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May 26, 2011 12:11 AM

Shun Tak (aka Shunde) Cuisine at San Francisco’s Jade Garden and $4.95 Lunch Plates

On Monday I drove my mother to Kam’s but after she saw the low prices for lunch specials a few doors down, she wanted to try Jade Garden instead. Between 11am and 2:30pm daily, you have your pick of 20 different rice plates for $4.95, including soup. An additional 18 selections of lunch combos are priced from $4.75 to $5.25 including soup, egg roll and steamed rice. For kids, a students special box lunch of fried rice, noodles, and fried boneless chicken plus a soda is $3.50. Also promoted outside was a three-for-$18.95 including soup for eat-in. There’s also a slightly expanded three-for to-go only menu that includes rice instead of soup for $17.50, and free delivery over $15 between 5pm and 9pm.

Given the low prices, the modern black and steel decor and all white tableware were a surprise when we stepped inside. Likewise the marble and onyx we’d later discover in the rest room. Not very busy at noon hour, most of the customers appeared to be Chinese contractors and construction workers tucking into rice plates or sharing three-for’s around the table.

Service was on the slow side to take our order (and bring the bill), but soon we had a tureen of soup. The complimentary “old fire” soup included stew meat, many bones, dried bok choy, and carrots, and was well-skimmed. This made for a very flavorful broth and did not need the bit of MSG I think I detected.

I tried the Curry Beef Tendon Rice Plate, $4.95. The soft lengths of tendon were simmered in a mild yellow curry sauce that tasted pretty much like straight-up Madras curry powder. While not the most complex example, it was done well and neither harsh nor gritty. A few chunks of beef plate meat attached to chewy fascia as well as crunchy red and green bell peppers plus juicy squares of sautéed onion were part of the assemblage and serve over a giant pile of white rice. Quite nice, especially getting the proper doneness on the different cuts of slow-cooked meats and the contrast with the crisp, barely cooked veggies, and fresher tasting than most versions.

For Mom, a big plate of House Special Dry Chow Fun for $5.95. The thinness of the medium-width rice noodles gave them a silky mouthfeel in addition to being chewy. The components included exactly two shelled shrimp, one scallop, and seven calamari tubes supplemented with char siu, skinless slivers of chicken, fat slabs of black mushroom, bean sprouts, and scallions. All tasty.

A closer look at the chow fun revealed fancy knife work on the flower-cut squid, batons of green onion cut to identical lengths, bean sprouts plucked of the root threads leaving just the "silver", and light charring on the rice noodles. This deftness with a knife, careful prep, and minimum of oil (just a fine sheen left on the plate) shared more in common with the more highly finessed $14 per dish noodles at fancy dim sum palaces than with offerings at pedestrian neighborhood places found at this price point.

Though we only tried two dishes, I have a good feeling about Jade Palace. It seems to aspire to be more than meets the eye and the kitchen might have the chops to pull it off. Amidst the lunch specials, the menu also includes Buddha Jumps over the Wall, listed as shark fin, sea cucumber, abalone, fish maw for $160.

Offering Shun Tak style cooking, here’s the menu of house specialties painted on the wall mirror:

Most of those Shun Tak dishes are translated into English on the “country style” menu.

What else have ‘hounds tried here?

* * * * * * * * *

Shun Tak at Gourmet Village in Millbrae

Shunde House Special Fish Salad at Bow Hon

More about Shun Tak cooking:

Bow Hon
850 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

Jade Garden
3608 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

Gourmet Village
465 Broadway, Millbrae, CA 94030

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    1. Thanks for the report on the Shunde dishes. The $4.95 lunch specials have nothing Shunde related about them, but the mirror wall specials are.

      From left to right

      What appears to be pumpkin or kabocha fried frog (with a puffy exterior)

      Garlic and dried mountain yam steamed fish slices

      Sizzling iron plate egg tofu (aka riben tofu or tofu combined with eggs)

      Scallion sauce stir fried lamb (is lamb even common in Shunde cuisine?)

      Shunde mini stir fry (likely veg and meat or meat parts stir fry, subject to interpretation)

      Lotus root slices stuffed with Dace fish (not "Dice") and deep fried

      Minced dace fish cakes deep fried (like crabcakes but made with dace fish and other things)

      Salt and pepper fried pumpkin + egg tofu (riben tofu)

      salt and pepper fried eggplant + egg tofu

      Stir fried dace fish balls (not made with fish paste, probably just stir fried boneless filets)

      Duck in red rice and ginger sauce (per menu translation)

      Sizzling iron plate 3 treasures (typically tofu, eggplant, and bell pepper, maybe mushroom)

      Black bean sauce pan fried stuffed bitter melon

      Pan fried stuffed green bell peppers

      Mao's red rice vinegar pork

      Pan fried stuffed Dace fish

      Now the stuffed Dace $13.95 is a very labor intensive prep involving removing the fish's interior (meat and bones), leaving the skin and head intact, then stuffing it back in for frying. I'd be curious to see how this dish is executed here.

      Here's a youtube clip of how a chef would make this

      It's more like a stuffed fish meatloaf.

      If they could do a steamed version, it would be more interesting (and serving it on a bed of tofu, and more dace fishballs on the side, made with dried shrimp, mushroom etc).

      I wonder where they get the Dace from or if they use a substitute.

      12 Replies
      1. re: K K

        I'm curious about the salt and pepper fried eggplant. My dad is from Shunde, and a favorite dish I remember an aunt preparing during my childhood visits there was a kind of fried white eggplant dish: they'd stick two slices of eggplant together with some kind of fish paste, then dip those stuck-together pieces in some kind of batter before frying them.

        This was an eggplant prep I loved, even before I started liking eggplant generally. Actually it's one of my favorite taste memories because, at the time, I thought I HATED eggplant ... but this, this was something else.

        I wonder if the dish at Jade Garden bears any resemblance to that? I don't even know if it's a Shunde dish, or just a Cantonese dish, but I don't think I've ever had it at a restaurant here.

        1. re: abstractpoet

          Apparently in Hong Kong, where Shunde dishes are relatively easy to find, the deep fried fish and/or shrimp stuffed cakes are done in varying levels of shall we say professionalism. True gourmets over there know how to tell if one was done properly or not (meaning if shortcuts were taken). They say a good lotus root fried cake slice should not be sliced lotus root, and the holes stuffed with minced meat or seafood...but rather lotus root grated very finely (with cheese grater), hand mixed with say minced pork (chopped finely with dual cleavers), mixed into patties then deep fried...

          Dace fish paste filets/slices can be quite the delight (as seen in several dishes at Gourmet Village in Millbrae which might be doing regional Cantonese around Shunde, Foshan, Zhongshan and the area around them).

          Interesting that Jade Garden hasn't listed any stir fried milk with egg white dishes. Those done in Shunde are made with milk from the water buffalo. I wonder what Shunde water buffalo milk would taste like if made into mozarella or burrata :-).

          Jade Garden Restaurant
          2939 Spafford St, Davis, CA 95618

          Gourmet Village
          465 Broadway, Millbrae, CA 94030

          1. re: K K

            The English menu lists a fried milk dish with mango shrimp dish.

            Thanks so much for taking a look at the wall menu for us, KK. The back wall had photos of four dishes that might not be on the printed menu either: one that looked like some kind of kau yuk, lobster noodles (I tried to order this but no lobster in the tank on monday), something with fish balls, and another dish with fish cake.

            More about the place in this fluff piece,

          2. re: abstractpoet

            Is your eggplant dish similar to the shrimp paste sandwiched between eggplant slices served at dim sum houses? Also, at R & G Lounge, the three treasures dish includes eggplant, medium-hot peppers, and tofu stuffed with shrimp forcemeat, battered and fried, then tossed with black bean sauce.

            R & G Lounge
            631 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I've never seen it at a dim sum house - it doesn't look anything like the shrimp-stuffed eggplant that's ubiquitous. Whatever they sandwich in between the slices is just a thin layer of paste - kind of like what they do with tostones, I guess.

              The main things are: 1) it's made with white eggplant (not purple) - I feel like this led to a sweeter, less bitter flavor profile, 2) it has a crisp batter after being fried, and 3) I don't believe it's served with any sauce that I can recall. It definitely isn't tossed in a sauce.

              I guess that's why the "salt and pepper fried eggplant" on this menu sounds closer to what I remember than any of the dishes you describe, Melanie. But I'd be curious if anyone else has had the dish I'm describing. For all I know, maybe it's just a family recipe.

              Oddly enough, the closest I've come to recreating this taste experience is an Emeril recipe for "New Orleans Fried Eggplant Sticks" that I made some years ago, minus the powdered sugar:

              1. re: abstractpoet

                The shrimp paste stuffed eggplant dish at some dim sum restaurants is also at times served with shrimp paste stuffed mushrooms on the same dish.

                Here's an openrice (HK based) travel review of a restaurant in Shunde at a hotel restaurant


                6th picture down is the stuffed eggplant dish with bell peppers and maybe tofu. Seems like they use the purple eggplant there.

                The restaurant calls their prep 家鄉煎釀三寶 which is home country style (first two characters), so perhaps a true family home prep can be subject to interpretation.

                1. re: K K

                  Yeah, there's still too much filling and too much sauce, and in the dish I'm talking about, the whole thing is coated with batter - so it looks as much like, I don't know, fish and chips or a kind of tempura as it does anything. The experience of eating it is a little bit akin to the experience of eating fried squash blossoms...

                  I believe they used the skinny white eggplants, too - not the fat ones.

                  I'm having trouble finding any pictures online that match what I'm describing. Will need to ask my parents for more information...

          3. re: K K

            At the 99 Ranch in FC Tuesday, they had fresh Dace for sale, but I couldn't tell if it was legit or if it was some other species and calling it Dace.

            1. re: baron45

              Ahh cool thanks...Dace seems to refer to a variety of similar species


              but the Chinese version is also called Chinese Mud Carp...I suppose a much less appetizing name


              Wasn't there some invasion of this (or some other) species into our ecosystem somehow?

              I found frozen dace fishballs at some Chinese supermarkets, some imported from China.

              1. re: baron45

                Interesting, the dace I'm most familiar with is the fried, canned version.

              2. re: K K

                Has anyone had the opportunity to try the "stuffed dace fish". I am very curious about this one.

                While living in Hong Kong a few years ago I got to eat a friends grandmothers house a few times and this was one of her specialties. I had no idea how much work went into it until my friend explained the 3rd time. The version she made had no sauce like in that video and was almost deep fried in texture. Like a rough fishcake with skin on the outside.

                Since I live a couple blocks away I should probably just give it a try. I noticed a lot of yelp pictures had really good looking red braised pork belly. I didn't see that on the menu Melanie has on her flickr.
                (The "nipple" picture on yelp is both hilarious and a bit disturbing since it clearly isn't a nipple... then what is it? )

                1. re: kairo

                  Didn't look at the pictures, but maybe the pork belly is Mao's red rice vinegar pork that KK translated from the mirror menu? When I've had this dish elsewhere, it's made with pork belly.

              3. Mom and I returned to Jade Garden in May, just over a year since our initial visit. This time instead of ordering the lunch plates, we wanted leftovers and dug into the Three dishes for $19.95 menu that included a good long-simmered complimentary house soup.

                Clams with yellow chives and stir-fried rice noodles – Mom’s favorite of the three with briny flavors from the small canned clams and sweet vegetable notes of the chives soaking into the skinny vermicelli.

                House special steamed minced pork – I favored this dish, one of several alternative preps of steamed pork patty. Formed in a thin disk, it did not take long to steam. Very soulful with tiny white bits of sweet squid, zha choi (pressed and preserved vegetable), and dried Chinese olives, and quite different from any others I’ve had before. So good with steamed rice.

                Half crispy chicken – Gorgeous, glassy crunchy skin, but even the dark meat was disappointly overcooked.

                The leftovers from the first two fueled our salt quotas for the week but worth it for that kind of tastiness. Service was snappier and much improved over the long waits of our first visit. Jade Garden still seems to be flying under the radar, has anyone else tried it?

                1. Had to try the whole stuffed fish so we went tonight. Like it says... it's a whole fish, and all the inside removed and stuffed back in the form of a type of fish cake. I believe there were mushrooms, pickled veggies, oddly corn, and who knows what else. The flavor was only remotely comparable to steamed dace balls at dim sum. The fish was covered in a "gravy" that wasn't all together flavorful. Unnecessary strips of pork strewn on top. The skin, as a result of being cooked with gravy was moist in a fairly unappealing way. It was definitely not horrible. I like fish cakes/balls of all kinds. They are all kind of good to me. However I was really hoping for a dry fried rendition with crispy skin like I had at a home in HK.
                  I've attached a pic of the fish and a close up of the cake inside.

                  Also got the house special steamed pork dish Melanie mentions. Loved this... though a bit salty for some people I am sure.

                  They had a soft blue crab special on the chinese dry erase board. That was tempting. The waitress was super nice and was able and willing to translate the specials for me. Saw a group with one of the largest soup tureens I've ever seen.

                  I'll be back for sure since it's in my neighborhood.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: kairo

                    Glad that someone besides me has finally given Jade Garden a try! It's been ages since I've had that style of fish, fried then braised in a porky gravy, I'd actually like to try it once more though I agree with you that it ruins crispy skin. Often the frying turns the skin into a sponge for soaking up the juices. Yet for a small fish, I think dry and crispy is the way to go.

                    1. re: kairo

                      It matches the Yelp photos of the dish, thanks for the report. Jade Garden is basically offering a better than nothing approach to Shun Tak, even if scratching the surface. It's better than nothing at all in some regards, but your description matches what I imagined the dish to taste like. The fried then stewed fish approach resembles some of the Shanghainese braised fish tails in thick sauce, or the Sichuan style "squirrel fish".