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Chowdown Report - Louie's California Chinese

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SPO Apr 18, 2011 03:08 PM

Nine of us showed up for a Chowdown on this gray SF day at Louie’s California Chinese Restaurant. This is not your noisy, bustling Hong Kong style Dim Sum parlor with carts laden with items being paraded in front of dinners. Though large, it had a film-noir forties feel to it (Bogart and Bacall smoking cigarettes while nursing martinis at a corner table would not have seemed out of place in Louie’s faded ambiance), a land-that-time (as well as patrons) seemed to have forgotten: The nine of us comprised about just a bit less than half the diners at lunch. Since no rolling carts were there to entice us, we ordered from the menu with decidedly expert help from Yimster whose fluency in the language was an asset.

Here is what we had:

Chicken Claws in Black Bean Sauce – often not a favorite of non-Asian diners but these were eagerly eaten by all. I would have preferred them a bit crunchier

Bee’s Nest Taro Puff – those balls of taro with outsides looking like shredded wheat.

Zhou Zhou Dumplings – shredded pork and peanuts.

Pan Fried Sweet Corn Cake – these sounded exciting to me but were not especially tasty or exciting. . It just seemed like eating a polenta pancake.

Black Sesame Soft Balls – a popular Dim Sum item. Great texture and I liked the taste though I guess others did not because many went uneaten.

Seafood Lettuce Wrap – mixed seafood and vermicelli noodles –good taste and texture – that each diner wraps in large Iceberg lettuce leaves and seasons with Hoisin Sauce. I liked this a lot.

Har Gow – what’s a Dim sum meal w/o Har Gow?

Salty Pepper Squid – this was my favorite dish. Perfectly crunchy, just the right texture, and served with diced hot green peppers, tomatoes. I could have eaten a huge bowl of these.

Abalone Sauce – sadly no abalone but the sauce from abalone in a dish of pre-fried wheat noodles (Ifou?), sliced green onions and mushrooms. Seemed a crowd pleaser.

Tea-Smoked Duck – we order this at Yimster’s suggestion who said it was the best in the city. A large platter of smoky dark duck slices which we placed on little white flour circular flat rolls to make a sandwich and garnished with sliced green onions and Hoisin Sauce. This was my 2nd favorite dish of all

Price per person incl tip for 9 of us was $20/person.

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Louie's California Chinese
646 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94111-2106

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  1. myst RE: SPO Apr 18, 2011 05:26 PM

    This is a go to spot for cheap work lunch for my co-workers and I. One of the best dim sum deals.

    My favorite dishes there include several not eaten at your chowdown:

    The shrimp stuffed eggplant which is always nicely carmelized.

    Bean Curd wrap

    Pan-fried bun (like a gai bao, steamed and then pan fried on the bottom)

    Chive Dumpling

    Sesame Balls

    Shrimp and Chive Dumplings

    Paper wrapped chicken

    1. Ruth Lafler RE: SPO Apr 18, 2011 05:41 PM

      Nine of you ... oops! I totally forgot!

      1. pane RE: SPO Apr 18, 2011 05:58 PM

        Thanks for starting the thread! I ran in for lunch (after confusing the address with that of Louie's Dim Sum on Stockton) and ran out to catch a meeting, but in between I was impressed by the tea-smoked duck and the abalone noodles and sauce.

        The taro puff texture and taste were a bit off to me, and the wrappers on our dumplings were so sticky that I don't think any made it to my plate entirely intact. If I returned, I'd definitely invest again in the duck and its excellent crispy skin.

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        Louie's Dim Sum
        1242 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

        2 Replies
        1. re: pane
          yimster RE: pane Apr 18, 2011 06:08 PM

          I agree that dim sum is not Louie's strong point. If I could eat dim sum there .would a lot of places ahead of Louie's in my mind. But the strong points is ordering off the main menu and knowing what to order of items is season and not on the menu.

          The Tea Smoked Duck is one of the best to come to mind.

          The Abalone Sauce Noodles is also very good.

          As for dumplings falling apart can be caused trying to move them before the have cold off a little (if they are too hot then they will fall apart) or the one serving you is not skillful enough to pick them up with breaking the skin.

          Wish we had enough lead time for the Smoked Sea Bass. Maybe next time.

          Thanks to Melaine and Osho for hosting and letting me crash the party. As it turn out I replaced Ruth.

          1. re: yimster
            k
            Kim Campbell RE: yimster Apr 18, 2011 06:19 PM

            I liked the smoked tea duck a lot, the noodles in the abalone sauce, the seafood lettuce wrap and the sweet sesame puffs for desert. I was not that impressed with any of the other dishes. I agree with yimster -- dim sum is not Louie's strong point.

        2. Caitlin McGrath RE: SPO Apr 18, 2011 09:01 PM

          I'd concur with others that the duck and noodles were the standouts. I also enjoyed the seafood lettuce wraps and the molten black sesame puffs.

          The tea-smoked duck had good flavor and nice, crisp skin (Melanie suggested it might have been deep-fried to get the crisp skin, which isn't the traditional preparation, and it did seem so from the texture).

          Yimster described how the e-fu with abalone sauce is made: When dried abalone is steamed to rehydrate it, its essence drips down to the bottom of the pot, and that is used in the sauce to braise the e-fu noodles, which have been first fried.

          While the shrimp in the har gau was good, the wrappers were too thick, and I thought the fried dim-sum items (corn cakes and chicken feet) were too oily.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Caitlin McGrath
            d
            david kaplan RE: Caitlin McGrath Apr 19, 2011 03:39 AM

            Echoing praise for the duck and the noodles. I liked the extra smokiness of the duck and the resilience of the noodles -- rare for noodles that have been braised.

            The deep-fried dim sum items were the most problematic. Taro balls were heavy and lacked the wispy threads that the best versions have. And I did not care for the squid -- too much batter for my taste.

            But, man, that duck. Mmm.

            1. re: david kaplan
              myst RE: david kaplan Apr 19, 2011 09:16 AM

              True - as a regular the top dim sum is the eggplant and the bean curd roll.

              I never order the Har Gow (heavy) or taro (greasy). The sho mei is ok, my friends like it, but I don't care for the five spice flavor.

              Their sesame balls (fried) are very crisp and we usually order some type of noodle (chow fun or pan-fried noodles) to go with our dim sum

          2. The Dairy Queen RE: SPO Apr 18, 2011 09:07 PM

            I love the Black Sesame Soft Balls at Louie's! So jealous of all nine of you!

            ~TDQ

            1. Melanie Wong RE: SPO Apr 20, 2011 11:50 AM

              Of the dim sum items, the chou zhou dumplings were the most successful. Thick and chewy tapioca wrapper, spicy pork filling, and freshly steamed. The har gow tasted good, but the shrimp were chopped up rather than whole and the wrappers were too thick. I thought the corn cakes, bits of chopped canned kernels embedded in greasy batter, were particularly bad.
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              Salt and pepper calamari had good flavor, but like the other fried items, were too heavily battered and oil-soaked.

              My favorite dish was the abalone sauce noodles. I think that the menu lists abalone lo mein, we asked for this made with yee fu noodles (fried then braised). Excellent chewy texture and not over-softened noodles. A richer sauce than the versions served with cho mein at Asian Pearl or Yum's Bistro.
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              I also liked the smoked duck. Excellent flavor, very crispy skin, even if the meat was overdone, still worth it.
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

              I'm sure I made my co-host "osho" late for his meeting insisting that he wait for the duck to appear. But I bet after tasting it, he doesn't regret a bit.

              For a strategy for getting the best from Louie's, I think that I'd go back for more noodles. There are many types listed on the lunch menu, as well as rice plates. "myst" has given suggestions for dim sum items. From our bad luck with what we selected, one needs to proceed with caution on the dim sum side.

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              Asian Pearl
              3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

              Yum's Bistro
              4906 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94555

              1. osho RE: SPO Apr 20, 2011 04:20 PM

                Apologies for the late post.

                Thanks to all my fellow ‘hounds who made it out to the chowdown.

                I tried to pre-order seafood lettuce wraps and smoked sea bass but it didn’t work out because of some communication issues. I did ascertain that they could make the tea smoked duck for us and that was definitely the saving grace.

                As others have stated here, my favourite was the duck for sure. Seemed like it was deep fried, well no matter - it was truly delicious.

                Next were the noodles - oh the texture was simply amazing - and that abalone sauce made with the drippings - pretty darn good.

                Made me think of just how great the place must have been in it's heyday.

                The crispy squid had a good crunchy texture but I sensed there was not much squid in the fritter.

                Dim Sum items: I was the only one who seemed to like the fried taro – yimster said he would introduce me to a fabulous rendition of this item elsewhere.

                The dumpling wrappers all were very sticky and kept breaking irrespective of chopstick skills, but the one with the pork and peanut was my favourite. I will not pretend to be overly familiar with Dim Sum because I usually go with my Chinese mates and they take over the ordering.

                It just seemed the place had fallen on hard times and is just not making an effort in many areas.

                I'm thinking we should do a dinner time chowdown so we don't have to all rush off. Not to mention the disdain for drinking during lunch in my adopted homeland. :)

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                Louie's California Chinese
                646 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94111-2106

                1 Reply
                1. re: osho
                  yimster RE: osho Apr 20, 2011 09:22 PM

                  osho, even in it heyday dim sum was not it's strong point. My best meals were order off the menu or dishes arrange with the chef ahead of time.

                  My favorite was the noodles dish with a very close second the duck. Believe or not the duck has been better in the past. In the past the skin was as crispy with being over done and maybe deep fried but that was then and this is now.

                  A quick turn over of ingredients is important.

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