XLB at Heaven’s Dog in SF
Lunched yesterday at Heaven’s Dog in SF, a first time for both of us. It’s been open about six months now. Chowpals who attended the friends and family soft openings raved, then were gravely disappointed on returning shortly thereafter. I’ll run up the all-clear signal flag now, it’s safe to go back.
The thick slab of red-cooked pork belly (rind on) was succulent, fatty and melted in the mouth. Not quite as complex in seasoning as my memories of Ton Kiang’s. Good job on the clamshell-shaped lotus-type steamed bun. I could have used a bit more of the shredded scallions, yet a big thumb’s up on this one.
braised pork belly in clam shell bun, scallions 9
Nice job on the xiao long bao (XLB), called Shanghai dumplings on the menu. I especially appreciated that a pair of soup spoons were provided along with the shredded ginger and Zhejiang black rice vinegar. Wish I could combine the quality of the pork and collagen-rich juices here with the seasoning touch of a traditional Shanghainese resto. The pork filling was just a touch grainy in mouthfeel and being undersalted, the natural flavor of the meat was front and center. Yet, I would have liked a touch of sesame and a bit of ginger in the filling, as well as more salt. The wrappers were thin and delicate, and oddly three of the dumplings had a small hole near the top knot that leaked.
The riff on Cantonese favorite, Singapore style meifun, which apparently is unknown in Singapore. was done quite well here. I prefer this to the overly greasy and gritty with raw curry powder versions I’ve suffered through elsewhere. Quite densely packed with pork shrimp, scrambled egg, golden leeks, neatly trimmed bean sprouts, sweet slivers of onion, and julienned jalapeño chilis, this would have benefited from more noodles, frankly. The curry powder was a bit faint, just a tiny bit that barely colored the vermicelli. The strips of pork shoulder were cut too large, but they were nicely singed from the wok, and everything else was cut quite expertly so this must be intentional. I'm not going to order this anywhere else now.
rice vermicelli stir fry, niman ranch pork shoulder, shrimp, yellow curry 10
We each had a cocktail from the list, pisco sour for him, and a gin fizz tropical for me. The egg white head on the gin fizz was so dense, it reminded me of a soft meringue. I didn’t see the bill, but my dining companion thought it was a very good deal. Service was pleasant and efficient, and it was so convenient to park in the building.
After lunch we asked if we could step into the front kitchen and counter area. This is the sunny room in the front of the restaurant, and you walk through the pantry to reach it. It was interesting to take a look at the variety and brands of Chinese condiments on the shelf here. At lunch time, I think I’d prefer this light-filled room to the two lines of table back by the bar.
1148 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
"Him" chimes in: that was a mighty fine pisco cocktail, tinged with apricot color and flavor to boot. In the midst of a mattress-hunting marathon, Ms. Melanie was kind enough to mention Heaven's Dog as being in the triangulation between latex and lunchtime, and graciously agreed to join me for a bite.
I like this place. The idea of combining an elegant bar and Haute Chinoise kills two birds with one stone, the third bird being that it was easy and cheap to park at the SOMA Grand garage next door.
While the restaurant has a minimum of sound baffling, it was not hard to have a conversation and be heard since the dining area is not a cavern. The service, from the front desk to the wait staff, was efficient, professional and not intrusive. It was a Friday lunch, and the place was not packed, but it certainly was doing good business.
As far as the food is concerned, I would enthusiastically agree with Melanie's description and only differ in that I the XLB stock was sufficiently salty for my taste. It was a treat to have three of my favorite dishes -- well executed -- in one meal. Given the decor, the tight service, the excellent food and cocktails, I thought this was well worth the $48 tab. I paid more at Eccolo last week for a lot less. Heaven's Dog was a very pleasant experience and restored me for the quest for the elusive perfect mattress.
Thanks for posting. You were ever the gentleman to allow me a fourth xlb when my three were dry wells, especially since you liked them so much. I liked stepping though the pantry into the sunny noodle bar because it gave me a chance to see what condiments the kitchen is using. Pretty traditional brands, and while the seasonings are a bit fainter here, I prefer that to the overuse at some Western restaurants attempts at fusion confusion. Better this than drowning things in hoisin sauce or piling on too much ginger.
On Sunday, I had dinner with one of the chow friends who'd had a couple bad experiences here early on. She was still dubious about the cooking, and couldn't quite believe that I liked the place.
re: Melanie Wong
We had a really nice meal last night - the food was so much better than my first meal back in January, both in execution and portion size. For two of us we ordered the following:
Braised pork belly in clam shell - nice but the pork lacked flavor. As my mom said, she wants her pork belly to taste like belly but this had little fat on it.
Salt and pepper squid - far and away the best dish of the night. The squid was perfectly cooked and we couldn't get enough of the 'crunchy bits' that were left on the plate.
Vermicelli stir fry - another fine dish and a nice portion size for $10. Nothing earth shattering but solid.
Shanghai dumplings - excellent! This was the only item that I had ordered in my previous visit and this time around they were so much better.
Spicy green beans - a fine side dish but next time around I'll probably order a different veggie to mix things up.
Our bartender Craig was awesome last night. He created drinks on the spot for both my mom and I, including an after dinner drink called The Barbary that we both really enjoyed. I've been a fan of the cocktails at Heaven's Dog since the beginning and am glad to report that the food has definitely caught up.
I've now been twice to Heaven's Dog. Put simply, the cocktails are fantastic and the food is above average but not extraordinary. I am a huge soup dumpling fan, have tried them all over town, and very much wanted these XLB to be memorable. They weren't . . . I longed for Yank Sing or Shanghai Dumpling King. Oh well, you can't win them all. The pork belly pancake dish was the only real stand-out. But who cares if the food is simply fancified Chinese cuisine without much flair when the cocktails are possibly the best in the city.....
I finally went the other day for dinner and sat at the bar. The place is interesting looking. To be honest, I don't understand the decor. I sat in the "main" room by the bar. There's another section in the back that looked nice. But then there's another more casual section on the other side that looked like the noodle bar where they were making dumplings. But when I asked the bartender he said the menus were the same the other side just has more light. I found the three sections kind of odd.
I had the pork belly which was very sad. The pork belly was thin and dry and the "clam" bun was also very thin. Must have been an off night because it looked nothing like Melanie's picture above. The pork also didn't have much flavor, I only tasted the scallion.
I also order the Shanghai dumplings. They were very juicy, but I thought lacked flavor. Plus I found the skin too thick. (Boy do I miss the dumplings in Taipei.)
The high point was definitely the Gin Fiz I orderd. It was nice and refreshing, probably one of the best drinks I've had in recent memory aside from the Pisco Sour at Le Mar.
Overall, I don't think I would go back to this place. It was nice and I thought reasonably priced, but there are so many better restaurants to try in the bay area.