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May 18, 2007 01:00 AM

Chowdown Report: Lucky River and Marco Polo [San Francisco]

Thursday night 24 chowhounds and their guests trekked to Sunnyside for a chow-connaisance mission at Lucky River (700 Monterey Boulevard, San Francisco). This is an unassuming Hong Kong-style eatery with a lime green awning and hanging duck barbecue station on the ground level with dining rooms up a flight or two of stairs. It’s been flying under the radar with few mentions here or elsewhere on the web. Nancy Berry and I put it into the chowdown rotation based on a tip from relatives that the cooking here is a cut above the other inexpensive Chinese options in town making it an excellent value.

We had pre-ordered the $138 wo choy menu (Chinese-only, set menu) for 12 people, plus a claypot dish of eggplant, salted fish and chicken, for each table. Our dinner included the following,

Cold appetizer platter – jellyfish, char siu, 5-spice beef shank, and pork hock stuffed with forcemeat
Scallop and seafood soup
Lobster with ginger and scallions
Sugar peas and beef stir-fry
Honey walnut prawns
Zhejiang sweet and sour spareribs
Crispy skin chicken
Salted fish, chicken and eggplant clay pot
Black mushrooms and grass mushrooms with mustard greens in oyster sauce
Clear steamed flounder (this might have been Petrale sole)
Hot red bean dessert soup

With steamed rice, tax and 20% tip, the cost was $17 per person.

So, chowdowners, how’d you like it? Please post your impressions and highlights.

Take-out menu -

A ‘hound once quipped that the history of this community’s eating events should be subtitled, “and then we had gelato”. True to form, ten diehards headed over to Marco Polo on Taraval afterwards for a gelato nightcap. Lychee is still my favorite flavor here, but I did enjoy the soursop and guava too.

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  1. Good company and good food is a stalwart combination everytime and thanks to Nancy and Melanie (and, Uncle James in absentia), our wo choy menu is the way to go for excellent value—with impressive platters of tasty fare; each dish was satisfying on its own and welcomed to the table with chowhound gusto. The salted fish with tender eggplant and ground chicken clay pot was a highlight of the evening's dinner and I'll add it to my personal rotation. Thanks again for a fine evening of chowing with new 'hounds and old!

    1. My top picks were the char siu and jellyfish on the appetizer platter, soup (once it had a hit of white pepper), crispy skin chicken (including the head and brains) and...what was the other thing?

      Oh yes.

      SPARERIBS. These spareribs were amazing--hot, fatty, and vinegary. I wanted to eat them forever and fought Dave MP over the last grizzled bits stuck to the plate.

      Really, though, I enjoyed pretty much everything. I wasn't as impressed with the lobster, which didn't have much flavor to me, and didn't try enough sole to have an opinion of that.

      On the whole, I thought the meal was a great value and well executed for the price. I've had a lot of honey walnut prawns with burnt or gummy walnuts lately; the walnuts here were perfectly toasty. At $60, the dinner for six also looks like an excellent value--I can't wait to round up a crew and dig in to another plate of spareribs.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pane

        Yes, the spareribs were quite amazing. Sweet, sour, with a hint of black vinegar and crispyness tuned to perfection.

        The eggplant garlic dish was also a hit, with large generous chunks of garlic spread throughout.

        Pictures will be coming later in the day.

      2. Thanks Melanie and Nancy for organizing was nice to see some familiar faces and also to meet lots of hounds for the first time. I thought the meal was very good overall, and like many said, an excellent value. I will comment on everything we ate:

        I really enjoyed everything on the cold appetizer platter, especially the beef shank and the jellyfish. I'm not usually a jellyfish fan, but this had a nice crunch, which I like. I'm not sure how it was seasoned, but it was simple and nice.

        Next came the soup, which I thought was okay. Unfortunately, I didn't add any white pepper until my bowl was nearly gone, and this significantly improved it.

        I didn't think the beef with sugar snap peas was that interesting. I don't care for cooked snap peas very much, and I think the dish would have been better with snow peas.

        I also didn't think the shrimp was all that special. I thought the shrimps were slightly overcooked. The walnuts were good though.

        Like pane, I wasn't impressed with the lobster. It was just okay for me.

        For me, the Zhejiang sweet and sour spareribs were the highlight of the meal. I almost never order spare-ribs, and I guess I barely knew what they were, since I imagined them to be small. But they were very big, juicy and hot. I loved the black vinegar flavor and the sweetness, which I felt were perfectly in balance. I would definitely journey back to this restaurant just for this dish (or the 60 dollar 6 person meal that includes it). The serving was huge but our table could have probably eaten plenty more of it.

        The crispy skin chicken was my other favorite. The skin was crispy and delicious, and the meat was moist and flavorful. This is another dish I would probably never have ordered on my own, but was prepared very well.

        The flounder (or sole) was was expertly de-boned by Ms. Piggy who was sitting next to me.

        I liked the salted fish/eggplant clay pot, but it wasn't my favorite.

        The mushroom/mustard green dish was nice. Well prepared and not overcooked.

        While not everyone at the table was a fan, I really enjoyed the red bean dessert. I liked the strong flavor of orange rind, which made it not too sweet.

        I enjoyed talking to everyone, drinking white wine out of tea cups (was there ever a corkage fee?) and trying all these dishes. Thanks to everyone who came!

        For dessert, we went to Marco Polo, which was not as nearby as some people claimed (grin) but I'm not complaining. I had durian and taro. I really enjoyed the durian gelato, though it was pretty potent. The taro was also nice. I didn't care for the black sesame, but the taste I had of lychee was great.

        Thanks everyone for a great evening.

        Dave MP

        1. As I made plans beforehand to bicycle from Embarcadero BART to Melanie's uncle's favorite place in the city, I had no idea my journey up and down Dolores would find me climbing and sailing down three steep hills. Needless to say by the time I got on Monterey and stopped to step into the din of Lucky River I had worked up an appetite. Ascending the stairs, I was met with a smiling Melanie with fellow chowhounds, happy faces seated round two large tables in a packed, well-lit dining area. As I made small talk with my neighbors, one tablemate observed that the live fish and shrimp were swimming in clean tanks, as our hostess Nancy and her husband John informed us they live right across the street ("I think you can see our house from here") but had eaten at Lucky River only once before, opting instead for their take-out, all the more welcome when it arrived at the Berry's piping hot.

          The appetizer platter of jellyfish, barbecued pork, thin slices of beef, and stuffed pork hock gave me the impression the kitchen used fresh ingredients and cared about presentation, but I found it to be ho hum, though the chilled slices of beef were a pleasant surprise, releasing a burst of flavor that belied its humble origins as a cold cut. Soon after the food came flying out of the kitchen. One dish I found strangely compelling, all the more so because it was introduced to me in a way only a chowhound could love; the first two scoops brought a whiff of, dare I say, funk to my nostril from the clay pot that whet my senses. My tablemate Linda identified the scent as salted fish, and indeed, once on my platter I was ready to savor its promise, but had to wait while it cooled down. Nancy confirmed this dish was unique, later pointing out that the clay pot of salted fish, chicken, and bean cake on the menu had given Melanie's uncle the idea to request the kitchen replace the bean cake with eggplant. The result was something I and my tablemate Linda have never had before, and paired with the other splendid items from the kitchen that time of day (the Zhejiang pork, the crispy skin chicken and the fresh vegetable items), really was the cherry on top.

          A cut above indeed, as Melanie's uncle James would say, and a great family find, Lucky River may prove to be a favored choice for the vegetarians among you. Thanks to our hosts Nancy and her husband John, and to James, for their fine recommendation, and to Lisa for bringing a delightful red wine from Kessler. While I did find the jellyfish on the appetizer platter, as well as the dessert of red bean and orange rind soup, wanting, most of the fare seemed to have the verve of well-executed freshness. From what anyone can gather about an eatery after paying a single visit, better places may exist, but Lucky River was a welcome respite from the flock.

          1. I had a great time, last night. Great conversation, lovely folks, and very good food. I particularly liked the claypot with salt fish, chicken and eggplant. When Melanie and I were planning this event, Melanie told me about her cousin's favorite dish at Lucky River, the claypot described above. It was not on any of the set menus, so John and I visited the restaurant to check it out. We ordered a dish off the regular menu that we thought was Melanie's cousin's dish, but we were wrong. The dish we ordered contained salt fish, chicken and tofu, not eggplant. Well, the balance of that dish was really off and I asked whether we could order this dish with eggplant for the Chowhound dinner. The sweetness and texture of the eggplant in contrast to the salty fish made all the difference in this dish -- it was very, very good and many folks at my table really liked it and commented about how good it was.

            I also liked the spare ribs -- they seemed to be quite a hit at the table. I particularly liked that they weren't loaded with red food coloring. At some restaurants, there's so much of this stuff in the sauce that your tongue turns bright red after eating them. By the way, I've also seen this dish listed on other menus as Peking style spareribs or pork chops.

            The fish was delicate and nicely cooked, but I wish that it had been larger. There was just enough for a very small piece for each person. I really liked the cold plate, especially the char siu and the stuffed pork shank, which tasted like really good salumi. Another thing I liked about all the dishes is that the vegetables were all brightly cooked and the sauces weren't too corn starchy. They weren't watery either -- just thick enough to add a nice sheen and mouth feel to the dishes.

            The crispy chicken had a nice greaseless skin and juicy meat -- also very good.

            I'm not a real fan of prawns with honey walnut, but I liked that they served the walnuts on one side of the platter and the nicely cooked prawns on the other. I also liked the judicious use of mayonnaise in the dish.

            The soup had a nice broth and was loaded with seafood. The lobster, however, was only average. I think that at this time of year, I'd ask whether they would substitute clams in black bean sauce for this dish.

            All in all, though, I think that the restaurant did a great job and the meal was a great value. I left quite happy and enjoyed the extended meal and conversation at Marco Polo. Great night!!