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Aug 27, 2008 08:11 PM

Fantastic meal at Louie's California Chinese Cuisine

I had a fantastic meal at Louie's California Chinese Cuisine in the shadow of the Transamerica Building and had to post about it on Chowhound.
It's on Washington Street in Chinatown between Columbus Avenue and Kearny Street. We went on a Saturday night and almost had the place to ourselves.
We started with a nice white radish similar to what is served as na mul in Korean restaurants. Then came a salt=and-pepper crab that was fantastic. Obviously fresh crab and perfectly cooked.
Then came for me what was probably the highlight of the night, a tea-smoked duck. They smoke the duck by burning tea leaves, rice and I believe honey. The different smokes give the duck different flavors and textures. We were having fantastic wine with the food and the tea-smoked duck reminded me of a nice wine with a lot of depth and complexity.
They presented it whole for everyone to see, then took it back and cut it up and brought it out with pancakes like you get with Peking duck.
Next up was a seafood winter melon soup. If we had a larger group I guess we would have gotten it served in an actual melon and they would have scraped the side of the melon when they ladled the soup. We had a smaller group, but the seafood was an interesting contrast with the slightly bitter melon.
Next up was Chinese broccoli wonderfully flavored in s soup stock and other ingredients. I could have eaten the whole plate myself. Next up was preserved duck egg and fried shrimp in a sweet-and-sour sauce. I was glad I tried it, but this seemed to be the least interesting main course of the night. Too much of an overkill on the sauce, I think. Maybe they did it that way because we were mostly gringos at the table.
This was followed by a tea-smoked sea bass. I can be an adventurous eater, but some things I just don't like. When the lazy susan made it's way around to me all the fish left had lots of bones inside so I didn't care for this dish either.
But we were right back on track with the next dish, a Cantonese chicken. I haven't liked Cantonese chicken at other restaurants primarily because of the texture. There's something odd about the way it's made and cut, something they do deliberately. This had none of that and was deliciously tender. I could eat this Cantonese chicken all night. I dunno, maybe it wasn't authentic and that's why I liked it.
For dessert, we had cubes of mango and coconut milk. I passed on the coconut, which I don't like, but the mango was sweet and tasty.
A quick run down on the wines we had: We started with a 1996 Hauth-Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett that was probably the best match for all the food we had (disclaimer: I brought it). It's definitely a wine for acidheads, but that acid makes a good pairing for many of the foods. There's also just a touch of sweetness remaining. There's some petrol on the nose and the flavors are citrusy. The second wine was a mid 1980s Weinbach Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvée Ste. Catherine that unfortunately was opened about five years too late and was fading. The third wine actually a white zinfandel. It's the 2007 Storybook Vineyards Zin Gris and they do everything they can to make it sound like something other than a pink zinfandel, but that's what ti is. It's pretty tasty stuff. Bone dry and perfectly balanced, it has lots of fruit flavors. The next wine was another mid 1980s Weinbach, this one a Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence. This one was still drinking well. The nose was among the best I've ever smelled. I could have stayed in the corner and huffed the wine all night. Spices, honey, a floral component. It was a wonder. The palate didn't quite live up the nose, but it was still nice. The last wine was probably the best wine of the night. It's a 1989 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese. The guy who brought the Weinbachs was so impressed by the wine he wants to see if he can find some for his own cellar. Another nice, complex nose of diesel and honey and lots of pure apple on the palate along with honey and some good acidity. I think it would be a better match for Thai food because of the spatlese sweetness, but it was still a great wine.
Louie's served up a meal most Chowhounds would love and I plan on going again..

Louie's California Chinese Cuisine
646 Washington St.
(between Columbus Ave & Kearny St)
San Francisco, CA 94111

From left to right are the salt-and-pepper crab, the tea-smoked duck, the sea bass and the white zin.

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  1. Thanks for the report. How many were you? Did you order ala carte or was this a set meal?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sarah

      There were seven of us. We ordered some of the dishes, like the duck and the preserved eggs and shrimp, ahead of time and did the rest when we got there. The cost was $40 each including corkage and a tip of more than 20 percent. We also shared the wine generously with the chef.

    2. We had some great banquets at Louie's, though not recently. We had two successive Thanksgivings for 15 or 17 people, and a birthday party for 50. We were in the "tatami" semi-private rooms.
      Link to place:

      Louie's California Chinese
      646 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94111-2106

      1. I was lucky enough to attend the dinner and it was quite a treat. MsRev and I were a bit concerned about the restaurant as it was pretty empty at 7pm on a Saturday night. That was no indication of the quality of the food.

        The crab was pristine and fried beautifully. Steve was right on with the duck, and I felt it was the strongest dish of the evening. I hadn't had winter melon soup and felt it was a bit bland. As I started to add some chili sauce to spice it up I was spanked by our host who informed me the soup is meant to have a delicate flavor. I learned my lesson. The broccoli was terrific. I would never order any sweet and sour sauce because of the usual cloying flavor but this was quite good as the sour was more prominent than the sweet and the sauce didn't overpower the taste of the shrimp. Steve's complaint about only the bones being left by the time the whole fish arrived at his spot may have been partially my fault. The bass was moist and flavorful and I probably devoured more than my share. Likewise, the chicken was delicious with crispy skin and moist meat. I brake for coconut and the cubes were tasty and refreshing. This was a fitting end to a great meal. Unfortunately, we have nothing comparable in the Reno Tahoe area.

        1. Have you had the S&P crab at R&G Lounge? That's our favorite place for S&P crab, but this one looks great! Do you remember how much they charged for the crab?

          1 Reply
          1. re: cvhound

            Sorry, I don't remember the cost of the crab. My sense was that the duck was the most expensive item, but all I cared about was the total bill, which was small for that quality of food.

          2. Thanks for the report! Louie's was very "hot" on this board for its first couple of years, and since then there haven't been many reports. The quality of Chinese restaurants can change very quickly, so it's always good to have recent data. The rieslings sounded yummy, too!