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Jan 26, 2009 10:39 AM

R & G Lounge....avoid

My wife and I went to the R&G Lounge yesterday for lunch. We ordered the salmon and avocado spring roll, salt & pepper calamari, seafood & bean curd soup, and the "three treasures" entree...veggies stuffed with shrimp paste. The "three treasures" entre sounded alot like Yong Tow Foo, one of my favorite dishes during our time in Malaysia, so we were looking forward to it.

The dining room had about 3 couples in it when we arrived. Our first three courses arrived in reasonable time, but then a number of other tables filled up and they all were into their 3rd course and still no "three treasures" entre for us. The waitress apologized at least three times for the delay, but still no entre. The food that did arrive was of exceptionally low quality. The salmon and avocado spring rolls had about 1/4 of the filling of the ones in the picture in the menu. The salt & pepper calamari was so salty it was inedible and we asked them to take it sign of any pepper on it at all. The soup broth had no flavor, it tasted like water. By this time we were so annoyed with the lousy food and crummy service we cancelled the "three treasures" entre and asked for the check. (I've never cancelled a late entre before) The waitress offered a discount coupon for the next time, to which I replied "there isn't going to be a next time"...and we left. The only good point about the R&G Lounge was the was quite good.

Needing to rally back with some reliable chow, we walked on down to Scoma's on the wharf and had an excellent dungeness caesar and a side of cherrystone clams on the half shell.

Next time we want Chinese we'll stick with China Village on Solano.

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  1. Sorry about your bad experience. There is no way we are going to avoid R&G, as it is pretty much our only option in Chinatown. Restaurants do have bad days.

    1. I never understood the allure of R&G. I get really depressed looking at all those sad fish in the murky tanks. Food's ok, but nothing to rave about IMO

      1. It is unfortunate that you had a bad lunch, and I'd like to give some clues for a better experience for future visitors to R&G. One likely culprit was that yesterday was the day before Chinese New Year. I suspect that R&G had their hands full prepping multiple 8-12 course menus for a full house. A lot of families, due to lack of space, are having their New Year's eve dinners at restaurants. As someone who ate at New Woey Loy Goey yesterday night, I can tell you it was a madhouse.

        Secondly, R&G is Cantonese which is very different flavorwise than China Village. It is expensive to boot, in the sense that if you want the good stuff, you have to splurge. I've noticed on more than one occasion that the lower priced entrees are just ehh and that ridiculously complex thing for $38 is the bomb, which I admit is annoying. If you want to spend less money for Cantonese in Chinatown and stiIl have a good meal, don't go here!

        The other problem was possibly the ordering, which is definitely an acquired skill. It is not just you, it is me too. My father has mocked me several times at R&G for picking something that sounds good but tastes bad, is poor value, or just doesn't fit into the zeitgeist of the meal. In other words, he probably wouldn't have ordered what you ordered. That salmon avocado spring roll thing is way way off the Cantonese beaten path, the soup was poor value, fried food and heavy sauces hides the flavor of natural seafood, blah, blah, blah. (Okay, dad, shut up already.)

        What is good at R&G? The Cantonese stuff. Soupwise, I would've picked wintermelon if I wasn't getting sharks fin. (Actually, I would skip soup at R&G--it is not really a strong suit). All of their house specialties on the first page (live crab, steamed clams with egg custard, seafood lettuce cup, etc. are very good. The preorder, deep fried stuffed chicken with sticky rice, is excellent and outrageously expensive. Also the cold cuts and the roast Cantonese meats, like squab, duck, pigs feet, etc. They have a drunken clam dish that can make the diner mildly tipsy but I don't know if that is actually on the menu. Their baked fish is very juicy and flavorful, although not traditional. (I'm a fan, dad says steamed fish at home is fresher and ....better value!)

        Claypots are kind of dicey. I once ordered salted fish with tofu, which was just awful. My dad greatly relished saying, "I told you that was going to taste bad."

        The banquets are also generally good. Last time I went, someone else paid for Banquet D with some additions, which was fantastic. And it had better be, at 75pp.

        17 Replies
        1. re: sfbing

          Well said. There have been many discussions on this board in the past about the pros and cons of R&G and what to order. I wouldn't go there unless it was a special meal and/or I was with someone who knew how to order. If you just want lunch, there are much cheaper places in Chinatown where you can get a decent lunch. It's actually too bad that virtually all Chinese restaurants have the same problem: their menus are loaded with dishes that don't play to their strengths and are just there because people have come to expect them to be there.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            >>"It's actually too bad that virtually all Chinese restaurants have the same problem: their menus are loaded with dishes that don't play to their strengths and are just there because people have come to expect them to be there."

            And yet when asked what is good on the menu, nine times out of ten the response is "everything." Ugh!

          2. re: sfbing

            Besides the ordering, in a Chinese restaurant, larger parties often get preference in service. No, this isn't right but the logic is universal to all restaurants -- take care of your regulars and who brings in more money.

            A banquet (10 people) at R&G probably goes for $350, upwards to $600. A couple of tables and staff getting tips and there's your answer. Doesn't make it right and there's no excuse for a bad meal or service but that's human nature.

            1. re: sfbing

              I'm spoiled. I had too much great Chinese food in Asia. Now I'm ruined for life. :(

              1. re: chilihead2006

                That's life. There's of course stuff in the Bay Area that you can't get in Asia. Things tend to even out.

                1. re: chilihead2006

                  I'm with you. Chinese food in China is so good, so varied, so vibrant, my wife and I rarely eat Chinese food in this country. Dim sum sometimes (Legendary Palace in Oakland), and Shandong (also in Oakland). Other than that, we wait until our next trip to China.

                  1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                    That's disappointing to hear as there are lots of dishes at various Chinese restaurants on which you're missing out.

                2. re: sfbing

                  I agree with sfbing - it was the wrong evening for chillihead2006 to be there.

                  R&G's probably the best Chinese restaurant in Chinatown (alongside Great Eastern) - but I'd avoid Chinatown like a plague on the eve of Chinese New Year when Chinese families turn out in hordes for the New Year reunion dinners (same reason why I WON'T be going to Chinatown this Saturday when they hold the Chinese New Year parade).

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    BTW, chillihead2006, I did manage to try the "Three Treasures" which you ordered but sadly failed to get. You're absolutely right about the dish - it is similar to Malaysian yong-tow-foo. But R&G's version is Hong Kong-style: much greasier and is quite akin to Kuala Lumpur's pan-fried Ampang yong tow foo, than the soupy versions you'd find elsewhere in Malaysia or Singapore.

                    P.S. - what is it about Chinese food in San Francisco? It's always much, MUCH greasier than what we have in Singapore/Malaysia/HongKong/Taiwan/even China.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      Okay, I'm probably going to get flamed for saying this, but the reason that Chinese food in SF is so much greasier is because the kitchen talent is nothing like what you find in the great cities in Asia, and therefore to make something taste good to the average palate they have to use a lot of oil and msg. It's like fried rice -- unless you really know how to make it well, you're going to have to add a lot of oil in order to separate the rice, and this is just something that most of the local kitchen talent will resort to. Also, oil makes food glisten.

                      That said, I agree R&G is probably the best restaurant in Chinatown other than Great Eastern, but of course that doesn't say much because most of the immigrants from Hong Kong etc don't go to Chinatown for food and so a place like R&G relies a lot on tourists and Westerners for business. As a result they're going to change things to accommodate what those people think is good Chinese food. That in and of itself is not necessarily bad but what sucks is that they will get lazy and won't make such an effort with certain things because they know the Westerners and tourists won't appreciate it. Case in point is the tea -- it is an absolute DISGRACE for any HK style Cantonese restaurant to prepare tea with a tea bag.

                      1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                        You've hit the nail on the head. There are only a handful (or less) of Cantonese food chefs in the Bay Area who know all about bringing the natural flavors out without using MSG, too much salt/soy sauce, and oil. But they're not in a position to utilize their skills to the fullest extent due to the afforementioned reasons.

                        Not to mention that well it's CHINA town and not Hong Kong town. Maybe long long time ago, people from Hong Kong who emmigrated to San Francisco may lurk around Chinatown, but these daysit's 99% immigrants from Guangzhou or the more common Toishanese an hour to two northwards by train. The last time I went to Chinatown, Cantonese seemed to be rarely spoken on the streets from observation.

                        1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                          Since you expect to get flame...then flame on!

                          Seriously, HK'er are the NY'ers of pace, in your face, no patience, want it now and want the best (have you looked the NY CH boards, they have a separate board for "The Best") who roll into a California Chinatown with a long history and you want things just like HK? Not going to happen for many reasons...real estate being one, culture being another.

                          Like all Asians, Chinese, Japanese, Europeans (you name it) who settle overseas, Brazil, Peru, Canada, Madagascar, Europe, is adopted to the local ingredients, culture, expectations and culture. That's the way it is...and yes talent is limited. All cuisine making geographic jumps changes.

                          It would be great to get a full spec, make the HK'er happy HK restaurant, so maybe an HK'er can start one. The thing is, some of the stuff served just doesn't translate, like HK cafe food...HK style pork chops and spaghetti, etc. If you want to talk crimes to the palette, start there.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            I won't deny that Asian food in Asia is better, but I think the overall food scene in the bay area is actually excellent. A lot of restaurants here are less likely to change their cuisine to suit local taste, since the locals here are more open minded than say in Cleveland, or HK. Lers Ros Thai comes to mind, for example.

                            For just one example, good luck trying to get a decent bowl of bun bo hue in HK or Thai food that is actually spicy. Whereas, here? No problem-not perfect maybe, but really really acceptable.

                            Now if only I didn't have to schlep all the way to San Pablo to get decent Laotian.

                            1. re: sfbing

                              Exactly. I made that point up in the thread. There's stuff in the BA you can't get in HK, or anywhere. The whole food scene in the BA is pretty astounding when you consider everything. There's certainly gaps and lapses and always some place else to get better or the original but all things consider...the BA is great. I admittedly get a little irritated (and un-Cali) when you hear "It's not as good, I can't get this..." Well that's true and that's life. To repeat it over and over is buzz kill. You know sit down, have a nice cup of good coffee, un-clench, enjoy what's here and remember fondly what's not and get it when you're there.

                              1. re: ML8000

                                Food choices in SF are probably the best in the US, outside of NY & LA. Each time I visit SF, I can eat French, Indian, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Shanghainese, Cambodian, Cajun-Creole, Italian, Mexican - all within a week.

                                One thing I noticed - Chinese, Indian, Thai & Indonesian food in LA tasted more authentic/"unCalifornicated" compared to the SF Bay Area. But I guess they have larger & more concentrated Asian communities there (e.g. Thaitown, Little India in Artesia, Taiwanese in Rowland Heights/Hacienda Heights/Arcadia, etc).

                                1. re: klyeoh

                                  I'd have to agree...the ethnic communities in SoCal are more vibrant and less entrenched/younger. There's more real estate/communities for groups to settle in. Conversely however communities are often very separate and isolated. You don't see blocks like in SF where you get Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and and Irish pub next door to each other.

                                  Despite the lagging in some ethnic cuisine, for me the BA excels in more things....better produce, artisan goods, wine, mid-range, fusion and upper end (although not necessarily Manhattan big buck). The produce should be as good in LA but it's not. The produce in NY...I didn't know if I should laugh or cry.

                            2. re: ML8000

                              Hong Kong Bistro in Mountain View has pork chops and spaghetti on the menu. I think they're trying to be what you describe, but I don't know enough about hk food to know what's it's supposed to be like.

                              They're open really late, and all I see there is early-20's HK looking types.

                              Anyone know how they measure up?

                    2. The original comment has been removed
                      1. "only good point about the R&G Lounge was the was quite good." -- but don't they use tea bags as opposed to actual tea leaves?? Salmon and avocado rolls? "Three treasures"? I agree with sfbing's comments and think you should follow those advice if you want a much better meal at R&G. It's all about the soy sauce chicken, salt and pepper crab, dried scallop with egg white fried rice, steamed clams, and a few other dishes. Not the best chinese food but definitely passable if you order the right stuff.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                          Pretty much every Chinese restaurant in the U.S. requires "cherry picking"...except for the very best and pricey places. Usually there's probably 20-30 items on a typical 100 item menu that are outstanding....the rest, not so much.

                          The 100 item menus in the Chinese restaurants in the U.S. are legacy, volume and a fear of competition thing. Two things usually happen...every Chinese place wants to offer the same stuff you can get at another place, even if it's not very good because someone might order it

                          The second thing is, restaurants usually go through several owners over time and they simply keep stuff on the menu either out of fear of competition or they believe someone might want it, even if that chef doesn't have a clue on that particular dish.

                          p.s. the same thing about cherry picking can be said about other types of restaurants. Go to a big chain and 90% of the menu is suspect. Similar with Mexican places. In SF, in particular, no one taco place serves everything great...they usually do 2-3 things very well and the rest so-so.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            One tip (which doesn't always work) is to look to see what people are eating. See what looks good to you. If lots of people have the same thing on their table AND are actually polishing it off, it is usually a good sign. Also look to see if people aren't eating something they've ordered. I think this is why lots of Chinese people don't like to eat in an empty restaurant. It is not just "if its not popular, it can't be good" mentality--there simply isn't enough opportunity to spy on what other people are eating.

                            Also, I think some waiters are kind of intimidated by non-Chinese diners. For every person who wants to try beef tendon stew and unpeeled shrimp, they get another person who really wants chicken chow mein just like at Panda Express. And they get in trouble if people are loudly unhappy, so I think they just won't say anything. Once they recognize you as an adventurous eater, they usually loosen up. Also, while I don't necessarily take what they're pushing so seriously, I do pay attention when a waiter quietly tells me, "Don't order that. Really."

                            1. re: sfbing

                              Except if you're a non-Chinese diner in a Chinese restaurant, the waiter may be telling you "don't order that" because it's a dish he thinks non-Chinese people won't like, not because it's not good. There was a very funny post once about trying to order goose intestines:

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Yes, that unfortunately does tend to happen. However, if your waiter already knows you like goose intestines and then tells you the tripe with pickled vegetables is good, but avoid the beef noodle soup, you might want to consider it.

                                Especially if he checks to make sure the owner or maitre'd isn't around. If he thinks you might not like it because you're not Chinese, he won't be inhibited from telling the whole restaurant really loudly. But if he knows that the restaurant is pushing something to clear out the refrigerator (ala Kitchen Confidential) and he likes you, he might let you know very quietly to steer clear.

                                Mostly waiters tell me I'm ordering too much food and wasting money.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  yes, even when it isn't something relatively 'exotic' like goose intestines, I still haven't forgiven Legendary Palace, which is mentioned in a positive light above, for insisting that the only vegetable they could serve me as a special was brocolli, even though I saw ong choy going to other tables. When I pointed at it, the server repeatedly shook his head and said several times, no, I can bring you steamed brocolli'.

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    I think it's very sad when Chinatown waiters treat fellow American non-Chinese diners (who're more than willing to try "exotic" Chinese dishes) worse than foreign visitors like me (Singaporean-Chinese), who is sometimes less familiar with the Chinese restaurant scene than the residents here. Oftentimes, it's my non-Chinese San Franciscan colleagues who brings me to the Chinatown places for the best Chinese food - then they tell me that, when they dine with me, the restaurant serves us complimentary Chinese desserts like red-bean soup (which they've always liked to have) but when they dine there themselves, they'd inadvertently only be given fortune cookies!

                                    Oh, I tend to avoid Legendary Palace because I thought their service was too brusque, and the soiled grimy carpets are too much of a turn-off for me. They used to be the No. 1 dim sum spot in Oakland Chinatown amongst the local Chinese there, until Peony overtook them.

                                    1. re: klyeoh

                                      I can understand the other side of that. Especially being in a tourist area these restaurants have probably had too many diners return dishes they didn't like after proclaiming they want real Chinese food.

                                      There are more times than I can count on the board with visitor requests for the best non-touristy restaurants in Chinatown with real Chinese food because they are craving sweet and sour pork or some such dish.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        About 10 years ago, I was in Sam Lok for dinner. It was absolutely packed with people waiting in line for basic Cantonese set menus. And a party of 10 tourists took a big table, ordered 1 plate of fried wonton, and hogged the table for an hour. Drove the restaurant owner nuts. She kept muttering, "Tourists! Fried wonton! Who eats crap like that for dinner?" over and over again. The rest of the patrons thought it was pretty funny, but I can see how if you were running a restaurant in Chinatown and that happened every day, you would get a little gunshy about non Chinese patrons.

                                        1. re: sfbing

                                          Then don't put the stuff on the menu! The feeling that menus are like little minefields of authenticity, and that you'll either be judged for particular choices or served garbage because there are no expectations that anyone ordering certain dishes could possibly have any ability to appreciate well-prepared food really drives me to distraction. Certain categories of restaurants are allowed to treat diners with disdain, whether the diners don't seem like they'd be able to appreciate what they are trying to order, or whether they aren't expected to appreciate any food in general based on what they order. I just wish these places wouldn't put the food on the menu that they don't want to serve.

                                          We love to have disdain for "tourists" on the SF Chowhound board, but then we get defensive when someone basically acts like SF is the sticks compared to LA or Vancouver or Toronto. It's all the same argument.

                                          Obviously, I think in a perfect world, restaurants would balance the food they want to serve with the food they think they have to served to survive, but would do so in a way where they had pride in serving both, and at least attempted to have menus where the food is described and not operate a shadow restaurant within a restaurant. I think we'd all win in such a world.

                                          Just because there are ingredients that seem to exotic for the uninitiated doesn't mean that flavors can't be adapted in many cases for an interesting but more conservative dining experience. I've always wondered why some restaurants don't do those things for their "Western menu" instead of serving bad versions of the usual. People may not have any respect for "the usual" but I don't know why those dishes have to be executed in haphazard or crappy fashion. Just don't put them on the menu.

                                          1. re: P. Punko

                                            Actually I think she was more irritated by the fact that when the typical table was spending at least $10pp (or $80 for a table of that size) and finished in 30 minutes, they had taken an hour to eat $8.95 total.

                                            I don't think there is anything intrinsically wrong in ordering fried wonton. But they are an appetizer at best. It is rude to take up an entire table and order a snack at the height of the dinner rush.

                                            My point is that part of the reason why adventurous eaters are having trouble getting what they want, is that restaurants have had bad experiences with someone who wasn't Chinese and just want to avoid the hassle. In addition to the example described above, I've also witnessed on several occasions people demanding dishes like sweet and sour pork when it wasn't on the menu and people sending food back because it didn't taste like the Chinese food they were used to. My personal favorite was the family who asked their Chinese waiter to make some mac and cheese, because that was all their three year old would eat. To their credit, they did provide him with the box of mac and cheese.

                                            1. re: sfbing

                                              For good or bad, most Chinese restaurants work on volume and table turn over economics and thus the low prices and sometimes abrupt service. The thing is, when someone builds an upscale restaurant that isn't Japanese, they usually get mixed reviews or out right slammed (see Tommy Toys and Slanted Door) based partly on the perception of what a Chinese or Asian place "should be like".

                                              Ultimately the mom and pop Chinese places are there to serve food (not service) and make a living...not a killing or to fulfill a dream to own a restaurant.

                                              The conflict w/ tourists eating at mom and pop places in Chinatown is they're expecting Disneyland while in reality they're getting the equivalent of a busy greasy spoon diner in Queens, with a language barrier.

                                              Perhaps Chinatowns everywhere need to hire PR and restaurant consultants to show them how to Disney-fy their set-ups and charge more as well.

                                              1. re: sfbing

                                                Obviously those stories are on the really bad side of things. I think it is vastly more common that places have stuff on the menu that is just bad- and I think sometimes we make excuses for those things because we don't expect anyone of quality to want to eat that stuff. I just wish those things weren't on the menu or that they were done well.

                                                Chinese food is one area where there is a weird dynamic- sushi is another. From reading CH boards, it seems that vast swathes of Japanese menus appear to be sops for cretins who don't know how to operate in a shadowy and unadvertised rituals to appropriately eat at the sushi bar. I'm being hyperbolic, of course, but there is a point to be made I think.

                                                Anyway- great discussion as always I think.