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Did I order the wrong thing at San Tung?

oohlala Sep 22, 2010 02:54 PM

Drove by the restaurant few times and it's always packed, it's gotta be good, right? We decided to beat the crowd by having an early dinner. Waiter swiftly seated us and gave us the menu. WAIT! I thought the restaurant says "San Tung" (really should be pronounced as SHAN DONG), why does the menu have food as far as Canton and Sichuan? Instead of making any mistake with our food, we inquired the waiter for recommendations, steam dumpling, ja jiang noodle, and chicken wings (I gasped, are you kidding me???). We figured we should have some faith in the waiter and put down steam dumpling, chicken wing, stir-fry noodle, and mixed braised tofu for the 3 of us.

steam dumpling - not bad, but the wrapper lacks gluten that gives the chewy texture which I expect from Shan dong cuisine

chicken wing - probably the best dish of the night, but still can't get over the fact that i'm having chicken wings in a chinese restaurant

stir-fry noodle - I really hope the noodle was bought from a store or something so they can at least blame the noodle shop for making the noodle boring as hell. Where's the handpull noodle?!!!!

braised tofu - tofu was too thin to start with. restaurant deep-fried the curd too long. The tofu couldn't soak up any sauce and tasted like rubber.

I came home and yelped the place, 4/5 stars with over 1700+ reviews!! Am I just crazy or should I give those tofu another try?

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San Tung Chinese Restaurant
1031 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

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  1. K K Sep 22, 2010 03:10 PM

    San Tung is one of those places that has been around forever and has its loyal fans. In terms of it being an authentic Shandongnese restaurant servicing traditional "Lu" cuisine, that....I don't know what else to say.

    1) I think they call themselves San Tung as an English interpretation of the Cantonese pronounciation even if it is actually "Sahn Dohng"....given that SF city is heavily Cantonese speaking and all (inclusive of the suburban and surrounding dialects like Toishanese and what not). Much like in HK kowloon, Tsim Sa Tsui as it is written also sounds little to nothing like how you would pronounce it.

    2) The chicken wing is popular, and in fact it seems to be way more popular with the non Chinese speaking crowd.

    3) I've another friend who griped about the lack of gluten in the dumpling skins. However even with that said, the boiled pork and cabbage dumplings are superb and comparable to some of the good Shandong beef noodle restaurants in Taipei. If I were to make a meal, I'd probably clean out 3 plates of these and call it a night. It's probably the lethal with regards to MSG (which they obviously use a lot of in other dishes)

    4) Braised tofu? I thought the string beans stir fry dish was more popular (or the most popular) vegetable dish. On certain days, you might see a table with nothing but string beans in it, and some of the waitstaff have to help clean and cut the ends. The stir fried string beans dish is quite good, some pair it with spinach.
    5) Dan dan and Za Jang noodles here are horrible renditions. Stick with 5 spice beef noodle soup. It's a bit inconsistent at times, but to me it's the best dish on the menu. That and a side of boiled dumplings and really no need to order anything else (perhaps some cold appetizers like dried marinated bean curd strips or pig's ear, just like how one would order them at a beef noodle specialist restaurant in Taipei).

    6) San Tung has always been popular with the Cantonese community in SF even back in 1990 when San Tung was a hole in the wall. Some say that quality took a dive once they opened ST #2 (current location) and then the food hasn't been the same since they closed down the hole in the wall.

    7) When you order stir fry noodles, you have to add $1 if you want to request "hand pulled noodles". Never tried standard stir fried noodles otherwise. If you order 5 spice beef noodle soup, it is by default the hand pulled noodles. Hand pulled/machine cut, or something like that. Either way it's not bad, and really light in flavor so you can eat a lot. Some like it and some don't.

    1 Reply
    1. re: K K
      oohlala Sep 27, 2010 09:19 PM

      thanks for breaking it down, K K. I guess i got fooled by the name, still trying to learn how chinese restaurants operate here in SF :)
      ok, string beans stir fry, 5 spice beef noodle soup and perhaps some cold apps next time if I ever decide to pay a visit.

      as for the chicken wings, i usually like them spicier than San Tung's version. Nothing against chicken wings, i just never had fried chicken wings dressed in sticky sauce in any chinese restaurant in asia, that's all (besides HK tea diners). Chicken wings are usually marinated, not fried.

    2. w
      wanderlust21 Sep 22, 2010 09:54 PM

      I only order the chicken wings. After trying numerous other items on the menu (all the dumplings, the noodles and several of the stir fried dishes), I have not found much else to like.

      If my companions insist on rounding out the meal, the only other items that I find o.k., are the dried sauteed string beans (mentioned by KK), peanut noodles and the pan fried pot stickers. The peanut noodles have a little heat and are made with their hand pulled noodles, and the pan fried pot stickers, are giant one's with skins thicker than I like, yet nicely crisped and hit the spot if you want a filling dish. But I do get cravings for those wings and am happy just to stick with them.

      1. augustiner Sep 22, 2010 11:56 PM

        i'm pretty sure that the noodles at san tung are machine-made in house, not hand-pulled. K K is right that you have to request the house-made noodles when ordering the stir fried dishes. i don't love or hate san tung. i like the noodles and dumplings just fine, but my background is korean, not shandong. san tung makes fairly decent versions of the "korean-chinese" dishes, but none are great. it's out of the way for me, but when i do go there, i make sure it's during off-hours so i don't have to wait. and i personally like the dry-fried fish better than the chicken wings. i could be wrong but the fish version seemed less sweet the last time i had it (over 2 years ago).

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        K K Cafe
        3095 McKee Rd, San Jose, CA 95127

        1. Ruth Lafler Sep 23, 2010 12:13 PM

          First, not sure what your issue is with eating chicken wings in a Chinese restaurant. I'm pretty sure chickens have wings in China, and I'm equally sure that people eat them. The most amazingly delicious chicken wings I've ever had are in a Chinese restaurant (Capitol in Chinatown). That said, I was completely underwhelmed with the wings (we tried two different versions) at San Tung. Actually, I was pretty much underwhelmed with everything at San Tung, and we were a large party of people who are knowledgeable about Chinese food and who ordered quite a few dishes. For Shandong I'd really rather go to San Wang/Sam Wang/Sam Wong in Japantown.

          1. Windy Sep 23, 2010 05:29 PM

            I love San Tung, including the things you ordered.

            You didn't like it. Don't worry about.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Windy
              c
              calalilly Sep 28, 2010 09:47 AM

              I too have always been underwhelmed with the food at Sun Tung, despite it's reputation. Honestly, I think the Wei Chuan dumplings I buy at Ranch 99 are better than what the restaurant serves. The best dumplings I've had in recent member is from the old chef at Wuling (www.taiwanchef.net).

              As for the chicken wings, I admit they're good compared to everything else they serve, but not worth the long wait or the parking ordeal.

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              Sun Tung
              153 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

              Wuling
              10561 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

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