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Chowdown Report: Bow Hon in San Francisco

Eleven Chowhounds met at Bow Hon in San Francisco's Chinatown for a lunch featuring some very special dishes and, as always, great Chowtalk. I missed the first 40 minutes or so because of an earlier appointment that took up far more time than expected, but Melanie has very graciously done my job for me and told me what dishes we ordered.

Here's the rundown in Melanie's words:

House soup (complimentary): bok choi and chicken bone “old fire” soup

Raw fish salad (full-size), $38.80

Dry-style beef chow fun
Water spinach (ong choi) with fermented bean curd (fu yee)

Salted fish and sliced pork rice in claypot (for two) and rice crust “water”
Preserved duck and sausage rice in claypot (for two)

Pig feet and ginger in black vinegar claypot
Braised brisket of beef and Chinese turnips claypot (with braised lettuce on the side)

Altogether, it was $10.25 per person with tax and 13 dollars per person with tip. For the incredible bounty of dishes we received, this was a huge value. My experience was very different from the others', so I'm hoping to get an update on the favorites of the night.

Unfortunately, I couldn't talk to the others as much as I liked, but about half of the group was able to take a walk through Chinatown, which was truly wonderful. Here are the places we went and for what, again in Melanie’s words:

Grant Avenue -
Eastern Bakery: almond cookies, lotus and egg yolk moon cake, black bean moon cake, fruit and nut cookie, coconut macaroon, Chinese “tamale” (joong)
Ten Ren: complimentary tasting of oolong and king teas
Ming Kee Game Birds: window-shopping
Yee’s Restaurant: $2.30 tea time specials – fried chicken drumsticks, roast goose, stir-fried veggies

Jackson Street -
Yong Kee: closed on Monday
Delicious Dim Sum: sold out

Stockton Street -
Gourmet Delight: mostly sold out
New Moon: salt and pepper chicken wings, roast pig

Broadway –
Mon Kiang: window-shopping
VIP Bakery: lychee gelato and VIP milk tea gelato ($2.50 per single scoop)

We first went to Eastern Bakery where two pictures of Bill Clinton at the bakery were hung behind the counter. I thought the almond cookies were good, though I prefer a stronger almond taste. We all agreed that the lotus and egg yolk moon cake was great, with the salty egg yolk combining well with the sweet lotus. Really one of the best preparations I’ve ever had it. The black bean cake was also good, if not as layered in flavors the lotus cake. The coconut macaroons were very sweet but also quite addictive. It didn’t have the crunchy texture of toasted coconuts inside and it might very well have been made of a mix, but having a bag of those in my hands meant I was popping bits of macaroons in my mouth often as we took our walk. I didn’t have the fruit and nut cookies, and I had the Chinese “tamale” the next day after boiling it at home. The tamale was a bit underseasoned for me, but it had been sitting out for a while, so that could be the reason.

Ten Ren’s teas were all too strong and too bitter for me. Ming Kee’s Game Birds was just about the most interesting store I have ever been too, and I was absolutely floored looking at cage after cage of birds. Yee’s Restaurant was also a sight to behold, with about four tables filled with plates of food for only $2.30. A crowd of people came to look around and inspect the plates. It looked great, and if I lived anywhere close to San Francisco, I would have bought some. At New Moon, we got to try a roast pig that my mouth is watering for right now. Though a bit dry, it was incredibly meaty with an incredibly crispy skin. Not as heavily seasoned as the chicken wings, which very well might have been my favorite savory item of the day. It was deliciously crispy and strongly spiced, enhancing the natural chicken flavor.

We spent the most time at VIP Bakery, where we tried a variety of Chinese gelatos, deciding on the lychee and VIP milk tea gelato’s. The milk tea tasted just like an ice cream version of Thai iced tea and the lychee had a wonderfully fresh lychee flavor. We all enjoyed how light and milky the gelato was, and it was nice to be able to sit down and talk after all the hustle and bustle. So a very successful, fun, engaging Chowdown all around! I had such a great time, and I thank everyone for coming. I was glad to be able to speak with some of you and to the others, I hope I can share another meal with you as soon as possible.

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  1. I was sad I had to get back to the office, missing the after lunch walk. The milk tea gelato sounds wonderful. I really enjoyed the food at Bow Hon.

    The raw fish salad was excellent - I could have eaten a big plate of it and been happy. Beef chow fun is something I almost never order 'cause its usually so mucky but their version was very tasty - I was a little sad they didn't bring with XO sauce like Melanie ordered. I also really enjoyed the spinach, the fermented bean curd gave it an extra dimension that was quite tasty.

    I did not have a favorite amoung the claypot dishes, they were all good - in some ways the lovely crust and rich borth "dessert" are really what I look forward to.

    1 Reply
    1. re: larochelle

      My experience of the meal was very similar to Larochelles'...Fish salad was great..sort of a combo of Burmese ginger salad and fresh sushi, with nuts, vinegar ..tart and sweet with "crunchies" all through it...The clay pots were also good...and the table had me try the "Chowfun" first (great taste of the wok)..thinking it was somehow appropriate!..the service was exemplary..and the company... fun as usual...the Chinatown Tour afterward was the culmination of a gorgeous ..perfect Bay Area day.....great food...great fun(!)

    2. Really liked the raw fish salad -- nice balance of sweet, sour, and salty, with a contrast of slippery fish and crispy fried noodles throughout. Gingery, too.

      Among the claypots, I liked the salted fish and pork best. The fish was presented in large pieces, which intensified the salty wallop. The rice at the bottom of the pots got crunchy toward the end, and I could have kept nibbling on hard rice bits mixed up with the salted fish for a while.

      Beef chow fun had just the right texture: no clumps; each noodle thinly coated with sauce; beef cooked just enough.

      We sat upstairs and had the room to ourselves. The service was exceedingly thoughtful and gracious, with multiple changes of plates and bowls before we had to ask.

      Thanks to the organizers!

      1. Sounds like a great meal, sorry I missed it. Hopefully there can be more SF lunches soon!

        1. yes, the raw fish salad was very special. will definitely be back for that. the ongchoy w/ fermented tofu was quite good. the pork and salted fish claypot was not what i thought it would be. i found the fish too salty even though i grew up eating this stuff. the stuck-on-the-bottom-of-the-claypot rice for this dish was marvelous. my family fights over that but there was enough for everyone monday. the beef chowfun was a good rendition but i generally prefer the "wet" preparation of this dish which has a gravy. all in all a wonderful lunch to start the week! nice meeting the group.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lilou

            So nice to meet you too! And thanks a bunch for helping with the ordering and coordinating with our waitress.

            The portion of salt fish was very generous, haven't seen that much in one dish for a while, but it wasn't softened/steamed long enough and was too hard for my taste. OTOH, the lop mei clay pot with the preserved meats seemed a little stingy to me. However, I did appreciate with both of them that the meats on top of the rice were served on a separate plate and the rice was seasoned in the kitchen. Also this was the first time I've had the rice crust water (hot water added to the stuck-on-the-bottom-of-the-claypot rice) in a restaurant. Adding the green onions to the boiling pot was a nice touch. We didn't eat this at home, but I've had it at relatives and it was a very homey touch.

          2. The fish salad was the star of the meal for me! What a wonderful combination of contrasting flavors and textures. it was so light I could eat a half order all by myself. My second fave was the ong choi with fermented tofu. This was the first time I had this version of ong choi and loved it. Maybe I would like stinky tofu too...but not here. I enjoyed the pigs feet clay pot. The meat was black from the black vinegar and included big chunks of ginger which I relish. The meal was a terrific value at $13 a piece and the service was exemplary. I am sorry I could not participate in the post meal Chinatown tour. Obligations at home precluded that, but it sounds like I really would have enjoyed that too.