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Aug 20, 2008 02:14 PM

Riverside Seafood in San Francisco

For me, Riverside Seafood Restaurant was shrouded in mystery for several years. I’d heard rumors of a notable Hong Kong-style restaurant standing alone on the outer bounds of the city. There was talk that it had closed. Then news that it had remodeled and opened again, but with controversy swirling around over whether the quality was still there. Or whether dinner was a surer bet than dim sum lunch. Finally, last November I had a chance to judge for myself.

With large corner windows and a celadon color scheme, the restaurant feels traditional yet also light, airy and calming as well. Tables are spaced further apart than the norm with a bank of booths along one side. At early dinner hour, my parents had no trouble hearing each other, a welcome relief from the usual din of Chinese restaurants. Service was friendly but somewhat scattered.

During “R” months, oysters have been a must for my dad. Not available steamed on the half-shell here, instead we ordered them stir-fried with black bean sauce. These had a light dusting before hitting the pan, and while prepared well, jarred oysters can’t compare to live no matter how talented the cook.

The clay pot of eggplant with minced pork and salted fish was quite delectable. Cooked to softness to bring out all the sweet flavor, the pieces of eggplant kept their integrity and didn’t disintegrate. The perennial eggplant-hater, even Dad enjoyed this dish. It was even tastier as a leftover with the meaty flavors seeping even deeper into the eggplant.

Sauteed oysters with black beans and eggplant with minced pork and salt fish in clay pot.

Our third dish was HK style seafood noodles, served in a mini-wok. I often order this as a test case to see how skilled a kitchen might be in handling seafood, and Riverside’s passed with flying colors. Everything was on point --- calamari, squid, scallops, even the sections of juicy Shanghai cabbage, and sauced very delicately to not mask their flavor. The crispy noodle cake had the toasty scent of frying-to-order and fresh oil.

Mixed seafood jin mein (HK style crispy noodles

A couple months ago I was back for another dinner here with my mom and brother. Though only a party of three, we ordered the “Family Dinner 1” for four persons at $48.

The first course was Dry scallop and minced beef soup. Slightly thickened and light in intensity, a sprinkle of white pepper popped out more flavor.

Next was a clay pot of braised oxtail with wine sauce. Colored a vivid orange hue, this tasted more of carrots than wine but was pleasant nonetheless. Underfired, the meat would not release from the bones, but all was fine once we cooked it some more at home.

Braised oxtails in wine sauce clay pot

After these two near-misses, I couldn’t help but be concerned about how the rest would fare. Needless worry, it turned out. The remaining dishes were so good, we didn’t mind.

My initial reaction on seeing the plate of fillet of cod with vegetables was “broccoli florets, how unexciting.” Yet, the proof is in the tasting, and this was done right. The bright green, well-trimmed florets had tender, non-fibrous stalks, cooked just enough to release their fresh sweetness. The thick pieces of rock fish were the essence of freshness, bathed in a delicate pan sauce studded with thin diamond-shaped slices of fresh ginger, nubs of scallion, and finely minced garlic. Even the butterfly-carved pieces of carrot garnish were cooked to perfect doneness.

Stir-fried fillet of cod with vegetables

The house special salted chicken (half) was presented with two condiments, a Teochew-style red chili sambal and a dark dipping sauce with a sandy texture. The dark one tasted like it had some oyster sauce, I’d love to know what’s in it. We also asked for pounded ginger paste in oil. The deliciously succulent free-range bird was perfectly salted with taut skin and firm flesh.

Salt poached chicken with two dipping sauces

The final dish was braised bean curd with conpoy and vegetables. Like the previous two, this dish doesn’t hold much excitement value, as they’re common items on wo choy menus at Cantonese restaurants. But like the other two dishes, they’re rarely executed as well as here at Riverside. Barely salted, the master braising sauce was more subtle and nuanced. Fried expertly creating light and spongy exteriors for soaking in the delectable braising liquid, the slabs of bean curd had smooth, creamy centers. The thicker, “flower” type dried black mushrooms were a step up in sourcing from the norm with a satisfyingly meaty dense texture. The well-trimmed, jade-colored mustard hearts still had some bite under their tender juiciness and were arranged attractively in a ring around the plate.

Braised bean curd with dried scallop and vegetables

Riverside Seafood provides a welcome alternative to the inexpensive family style Cantonese restaurants that line Taraval. Sure, I like cheap and big portions as much as anyone, yet I’m also willing to pay for the extra refinement, light hand, and better ingredients found here on occasion. The room is almost as nice as the more famous places in Millbrae, although the service is less formal. While not as inventive, the cooking is equally skilled at a lower price and delivers excellent value.

Riverside Seafood Restaurant
1201 Vicente St, San Francisco, CA 94116

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  1. Lovely photos as always Melanie, especially the chicken with the dipping sauce.

    You mentioned whether dinner was a surer bet than dim sum lunch. Do you have the menu with the hours? The only web reference I saw with hours said Mon-Fri: 10am-8pm. That could imply dim sum. However, I find it hard to believe the restaurant would be closed on weekends.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      Sorry, no I don't. Too late to call now, but I gotta believe that it's open on weekends.

    2. Thanks for the update on a restaurant I had forgotten about. Do you remember the predecessor restaurant at that location called Heavenly Ocean from about 20 years ago? I think that was my first venture into the Sunset district.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Chandavkl

        Even though I've been eating Chinese in San Francisco since I was a baby, the Sunset District was a great unknown to me until I started posting on chowhound. It's the farthest part of the City from where I live, so I don't get out there too often. Vicente was new territory for me . . . didn't like Just Won Ton, but Riverside is a keeper.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Not only is this in the Sunset, it is in the southern Sunset. Very hard for downtown types to get to. Though it does appear to be a short walk from the Taraval MUNI line.

          1. re: Paul H

            I'm remembering the time we tried to find our way to SFWTC on Taraval for a wine tasting. When we popped out of the Portola Drive "wormhole" in St. Francis Woods, it was the great unknown.

      2. We've been going to River Side Restaurant for many years. Their master sauce has always been excellent. In fact, when Becky was younger, she called it "the good gravy place." And they've always been helpful to folks who are not fluent in Cantonese -- they were very instrumental in introducing us to "authentic" Cantonese dishes and in helping us learn how to order a well-balanced Chinese dinner. Excellent seafood dishes and they also do vegetables very well.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Nancy Berry

          The good gravy place . . . love it, and so apt for this spot. The folks at Riverside have taught you well, Nancy. It's a wonderful thing when non-Chinese people have the kind of confidence and knowledge you demonstrate for the cuisine.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Was my MIL's favorite restaurant so we ate there quite often prior to 2006. Now is a dim sum place for lunch. Spouse reported that it was good, nothing really remarkable. Can't speak to dinner, though.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Riverside is certainly a destination for me but I have not tried their dim sum. I like the clay pot with oysters and pork, and the spicy wings a lot. The salty egg squash is very good too. On the bargain menu with dishes less than $6, try the fish with bok choy in a delicious garlic sauce. Mmmm.

              1. re: caryjones

                Nice, thank you for the update, cary. Could you please say more about the bargain menu? Is it available at lunch as well as dinner?