Panda Country Kitchen Report
Two fellow hounds and I checked out Panda Country Kitchen last night and had a very good (though I wouldn't say great) meal. The company, of course, was excellent.
We shared the following:
House Special #39 Szechwan Style Twice Cooked Pork - This was good, though not very spicy. The thin, bacon-like pieces of pork were fatty and tender, and I enjoyed the thick scallions and the overall flavor.
Noodles #83 Spicy Noodle Cooked with Ground Pork Sauce (aka Dan Dan Mein) - This was good, although it was different than other versions I've had - I can't remember for sure, but I think the only ingredients were egg noodles, ground pork and chili oil (also not extremely spicy). I thought these were very good, though I prefer the version I had last February at Z&Y House in Chinatown (although apparently this is not always reliable either).
House Special #27 Sauteed String Beans Szechuan Style - This dish was not what any of us were expecting, but we enjoyed it. Our waitress explained when we ordered that this had a distinct flavor, and that the string beans were sour, and we went ahead and ordered. The string beans were indeed sour - they were pickled and chopped in small bits. This was mixed with lots of red chili, and with bits of slightly sweet pork. I thought the combination of sweet, sour and spicy worked really well in this dish, though I think we all agreed that it was hard to eat very much of this dish. Good for sharing between several people.
Dim Sum #24 - Spicy Wonton with Hot Oil Sauce - This dish was the hit for me (and I think also possibly for my dining companions). 10 or so wontons, beautifully presented in a dish sitting in a spicy soy-sesame oil sauce, topped with minced garlic and sesame seeds. The wontons were very tender and tasted fresh - the sauce didn't seem too spicy at first, but had a kick in the back of the throat after swallowing. Overall, these were great, and I'd definitely come back to have more of them.
After our meal, we decided to try a dessert that I had read about on Yelp.
Dim Sum #28 Sweet Yum Cake with Red Bean Paste - This dessert was unlike any I had had before - basically it was a mochi like cake made w/ pumpkin dough and filled with red bean, then deep fried and served crispy and hot. I thought they were pretty good, though not as amazing as I had hoped.
Total bill was 38 dollars before tip, including one beer and the 5 dishes. Service was very friendly and the place was mostly empty on a Monday night. The overall ambiance is very nice - there are several large tables with lazy susans and the room was inviting and brightly lit. We tried to stick with Szechuan items, since this is the specialty here (the front page of the menu talks about Szechuan food and the chef's background).
Panda Country Kitchen is on Geary between 10th and 11th Avenues in the Richmond, in San Francisco.
Here are links to two recent posts about Panda Country Kitchen:
Hopefully my dining companions will chime in soon with their thoughts.
P.S. Attached are photos of the wontons, string beans and of the sweet yum cakes. I apologize for the blurriness of some of them.
I really enjoyed this meal. The wontons were also the highlight for me. Relative to those at, say, Sam Lok / Z&Y, the wrapper texture was much firmer and held up well to sitting in the sauce. And that sauce -- wow. Mildly spicy, a bit sour, a bit sweet, and very oily -- perfect for coating the crinkly wontons without overwhelming the flavor of the filling.
I also really liked the fatty twice-cooked pork with leeks. The meat was unctuous, which contrasted the green vegetable.
The noodles were OK, but disappointing relative to my hopes. I prefer noodles to be thicker and chewier, and the dish was underspiced both in chili heat and in Sichuan peppercorniness. The quest for delicious dan dan mien continues.
I loved the spicy wonton in hot sauce--this was definitely the best dish of the evening. I believe we had 12. Actually, I know we had twelve, because right after I took a bite of the first succulent wonton, I calculated how many more I would get to eat. We each had 4. The wrappers were particularly good--luscious and silky.
I wanted #83 noodles to be a bit more toothsome--they didn't have the level of chewiness I like, but overall I thought this dish was good. I am a fan of pork, and am counting the seconds until I get to pick up my Incanto salumi sack, so I was surprised that I didn't like the pork dish more.
The flavor of the green beans was totally unexpected for me, and I liked it. I wolfed down the first portion I took, but the flavor was a bit intense and I didn't desire to eat much more after that.
Overall, the meal was much less spicy than I expected. After chatting with davidkaplan about the classic components of Szechuan cooking, I thought I would be overwhelmed by the heat and numbing qualities of the ingredients, but it was fairly mild. If I returned, I would ask them to be more liberal with the heat.
The meal was a good value--we had a ton of food for $38 total, with one beer.
Not every Sichuan dish should be spicy, many classics are quite mild with no chilis at all. The variety of heats and types of spice (numbing, wet, etc.) that strike different parts of the palate for a broad spectrum and the balancing saltiness, oil and sweetness combined in a single meal is part of the appeal for me. Of the dishes you ordered, the noodles are the only thing I'd expect to be very hot with the spicy wontons coming right behind.
Also, I'm wondering if the yum cakes were actually made with "yam" rather than pumpkin.
re: Melanie Wong
re: Dave MP
Sometimes they are made with kabocha, but usually with less expensive yams or sweet potatoes. The taste is pretty similar. And, I'm just a little more experienced in figuring out bad Chinese menu translations. (g)
Panda Country Kitchen
4737 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118