on my way to somewhere else with no chance to stop. A few months ago an invitation to a party at a home nearby provided the excuse to finally have a meal here.
A couple friends met me there and I ordered a ridiculous amount of food. It was hard not to try whatever looked interesting or was recommended from the $3.50 menu, including
Crispy meat stuffed tofu – this was quite tasty even though the gravy was too stiff with cornstarch, worth ordering again
Egg steamed with fresh shrimp – not as enamored with this one as the previous posters, gloppy gravy, shrimp were far from fresh, canned mushrooms tasted metallic, and the frozen peas were hard as pellets, though the savory steamed custard itself was done well
Hakka cabbage – our favorite of this bargain basement part of the menu, no meat, good textural contrast of the barely wilted cabbage slivers against the wet crispness of the bamboo shoots, crunch of the wood ears, and soft bite of wok’d onions, delicious seasoned soy sauce binding the elements together
Vegetables with filet of sanddab – this dish never arrived, and our tab was so ridiculously low I forgot to check to see if we were charged for it
Image of Hakka cabbage -
For $3.50, we had thought the portion sizes would be reduced. But no, these were full size servings and then some. A ton of food almost made our unbalanced lazy susan topple over.
We also tried a couple Hakka standards. I had wanted to order the steamed salt-baked chicken. However, our waiter strongly recommended the fried version ($6.50), which turned out to be pretty decent. Made with an oversize supermarket chicken instead of an ethnic bird, the flavor wasn’t as good as it could have been, but it was prepared well with very crispy skin and moist flesh, red at the bone. My friends enjoyed this quite a bit with the seasoned salt for dipping, that is, until I pointed out the MSG crystals in the salt mix.
And, of course, a must-order at a Hakka restaurant is the kao yuk or braised fresh bacon, (sliced pork with preserved mustard green, $5.50). This was a good version with tender yet not falling apart streaky meat and a fatty rind that melted in the mouth. The preserved veggies had married well with the master sauce and weren’t just thrown in at the last minute.
With rice, tax and tip, our bill was $30 for the three of us. We ate less than a third of our food and had the rest boxed up. A very heavy bag of Chinese take-out helped sustain the party revelers.
Prices are more than fair for the quantity and quality offered up here. But I’m not sure I’d go back unless I had a huge craving for the top QPR kau yuk in town. I’d rather have a smaller amount of higher quality ingredients and better cooking, such as can be found at Ming’s Diner not too far away. That said, this is a good place to keep in mind when budget is the overriding concern and you have a lot of mouths to feed.
Szechuan Taste Restaurant
917 Taraval Street,
San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 681 – 8383
I agree with this assessment. This dinner was several months ago, and I haven't felt the burning desire to return. However, re-reading this, you're right that the cabbage was very good. The things I remember the most were the cabbage and the msg-laden chicken.
The amount of food we were served per dish was enormous to the point of uncomfortableness!
re: Fig Newton
The restaurant staff were so amused at us three dainty ladies and the multitude of heaping platters of food, we should have charged an entertainment fee!
Oh, and when I mention paying more at Ming's Diner, I should clarify that Ming's is hardly expensive. Prices might be 10% higher (or $1 per person), portions still generous but a tad smaller, and the quality is much better. I had wanted you to have a chance to taste a Chinese free-range chicken, we'll have to find another place.