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Dec 10, 2010 01:39 PM

S.F.'s Five owner? Changed menu?

A Chowhound friend reports he saw a banner mentioning new ownership...and says the takeout menu was different...does anyone have additional info. to prove or (hopefully) disprove these observations?!
This would be a real loss....

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  1. The one Yelp review for December indicating extreme disappointment, and the scathing review on the current Peking Duck thread may be confirming your fears.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Chandavkl

      And you take one review by a nameless poster on Yelp and come to this opinion? No wonder restaurant owners hate Yelp and other boards like the one were are on now.

      1. re: poser

        Certainly not by itself. However in conjunction with the other post on this board, it is evidence worth considering.

      2. re: Chandavkl

        SFFoodie just did a report on their tea smoked duck and lion's head meatballs. Sounds super tasty. I've been a fan of the restaurant since the 80's, it was a sad day when they stopped delivery.

        I've never tried linking on this board but here's an attempt.

      3. I have been twice in the last few months (once just last week) and the Peking duck has been excellent both times. I happened upon the restaurant independent of any Yelp or CH reviews, and found the Peking duck superior to Great China in Berkeley.

        Other food can be hit or miss. The menu is scattered with Americanized dishes to satisfy the clientele in the neighborhood. But the owner, an older gentleman from Taiwan with excellent English, is very helpful. For example, someone at our table tried to order broccoli beef and he said "No, that's for Americans" and proceeded to substitute the dish with a more authentic one. Some might find that kind of service presumptuous, but given the rest of what we'd ordered he wasn't wrong to steer us in a better direction.

        Great China Restaurant
        2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

        Five Happiness
        4142 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

        1 Reply
        1. Definitely not a new owner. Bill (I assume the owner) has been there for quite a long time. He's also the friendliest Chinese restaurant owner I've ever met. He learns most of his regulars names, and addresses you by such every time you come into his restaurant.
          This place deserves to do better than it seems to. The menu is huge, so I'm sure there are some weak points. Stick to the shanghai style specials page and the "snacks" page and it is hard to miss. Their version of mustard greens soy beans and tofu skin is the best I've had at any shanghai style restaurant.
          I just don't understand how a place this good, and nice to boot, could be doing such bad business.

          3 Replies
          1. re: kairo

            I think it suffers from a bit of an obscure location, and its need for a facelift. The decor inside is decidedly worn and reminds me of what Chinatown restaurants look like in old movies. The times I've been, the restaurant seems to be full of regulars, but I bet an infusion of new business is what they're lacking. And agreed, the menu has weak points, but that's also a lot of what is being ordered by the non-Chinese regulars. You just have to rely on Bill to read your table and steer you the right way, which he does very well.

            1. re: Pei

              I wouldn't consider the location that obscure - Spices! does quite well and is just two blocks away and not even on the main street - obscure would more be how I'd describe the location of Old Mandarin Islamic

              Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
              3132 Vicente St, San Francisco, CA 94116

              1. re: vulber

                It's on a somewhat desolate and no-man's-land-ish block of Geary with no foot traffic. Both Spices branches are 2 doors from the busiest parts of Clement St. There's absolutely no similarity.

          2. Curious if any updates from last few months. Any further corroboration of those downhill reports? Thanks.

            8 Replies
            1. re: david kaplan

              Did you miss all the reports from January pooh-poohing the unsubstantiated yelp downhill reports?

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Yes -- I meant to be asking for any reports since then that either confirm or deny the January discussion.

                1. re: david kaplan

                  Just went last weekend. Same as always, delicious Peking Duck. Two ducks, a few other dishes, and the 8 of us ate for $20 a head. My friends were amazed.

              2. re: david kaplan

                I visited last month and we had the Peking duck. It was the same as I remember from the last time we visited two years ago. Not the best I've had in my life, but good.

                1. re: david kaplan

                  I had lunch with a friend at Five Happiness on Friday. This was my first time back since the triple duck chowdown. It was a spur of the moment thing so we didn't have time to order the Peking duck in advance. However, one lucky couple there did and as it was en route back to the kitchen to be carved, I asked the manager to show it to my friend. The Peking duck seemed lighter in color to me than I remember, but maybe that's the difference between seeing it in daylight vs. at dinner time.

                  We had half a tea-smoked duck. More visible lumps of fat, but as wonderful as I remembered, and better than a consolation prize.

                  This was my chance to order the lions head meatballs that Cecilia Chiang has suggested to us at our chowdown. They're really good, almost fluffy in texture. The meatballs are light in color (see SF Weekly photo) and weight and the sauce is barely thickened and not overly sweet. And they're cradled in a bed of very fresh spinach. A bargain at $8.95. It's #22 on the pink sheet Chinese menu taped inside the large menu . . .and you can ask your server for the printed English translation of this menu.

                  Another item worth trying from the lunch time small plates menu (laminated, one sheet, folded) is called something like chicken roll pork stuffed. This is a Taiwanese dish of tofu sheets wrapped around a pork forcemeat blended with glass noodles and minced vegetables then deep-fried. No chicken involved, but I guess it looks sort of like a fried chicken breast in the vein of veggie duck or veggie goose on cold plates. I didn't care for the spicy sauce served on the side with it, sort of a hoisin, ketchup, scallion salsa, but the roll itself was savory, crispy, and interesting.

                  The one item we didn't like was the chive stuffed bread, also deep-fried. Nice filling, but the pastry was hard and tough.

                  Five Happiness
                  4142 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Ooh, I love the "chicken roll". Got it about a dozen times, but one time it had almost no meat and tasted of "breading". Very odd. I actually like that weird sauce they give with it, but I can totally see it as a love/hate kind of thing.
                    I'm also a big fan of the hunnan ham dish from that pink menu, as well as the soybean and bean curd sheets dish (#1 i believe) that I mentioned earlier. And the lions head is particularly good here. I've had it at as many places as I can find it, and this is one of the better ones. Shanghai Dumpling King's version seemed to go a bit downhill. And sunny shanghai in san bruno, who I love, have a lesser version. (I really don't like bok choi, so that is part of the problem with Sunny Shanghai's). SDK's sometimes is tough... which i think would happen from pre-cooking and reheating.

                    Shanghai Dumpling King
                    3319 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

                    Sunny Shanghai
                    189 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066

                    1. re: kairo

                      If you've had it a dozen times, and presumably supped at 5 Happiness even more times than that, you're our leading expert on the place. The Hunan smoked ham with cabbage, $7.95 is #6, and the Mustard gree soy bean and tofu sheet, $7.25 is #1 on the pink menu.

                      Normally I prefer to order the brothy, soup version of lions head meatballs cuz I don't like the frequently too goopy and sweet sauce that many places serve. It was great to have a more refined version here.

                      I don't want to completely ignore the consistency complaints here. Sure, any restaurant that has such an extensive menu is going to have some duds. Wondering if the bench strength in the kitchen has changed and the drop off is when the main chef takes a day off. Would be good if we could figure out what day that is.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I just eat out 100% of the time, and lived around the corner.
                        I believe you can get the lions head in soup. There are a couple of untranslated items on that pink page and I think I remember one being the soup version of lions head.

                2. After all this talk about duck I headed to Five Happiness for dinner on a Thursday. I wanted to see if it had changed since the triple duck chowdown a few years ago.

                  We had a cold appetizer platter of jellyfish, smoked fish and mock chicken. A Peking Duck, smoked duck, lions head meatballs w greens and steamed fish. We all enjoyed the mock chicken in the cold platter as well as the jellyfish, the smoked fish was flavorful but a bit boney.

                  The Peking Duck was the same as what I had before, good though slightly underseasoned for my tastes. I've attached a photo before they carved it up, to show the color of the skin.

                  We all loved the tea smoked duck. It had a deep bacon-like smoky flavor which worked well with a bit of the sweetish dipping sauce. The steamed fish was fine, the sauce was a bit over seasoned with soy, so I would choose something else instead of this next time. The other dish that was just o.k. for me, was the lions head meatballs. The texture was light and fluffy as mentioned by others, but it was not as deeply flavored as I would've liked. I prefer the version at Shanghai House.

                  A few other things, when I pre-ordered the duck, I asked if there were any other items requiring pre-order and they told me that they have Ti Pang. I didn’t get it as I felt that both items would be too much for us. When I discussed the menu with the server, she tried to steer me toward the shanghai ribs instead of the lions head meatball and she also recommended a mustard greens tofu skin with pork dish, both on the small specials menu. That menu had a few Shanghainese dishes that sounded good, so there are a few more things to come back to try.

                  As Melanie and Pei noted, there are some hits and misses. Our dinner was a bit uneven, so it's worthwhile to rely upon the server's guidance and notes from this board.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: wanderlust21

                    What is Ti Pang please??
                    ...and where do you get a Peking Duck which is prepared more to your liking?


                      1. re: RWCFoodie

                        So that's what my favorite Shanghai dish is called...I had no idea...since Limster had translated it for the Shanghai restaurant on Geary as "Pork Trotter"!!

                        Is it pronounced "Tee-pang", or "Tie-pang"?

                        1. re: ChowFun_derek

                          if you like that dish, China Village in Albany has an excellent version in spicy sauce with a description in ingles on the menu -- one order is enough for 8+ with other dishes and rarely have we seen a large party of Asian fressers there who don't order it.

                          1. re: ChowFun_derek

                            Yes, the version we have enjoyed has been pork trotter - hello crispy pata!!!

                            1. re: ChowFun_derek

                              Derek, my Uncle loves that dish too.  It's pronounced "Tee Pahng" and it's usually the forearm, hence Lambert's "trotter" translation.

                              As far as the Peking Duck, it was fine, I just felt there could be more seasoning.  I rarely eat Peking duck, my usual duck fix is roast duck wonton noodle soup which is an entirely different prep with more salt in the dish.  As far as other places near the city, I'd try Koi Palace.  It's been too long for me to comment on the specific dish, but they had a family dinner with duck three ways, steamed fish, and crab. It's a good value, particularly when crab is in season, they give you a pretty big one.

                              1. re: wanderlust21

                                Recently I had the good luck to have pork belly cooked in the manner of "Tee Pahng" it is even more wonderful but not great for one health. A layer of skin, then fat, then meat, then fat and finally a layer of meat. Had a great one in China wish I could find it here. Always can try making it.

                                1. re: yimster

                                  Yimster, I recently had a home cooked pork belly version too, love the fattiness. And I need to correct myself, the traditional version is made with the thigh. I don't recall seeing at the other Shanghainese places, but I believe we had something along the same lines at Hakka.

                                  1. re: wanderlust21

                                    The pork belly is not a cut used by Shanghainess places. But Cantonese, Hakka and Hunanese use this cut of meat in the Red Braised method.

                                    Recently I have seen a cut of pork belly ( or least looks like pork belly ) with tiny bones when I will try making Chairman Mao pork. As soon as it cools off.