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Wo Hing General Store (SF Mission) report

Wo Hing General Store is Charles Phan's latest addition to the Slanted Door group, and it opened Friday night (10/28/11) in the original Slanted Door location on Valencia near 17th. I went on its second night.

The concept is traditional Chinese street/snack/comfort food, and our server stressed (without our asking, and almost defensively) that the goal is authenticity, not fusion or creativity. The menu is mostly Cantonese, plus some Sichuanese chili-bean-paste dishes, lamb skewers from the north, and xiao long bao and red-braised pork from Shanghai. The authenticity is reflected in the menu items and ingredients, and my hopes were raised seeing jook, tendon, salted fish, and bitter melon on the menu.

We tried three dishes.

An oyster-egg crepe starter was rubbery and bland -- except for sparks of black pepper -- and left a greasy film in my mouth. Under-oystered, too: one of the four quartered pieces lacked an oyster. "Hand-made wheat noodles with pork and napa cabbage” -- i.e. chow mien -- was no better than average steam-table fare: heavy with oil and no wok char on the noodles, cabbage, or pork. Steamed ground pork patty with salted fish was the best of the three, though this, too, was bland and would have benefited from more ginger and scallion; also, there was less fish meat on the little salted fish bits than in other versions I’ve tried.

I asked for a side of the chili bean paste to taste because we didn’t order any of the dishes it’s used in. Although too garlicky, it had the hot fruitiness of fresh peppers alongside dried peppers. Nice touch.

All in all, a disappointing meal. If you’re going to pitch a restaurant as authentic Chinese in San Francisco and charge 2 people $60 for dinner, it should stand up to Koi Palace, Great Eastern, R&G, or Z&Y. Wo Hing falls far short. If I had to eat at a Charles Phan restaurant again, I’d much rather return to the Slanted Door or Heaven’s Dog, even though I’m not a huge fan of either, and at least get some creativity and lighter, bolder flavors.

Wo Hing General Store
584 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. Damn, i had high hopes as well. do you think any of it might be opening jitters?

    1. $30pp for "street/snack/comfort food"--particularly if as poorly executed as you describe--is absurd, although the ingredients and dishes (esp. ground pork with salged fish) are certainly authentic home-cooked fare. When chef Syhabout (Commis) created the Hawker Fare menu to recall the street/snack/comfort food of his youth, he priced the dishes accordingly.

      Hawker Fare
      2300 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94612

      2 Replies
      1. Thanks for the report....doesn't really surprise me since the relocation of something started by Phan back in its old location is more of a sentimental thing for him and the fans.

        "the goal is authenticity, not fusion or creativity" - perhaps the waitstaff meant that in terms of the menu lineup attempting traditional style dishes. I agree, there's no fusion or creativity in xiao long bao or the Sichuan stuff they offer, or the stir fried noodles which are prevalent across town.

        Your description of the oyster crepe may have been drawn from the original version that is Chiu Chow style oyster pan fried omlette/pancake (that is also seen in some parts of Fujianese street snack types)...and there are Vietnamese Chinese who are of Chiu Chow Chinese descent (not sure if Charles is CC Vietnamese himself)...but it sounds like WH's rendition is nothing more than a gentrified and simplified version.

        The "general store" theme reminds me of these stuck in the 50s and 60s era general convenience stores in Hong Kong, perhaps Macau, and maybe there are places like this in Chinese communities in Malaysia, where they sell random things but mostly ice cold drinks, trinkets, ice cream, candy etc but sometimes has a secret weapon where the store owner specializes in some rustic traditional lost receipe handed down the generations (could be a sweet or savory snack item, maybe made with sticky rice) or perhaps some cheap quick bites or plates. Wo Hing seems way too fancy to be a general store of this description.

        Wo Hing General Store
        584 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        2 Replies
        1. re: K K

          Yes, the oyster crepe probably was supposed to be Chiu Chow style, which I tried once at a Chiu Chow restaurant in Hong Kong. The Wo Hing version wasn't even gentrified -- it was just plain badly executed.

          Wo Hing General Store
          584 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          1. re: K K

            You don't mean a kopitiam, do you?

          2. i was there on the same night. the meal began promising enough with a fresh yuba and mushroom salad. a mix of mushrooms tossed with fresh, creamy yuba trips. it was delicious. everything went downhill from there.

            the xlb were just bad. one of mine had a torn skin, and the other one didn't seem to have much discernible juice. but the worst was the pork filling, which was dried out, tough, and chewy.

            the handmade noodles tasted fine enough. the noodles were very thin, and not as toothsome as one might expect from handmade noodles. they came stir-fried with napa cabbage, pork, and shiitake mushrooms. they tasted like...what that sound likes.

            the poached half chicken was, as our server described, a take on hainan chicken rice. just without the rice. it came with a green ginger sauce on the side. the chicken was poached the way i've seen cantonese chickens cooked: pink on the bone. which i like but seems to make most americans queasy or uncomfortable. it looks slightly undercooked. but i like it that way. it's the only way i can enjoy eating poached chicken breast at all.

            but the chicken was also under-seasoned. yes, i know that is what the sauce is for, but there wasn't enough. and i think some level, or a higher level, of salinity in the poaching liquid would have benefited the meat itself. we needed another side of the ginger sauce, and we were brought a soy-chile dip as well. so, for me, a perfectly poached though not especially flavorful chicken that will probably disappear from the menu because everyone thinks its undercooked, or they will start cooking it to a higher temperature and i wouldn't enjoy it anymore.

            service was wonderful. and being by the window the saturday night before halloween provided much entertainment. i anticipated the high prices, knowing this was a charles phan restaurant. i know the difference between the slanted door and "vietnamese" restaurants. so...maybe if wo hing didn't try sticking to traditional chinese foods, it would be better. if that makes any sense. my friend and i decided we'd return in a couple months to see if the food improves. but i did find this to be pretty disappointing.

            1. The hubs and I were also disappointed by Wo Hing. First of all, as mentioned by many other posters, the prices are insane. But I'm willing to pay a premium to get some Chinese food in my hood. Especially because the setting and service are noticeably better than other Chinese restaurants (not that this is important to me, but I understand why they are able to/have to charge more to provide those things).

              Of the four dishes we ordered, I found the chicken with ginger to be pretty blah. It was a very plain, almost nursery food-like stir fry with no zing from the ginger. The soup dumplings were passable, but not great. The filling was sort of coarse and mushy. These wouldn't stand a chance against what you can get in L.A., but they were fine for SF (though over twice as expensive as anywhere else I've seen). The salt and pepper squid was lukewarm and the coating had started to go soggy as a result. Also, not assertively peppery enough, lacked the fresh chiles and garlic that set this dish apart from the typical bar food version of fried calamari. I did really enjoy the water spinach. I love this veggie anywhere, but I thought this was a very good rendition, well-seasoned with a nice pungent dose of shrimp paste. The plate however was laughably small. Water spinach isn't even particularly expensive so he could easily offer twice as much and still turn a tidy profit I'd imagine.

              Anyway. Disappointing, but I'll be back in a couple of weeks to try the beef with tendon noodle soup b/c if there's going to be tendon soup within 4 blocks of my house, I'm going to have to get it.

              1. Was disappointed by our meal there too. If they are trying to go for authentic they are failing, because most of the dishes tasted off and really seemed unseasoned perhaps for the mission hipster palate? We were a party of five and tried most of the menu and food was very uneven and poorly prepared. Neither the quality, portion size or ingredients seemed to justify the prices. I'm sure it will be popular with the Mission folks and the Marina ones that come to the mission to hang out but it was a total miss for us.

                2 Replies
                1. re: tjinsf

                  Mission Chinese, hipster favorite, is if anything over-seasoned.

                  1. re: SteveG

                    This is a glorified intro to Chinese cuisine many folks wouldn't normally gravitate to. Anyone on this board would probably be not a candidate to go here!

                    Wo Hing general store definitely has potential, but needs to enhance some dishes. This restaurant is a good place for those unfamiliar with non-Americanized Chinese food.
                    The service and cocktails are just right.

                    Only standout dishes:
                    Sichuan Braised Brisket with daikon ($22) was an excellent special dish that was slightly spicy and very tender.

                    House-made wheat noodles, pork shoulder, green cabbage, preserved radish ($14) contained lots of tender shredded pork along with some clearly homemade noodles.

                    Red Braised Pork Trotter ($16) was correctly done with very tender pig’s feet. Nice broth, although this dish is hard to consume all during one sitting by say 2 people.

                    My blog post:

                2. I have a much more positive take on Wo Hing than many others. While I would not call myself a true connoisseur of Chinese food, I have eaten lots of it in SF and NYC and lived for a year in HK.

                  Our meal was as follows:

                  Winter Melon Soup with Crab -- a very rich seafood/melon broth complemented with a nice amount of sweet crab. A bit of pepper spiciness rounded out the dish. Very good.

                  Shanghai Dumplings -- Very tender wrappers enclosed a vibrant soup and soft chunks of flavorful meat. Excellent

                  White Shrimp with rice noodles -- more subtle than the other dishes but still complex and satisfying. Excellent.

                  Szenchuan braised beef brisket -- the brisket was very tender and flavorful; the sauce was rich and had a real kick to it. Not as complex as other dishes. Very good.

                  Gai Lin -- Tender but still crisp with a good oyster sauce.

                  The portions seemed ample to me -- the foregoing was more than enough for two (I over ordered expecting smaller dishes).

                  The service was attentive maybe even trying too hard. And the atmosphere is quite nice.

                  No doubt Wo Hing is significantly more expensive than other places, but the dining experience is much more sophisticated than most Chinese restaurants. And I certainly think the food is more complex and better executed than Mission Chinese. I will go back, but don't feel the need to rush back.

                  Wo Hing General Store
                  584 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: SFDude

                    Ate here post-Marsh (Will Durant--worth a visit) and loved it.

                    Tried five dishes. From memory: Shanghai dumplings, the best feature of which was mouth-filling, delicious pork; my spouse's Chinatown fav, pork hash with salt fish, here served in some sort of liquid--I prefer the dry style, but spouse enjoyed; asparagus w. Chinese bacon, pleasant if not wow; and my two favorites--both rich but memorable and notable for an unexpected similarity between the incredible house-made noodles--thick and velvety--and the texture of the scrambled eggs (with pork belly). After a Zombie, I tried a Scholium Project rose, which was a delight.

                    Service was friendly and attentive.

                    Can't wait to go back, and I sure don't say that often! (Last time was probably Park Korean in LA.)

                  2. The lukewarm reception Wo Hing initially received kept me away for a while, but after more than six months, I figured they'd have come into their own. Nope ...

                    Overall, I found them to have a very light touch with all their dishes. Nothing was too oily or sweet. This was the anti-PF Changs. At the same time, they're under-aggressive with their seasonings.

                    We started with the Fried 5 Spiced Local Squid, Jalapenos, Lemon Slices. I didn't detect 5 spice powder, so I think the 5 spice must refer to 5 different spices. The coating was thick, yet delicate and crispy. I liked the texture and I also liked that it was served with battered jalapenos and lemon slices. But even with the jalapenos, the spices and salt were kept to a minimum. I prefer Wo Hings batter, but Yuet Lee's salt and pepper squid's spicing makes for a better dish.

                    My goodness, I can't believe we plopped down $15 for the fanny bay oysters, egg & rice flour crepe, green garlic chives. The oysters were good, but they overpowered the delicate flavors of the other ingredients. This dish was a big failure.

                    The asparagus and garlic confit was fresh, crisp, and delicious.

                    The housemade wheat noodles, pork shoulder, green cabbage, & preserved radish was my favorite dish, but not for the reasons it should have been. The texture of the noodles is of course different, but thanks to the use of oyster sauce, the dish tastes just like a New York style lo mein.

                    The braised pork belly, fermented red tofu, taro root, cage free egg was an enigma. The pork was the most tender I've ever had a red braised dish. The pork was the consistency of custard and pork easily shredded underneath my fork. But the wonderful texture was not matched with intense flavors. Even after all that braising, the flavor was too light and the sauce it was served in too watery for the rice I served it over. Compare this to what I had at Bund Shanghai a few weeks back. Theirs had strong flavors, more of sauce than meat, and a texture so tough I embarrassingly broke a chopstick while cutting it.

                    The scallops, pea pods, and mushrooms was a really boring dish. The scallops had a nice searing though.

                    So, foodwise, not much going on unless you want to spend $13 for something reminiscent of NY style lo mein (I'd do that...). On the upside, my dining companions all were very pleased with their mixed drinks. The pina colada was great and their Mescal por mi Amante had a wonderful smokiness to it.