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Chowdown at Sun's Chinese Cuisine in San Mateo

Seven hounds gathered today for lunch at Sun’s Chinese Cuisine in San Mateo. The menu states that the dishes are inspired by the mix of cusines found in the Chinese military villages where cooks from various regions brought their local favorite recipes. An interesting way to resolve what otherwise might seem to be a problem of confused identity. The menu includes dishes from Hunan, Szechuan, Taiwan, Shanghai and elsewhere.

Our lunch included--

Complimentary appetizer—beef tendon, pig ears and tripe
Pot Stickers
Little Juicy Steamed Buns
Chive Pies
Pan Fried Minced Beef Bun
House Special Stir Fried Pan Cakes Strips
Spicy House Cold Noodle
Fish and Chive Dumplings
Thousand Year Old Egg & Bean Curd
Taiwan Style Braised Beef Noodle
Meat Ball Clay Pot
Lotus Leaf Steamed Fish
Braised Bacon-Cut Pork
Dessert- mochi balls with black sesame and peanuts (not its official name)

Overall I thought it was all pretty good but nothing was really spectacular. The spicy dishes were not very spicy.

I was pleasantly surprised by the appetizer, which I had expected to be too chewy for me. I am not a big fan of tripe— it sometimes feels like I have to chew forever to dispose of something with no flavor. Here I got a thick piece of tripe which was actually fairly tender. The pigs ears were thinly sliced and easy to chew. Likewise the tendon was thinly sliced but in this case I wish it had been thicker— I like tendon and it’s soft enough it doesn’t need to be so thin. It was moderately spicy with nice flavor.

My favorite mouthful of the lunch was my first taste of the Thousand Year Old Egg and Bean Curd. The strong salty taste of the eggs (not particularly intense by 1000 year egg standards if my memory of past experiences is correct) was set off nicely by the light fresh taste of the tofu mixture. I later got a mouthful of just the tofu part and it was very plain by itself.

My second favorite taste was probably the meat balls in the Meat Ball Clay Pot. They were tasty and very soft. This dish was more of a soup than what I expected.

I also liked the Spicy House Cold Noodle. It was only mildly spicy and had some tang.

The pot stickers were meaty with pretty good flavor. I would have liked mine better with a sauce but there was nothing immediately available so I had it plain.

The fish and chives dumplings had a nice balance and I enjoyed them even with minimal sauce. The small dish of soy-based sauce had slivers of green onion— it needed to be more plentiful or thicker to satisfy my desired ratio of sauce to dumpling.

It was probably not in the cards for me to love the Braised Bacon-Cut Pork. My delight with the divine version at Mao’s Kitchen was so great that I doubt that even a repeat taste of the Mao’s Kitchen version could equal my memory of it. ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6598... ) This is often the case with me—I find such intense delight in a particular dish and my expectations become so inflated that later tastings of the exact same dish will fall short of my initial cosmic food experience. Actually Sun’s version isn't bad. It was less sweet and intense and duller in color than my memory of Mao’s Kitchen. It was definitely less spicy (heat-wise).

I wasn’t very impressed with the Taiwan Style Braised Beef Noodles. They were OK, but the huge chunks of beef didn’t have much flavor.

The only dish I didn’t like had a thick fried skin with a meat filling. It was probably the Pan Fried Minced Beef Bun but I’ll have to wait for photos to be posted to be sure which one it was. The thick skin was hard to cut even with the serving spoon provided and I had a hard time getting a reasonable sized piece of both skin and filling into my mouth at the same time. The filling was fine but the thick, oily and relatively tasteless skin was a turn-off for me.

The dessert consisted of mochi balls with black sesame filling on a plate with ground peanuts and some sugar grains. The peanuts complimented the mochi and sesame well and my overdeveloped sweet tooth appreciated the unnecessary extra sweetness from the sugar. A few lucky hounds got some with a peanut filling— I will have to take their word for it that they got something even better than the regular ones.

KK’s previous post ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/692117 ) aptly described Sun’s dishes as comfort food. It was good solid stuff and I would come back, but nothing really rocked me. It was well worth the $15 per person including tip.

Thank you, Pia and Melanie, for getting us together.

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Sun's Chinese Cuisine
251 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

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  1. Thanks for starting the post charliemyboy and thanks to Pia and Melanie for hosting.

    Everything at Sun's was fresh and well prepared, but under season for my taste. I wish that they had a heavier hand in adding hot peppers where they were needed.

    The Taiwanese Beef Noodles was too mild to my taste but the noodles were cooked just right. More chilies were need

    There xlb's were the most disappointing dish we had no soup what so ever. Also the Taiwanese pot stickers were not what I had in mind.

    Nothing was outstanding, but I would try again and ask for the seasoning more suited to my taste.

    This was my second visit and the first was better than today. Our server was friendly and helpful in helping us order.

    Next time now that I have take out menu when I return I will have in mind what I will order.

    1. At final count, 8 of us lunched at Sun's - comfort food is an apt description, better than "bland". From a healthful view, the dishes were simple and satisfying - no MSG.
      The Meatball Clay Pot was my overall fave of the table, with its rich broth, freshly sweet cabbage and light-as-a-feather meatballs. The silky softness of the Lotus Leaf steamed fish was pleasantly addictive and on second thought, I would also order this again. Happy I was with the end-of-meal mochi and the starter of tendon, pig ear, and tripe. The dumplings and noodles were the in-between filler to round out the afternoon lunch - minus the spice-and-heat of chiles, we went for texture; chewy and al dente.
      Thank you to Pia and Melanie for organizing this chowdown.

      1. Great post, charliemyboy! The eight of us managed to put away a good quantity of food, and in a manner that provoked the owner to ask if we were "professional" food critics(!?) When we looked surprised and puzzled she said it was because everyone knew how to use chopsticks very well and someone was taking pictures of the food.

        Thanks, too, to KK whose pre-chowdown post was, as always, most helpful and spot on.

        Quite a few of the dishes are similar to Everyday Beijing's when I used to go there. The dumplings all had light, fresh tasting fillings which would have benefited greatly from thinner, more delicate wrappers. (I'd have to eat and pay twice as much, which might detract from the "comfort food" effect--but it would be worth it!) The XLB were decent and small enough to just fit my greedy maw, but again I wonder: why the heck doesn't Din Tai Fung have a branch here?! What do we need to do to get one?

        The tripe, tendon, and pig ear appetizer was delicious and one of my favorites as well, though I'd give the edge to the similar beef, tongue, and tripe one at Little Shanghai. The big favorite though was the tofu and century egg with its custardy curds and delicate sesame and green onion flavor. That will be the first thing I order when I return.

        The other things I'd choose again: the steamed lotus fish, the Taiwan beef noodle soup (which I only got to try when it was almost cold, but I liked the rich, marrow-y broth with a touch of star anise), the mochi, and maybe the bacon-cut pork (though I have to try the version at Mao's first.)

        Funny, but I can't seem to remember the chive pies and the pancake strips. Did someone hide them from me? Did I eat them without noticing--possible but scary. I'm usually pretty quick with food, but kind of slow for a chowhound. . .

        1 Reply
        1. re: pilinut

          ha ha - I wondered the same when I read charliemyboy's list of dishes - I didn't taste any chive pie or pancake strips? so, when do we go to Mao's for their bacon-cut pork? I will confess that I like the tofu and century egg dish at Everyday Beijing, too.

        2. It was great to get away to a quiet spot with some 'hounds. Too long have I eaten leftovers at my desk and called it lunch. But I digress.

          I should disclose that my nose was under the influence of Flonase: it's possible that I wasn't smelling everything there was to smell. Still, based on the above comments, I don't think I missed too much.

          The restaurant made a nice first impression, greeting us at the door and pointing us upstairs to a large table. The lengthy menu was bookended by small photos of a couple dozen dishes, so that made the selection a bit easier. Shortly after we placed our order, we got a complimentary appetizer featuring thin slices of tendon and pig ear, and small pieces of tripe, flavored with sesame chilli oil.

          The cigar-width pot stickers were done to a nice crisp on the bottom, and the filling was fine. A plate of cold bean curd cubes with slices of thousand year old egg had a very pleasant sesame flavor and did not suffer from any of the runniness that can afflict a cold tofu salad. The fish in the fish and chive dumplings was so mild that one might not even realize what it was. The subtle vegetable flavor and simple light seasoning cried out for a sophisticated dipping sauce, maybe something with a touch of garlic, but even buck naked (I didn't see the little dish of sauce), they were fun to eat.

          The steamed fish (rock cod?), presented in a puddle of sauce on a lotus leaf, was unexpectedly tender. The soy-ginger-scallion flavor was similarly delicate. For your friends and relatives who can't eat anything "fishy," this would be an excellent choice. On the other hand, if you have a cold, this probably would be too subtle. The pork meatball clay pot involved an actual clay pot, but unlike the usual braise, it was an enormous soup with generous quantities of napa cabbage, bean curd, and noodles, and a few pieces of shiitake. The meatballs themselves had a miraculous lightness, meltingly tender but not outright silky. The broth, though, was too mild for my taste; if you are serving a big bowl of tofu, cabbage, and noodles, I just think you need more flavor to offset the plainness. This was the dish that had the most left in it at the end of the meal. The spicy house cold noodle, topped with chicken and julienned vegetables, featured a light peanutty sauce that reminded me of dan dan mein, minus the usual sticky gooey gloppiness I associate with that dish. A nice intermezzo with a little zing.

          Some of the dishes fell short of their potential. By the time the XLB reached me, it was no longer piping hot or juicy; perhaps too much time had elapsed taking photos. A "pancake" folded around bits of bright pink beef had a deep bready flavor and chewy texture, but the filling itself was somewhat bland. The broth for the beef/tendon noodle soup seemed watered down, whether from noodle drainage or by design. (But I have had this reaction to other Taiwan-style beef soups, so perhaps my expectations are a bit high?) The braised bacon-cut pork looked great, and the flavor was okay, but somehow between half-inch layers of fat, the meat had managed to become a bit dry. There must be a way to fix that.

          For dessert we passed a plate of what I can roughly describe as small "dumplings" of translucent glutinous rice dough filled with a liquidy black sesame or peanut filling, on a field of chopped peanuts and granulated sugar. I love these little things, so it was a terrific finish in my book.

          I would like to try the cucumber and shrimp dumpling some time.

          Oh, photos here: http://www.jeffersonscher.com/photos/...

          2 Replies
          1. re: Jefferson

            Great pix, Jefferson! We hope to see them in the front window next time.

            1. re: Jefferson

              Very nice photos, thanks, Jefferson. So good to have you back and posting.

              * * * * *
              Sign up here to chow with the hounds
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/668213

            2. Charlie, thanks for kicking off this thread and to all for being such a genial group of avid eaters. I was impressed by the noodle texture for the beef soup, but I wonder what happened to the broth to make it so washed out. Taiwanese pot stickers had nice enough flavor and were well-crisped, but I would have liked them in the stuck-together style with the crispy bits. My favorite dish was the meatballs, so light and pillowy and better than any gnocchi I've had cuz they're PORK. Like pilinut, I really liked the bean curd/preserved egg cold dish, a surprise to me, as I'm not that big on peidan.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I have a couple photos too.

                Here's the shot of the Taiwanese-style potstickers. Nicely crisped.
                http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                And here's the Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup. Looked to have good potential and the chunks of beef had good texture, but strangely watery.
                http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I had dinner at Sun's on 08/17/10...I would have never ordered this combination of Fujian & Taiwanese cruisine. It was excellent. Later that week, had pot stickers at U-Lee on Hyde Street. Additionally, shared a bowl of bitter cabbage, shredded pork and tofu soap. Great prices, delicious food.

                  -----
                  U-Lee Restaurant
                  1468 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  Fujian Restaurant
                  1518 Bonanza St, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

              2. Thanks to pilinut and Cynsa for setting the record straight-- In my eagerness to make sure I checked off all the dishes we were ordering and my confusion at the differences between the take-out menu I was marking up and the menu we were ordering from I checked some items we didn't actually order (or at least weren't served). I am reminded of Mark Twain's statement "My memory is so good I can even remember things that never happened!"

                While embarrassed by my error at least I can now stop worrying about how I could have absolutely no memory of eating some of the dishes!

                As for the steamed fish I concur with Jefferson's characterization of the flavor as subtle, in fact there was hardly any fish flavor at all. I wonder if the very nice melt-in-your-mouth texture was attained by a cooking technique which diluted away some of the flavor.

                2 Replies
                1. re: charliemyboy

                  Phew!!! That's a great Mark Twain quote. I'm glad we dIdn't get those pancakes and chive dumplings: I was really going to hit those Vitamin B tablets with a vengeance. (Actually, I probably should do that anyway.)

                  As for the steamed fish, no, there wasn't any significant fish flavor, which is arguably a good thing, in the case of farmed freshwater fish, which often tastes of pond slime. With the flavor provided by the sauce, it was more of a "texture thing" ;-)

                  1. re: pilinut

                    I asked the owner of Sun's what type of fish and was told it was a rock cod filet, but like you I think it was fresh water fish (basa from Vietnam). Cheaper, as firm as rock cod.

                2. I enjoyed our lunch''everything was good, but only the thousand year egg and tofu stood out as "very good" for mw...I also enjoyed the textural lightness of the meatballs and silken steamed fish..but my favorite thing was the stuffed mochi for dessert, with the right balance of mochi 'chewiness' and molten sesame or peanut (I was one of the lucky ones who got one of each!) I've never had the peanut stuffed one, before although I have always loved the black sesame....so the peanut was a special surprise.
                  It was great fun to reinstate the Chowdown lunches..so I am goig to check out Evite to see how it works so I can add a restaurant to the mix (how hard could it be???)
                  Thank your times 10 to Melanie and Pia for the rebirth of this intrepid group..It was great fun to share a meal with you all....!

                  1. Is the Dessert- mochi balls with black sesame and peanuts on the menu or just ask for it? How many are in an order & the cost?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: hhc

                      Well, I wish I could answer your question but I can not.

                      I asked the owner what she had in terms of a dessert at the end of the menu and she recommend this item. I did have an menu at the time so I did not see what they had in terms of a desserts. As for the price she give us two each so it was an custom order. The bill was written in Chinese and I did not look that closely so do not know what we were charge for this custom order but you can ask your server when you go.

                      1. re: yimster

                        The menu didn't list any of their desserts, so I just used a made-up term. Since mochi is a Japanese term I'm sure that's not part of whatever name they use for the dish.

                          1. re: Cynsa

                            Cynsa, just yuan, tong yuan would be sweet rice dumpling served in a soup (either a sweet or savoy soup).

                    2. I agree that the XLB was disappointing. I liked the beef-filled pancake, kind of like a
                      keema paratha. I also found the fish dumplings (the shape of pot stickers) to be
                      very bland, and the beef noodle soup to be a bit underspiced. But nothing to
                      complain about among the cold dishes. One of the best things about this place is
                      its location: right on the block where the downtown movie mulitplex is, and down the
                      street from Taqueria Pancho Villa.

                      1. Ate here for the first time today and liked it. We had:

                        Fish dumplings - good handmade wrappers, chopped (not ground) fish. Mild in flavor, but I was pretty happy with just a little black vinegar for dipping.

                        Baked Pastry with with Chinese Donut (shao bing you tiao) - the you tiao (donut) was a bit oily, and super-crunchy in a way that makes me think it had been cooked earlier, and reheated, but the shao bing was lighter and less doughy than every other version I've had (including a celebrated place in Taipei that my relatives took me to). We had it with sweet soy milk.

                        Sauteed sweet rice cake with pork and preserved vegetable - perfect rice cake texture, definitely appreciated the lack of greasiness on this one. I love this dish and usually eat so much I'll end up groggy and useless an hour later, but I was fine after the Sun's version.

                        Overall, good renditions of some of my favorite dishes (and ones that I have trouble finding in Oakland).