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Apr 23, 2012 02:37 PM

Quick San Tung Report [San Francisco]

I went to San Tung yesterday (Sunday) at about 4:45 PM. It was pretty crowded, but 5 of us got a table right away. By 5 PM, there was a wait out the door.

Service was sort of slow, and not very attentive, but we eventually managed to order. Food came out relatively quickly once we had placed our order:

Shrimp and leek dumplings were a tad overcooked (some broken wrappers) and tasted under-salted to me. Not as good as the dumplings I had last week at Kingdom of Noodle

Dry fried string beans were very good, although definitely on the sweet side. I really liked the bits of preserved vegetable.

Vegetable noodle soup was simple but comforting, with a nice bite to the noodles and lots of veggies. As an omnivore, I probably wouldn't rush back to get this, but I thought it was a nice veggie option.

Dry version of black bean sauce noodles was not the typical zha ziang mian. Less sauce (I guess this is why it's called 'dry version') and really very little seafood (maybe 4 small shrimps, a few scallops, and a few tiny pieces of squid, amidst some zucchini). This was also pretty sweet, especially compared to other versions I've had of these noodles.

Fried vegetable potsickers were on the greasy side, and I didn't really love the filling, which tasted bitter to me.

This was my first visit to San Tung that didn't include the dry fried chicken, which I think I'd definitely be sure to include from now on. But I left wondering what all the hype is about at San Tung - a 30 minute wait at 5 PM? Really? What else is exceptional here besides the dry fried chicken?

Dave MP

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  1. San Tung hasn't been good for many years. The crowds keep coming though and it doesn't need to improve. San Franciscans like lines and find comfort in them.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Yikes, harsh! :)

      I still really like that chicken, and it makes a great takeaway item to bring into the park for a picnic. I haven't had it since 2008, but when I saw it on a neighboring table last night, it looked and smelled just as good.

      1. re: Dave MP

        The chicken is ok, I've had much better at Korean-Chinese restaurants in the South Bay. But unfortunately, they've all disappeared and I need to find new sources.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          By your own words, since the others no longer exist, San Tung's must be among the best of the restaurants still standing. You mentioned no others that do a better job. The South Bay K-C places you mention evidently didn't have much of a following since they had to put up the out-of-business sign.

          I ate at San Tung twice this weekend while working at an event in the park (no not 4/20!) and as usual enjoyed the dry fried flounder and noodles in peanut sauce. I don't often pass thru the Sunset, but when I do I always look forward to eating at San Tung.

          Sunday I had lunch at the small farmer's market in the parking lot off 9th above Irving. I had a tasty Oaxacan style banana-leaf-wrapped pork tamale with black beans, mild curtido and a fiery salsa. Also a pretty good ground beef, olive, hb egg empanada. I bought some flavorful, but mild, hummus and some garlic pita chips. it's a nice little market.

          Oh, and San Tung has the best kim chi I have ever tasted. It is slightly sweet and has light bbq sauce notes.

          1. re: chocolatetartguy

            No. I don't know that San Tung's is the best of restaurants still standing. I have not embarked on a mission to find replacements in the South Bay. I hope someone will.

            But even if a lousy version of something reigns supreme because of lack of competition, why would one recommend it? We need to have some standards of judgement.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              "We need to have some standards of judgement."

              That's exactly where we part ways. I offer only my opinion. There is no such thing as a standard of judgement. Enjoyment of food is subjective, not objective. If it tastes good, I eat it. I respect your expertise, but on this point and this restaurant I beg to differ. I am much more interested in hearing about places that you like than places you don't like. I try to subscribe to the Thumper/Bambi school of food writing. There are plenty of places enjoyed on this board that I think are overrated, but I prefer to let people make up their own minds. And hey, maybe I'm the one who's in the minority on those places. More power to others if they enjoy those restaurants.

              1. re: chocolatetartguy

                Now this is curious. I'm not sure where there's a parting of ways. Enjoyment is subjective and everyone's taste buds are different. And the only taste buds that matter are one's own.

                Twisting my words to mean that San Tung must be the best since it is extant is just silly. At the same time, I note that you said, "San Tung has the best kim chi I have ever tasted." You've drawn on your personal tasting experience to determine "good, better, best", but I should not have standards as well?

                And fwiw, you've been very consistent in your kimchi preference over the years. :-J

            2. re: chocolatetartguy

              Good to know about the flounder - am definitely interested in trying that.

              I wasn't a huge fan of the kimchi I had last night - it was pretty spicy (which is fine), but I didn't really detect much sweetness or BBQ notes. I wonder if they have different batches with different recipes. I definitely didn't remember it being that spicy on previous visits several years ago.

              Dave MP

              1. re: Dave MP

                Now that you mention it, the kimchi I had Saturday didn't have that sweet note as it did in January. However, I am really looking forward to using the left overs to make fried rice with Evergood Chipotle sausage.

                I like a lot of dishes there including the fried chicken wings, noodle soup with pickled vegetables and the spicy seafood soup. I found the chow mein to be bland.

                All else being equal, I would choose San Tung over Great China and China Village, perhaps because I go to the other two so often. I do like all three of them a lot.

        2. re: Melanie Wong

          @Melanie: when did it stop being good?

          1. re: Dustin_E

            Five or six years ago.

            I often have out-of-town friends ask me about San Tung, and despite my efforts to talk them out of eating there, they still do. Ok, maybe I don't try hard enough because I want to hear a progress report. So far, none of them have praised the place in the last three years or so. It's one thing to have a bad meal, but quite another to have a lot anticipation, wait in an ungodly line, and then have a bad dinner.

            Some day I will get over to So and see if the kids are doing a better job.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              so the dishes have stayed the same, but the seasonings / care in preparation have suffered?

              i went a lot in in 2009 and 2010 -- probably ~20-30 times. It was never a big destination -- we just walked there. Stopped going after finding some other chinese places we liked more. our wait for 2 was usually around 20-30 mins max.

              i've also been meaning to try So.

              1. re: Dustin_E

                What are the Chinese places that you like more?

                Dave MP

                1. re: Dave MP

                  kingdom of dumpling - dumplings, xlb
                  mayflower - crab, dried scallop, bitter melon soup
                  z&y - fish in flaming chili oil
                  steamed live fish - various spots, don't really have a favorite
                  r&g - peking duck, shark fin soup
                  yum's - under the bridge crab
                  bund shanghai - xlb

                  are dishes i like more than what i get when i'm at san tung.

                  1. re: Dustin_E

                    Oooh, yeah, that reminds me that I need to get back to Z&Y sometime soon!

                2. re: Dustin_E

                  San Tung used to be THE place for the dumplings and noodle dish Dave ordered. But his disappointment in them is consistent with other reports I've heard. Also using too much sugar in the chicken. But perhaps other dishes have not slid in the same way.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    i'm almost always very disappointed by the texture of the noodles i get at chinese places.

                    san tung at least does this right, in my opinion.

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      For a similar type of cuisine, I like the noodles at the Shan Dong in Oakland's Chinatown much more than San Tung's. I don't really like the sauce and soup that I've tried with Shan Dong's noodles, but to me the noodles itself are superior to the ones I've had at SF San Tung.

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      I have enjoyed a few meals at San Dong House on Geary at Arguello. Noodles are well made to order, dumplings are varied and tasty, skewers are addictive.

                      I missed the glory days of San Tung, I guess, but prefer the casual-and-delicious experience of San Dong House.

                      Any other comparisons?

                      1. re: anyhow

                        i liked the noodles at bund shanghai, but they were very different from san tung -- thinner and less chewey (but not mushy like almost everywhere else.)

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    I've only been to San Tung once and was disappointed, found the wings too sweet and everything else unmemorable.

                    So, on the other hand, was a big hit for me. The wings weren't as sweet, but with more of a white pepper kick. The noodle dishes were all tasty as well.

              2. dry-fried flounder
                dry-fried prawns
                tea smoked duck
                mu shu pork

                are dishes i've had in the past and enjoyed. i used to go here a lot -- less recently for no particular reason.

                1. We tried San Tung (as take-out) for the first time about 2 weeks ago. We had a meal similar to yours.

                  I really liked the dry fried chicken; the pieces were very meaty and had a good balance of crispy, sweet and hot.

                  I agree exactly with your description of the dry fried string beans, and enjoyed them, too.

                  The black bean sauce noodles were not my favorite. They tasted primarily salty to me without much other flavor. However, my husband liked them much more than I did. It was nice that they packaged the sauce separately from the noodles for take-out. I actually liked the sauce more over some rice the next day.

                  Potstickers were fine; similar to what I have had in other restaurants.

                  A couple of the dishes (I do not remember which ones) were not warm at all when we got them home (about 5 minutes).

                  Bottom line: we will definitely get take-out there again. I probably would not wait in line to eat there unless I was with people who really wanted to go.

                  1. I've soured on it too. A friend of mine and I would go regularly, about seven or eight years ago. Then a few years passed, and I took my parents there for a meal (a few years ago), and I had the same sort of curate's egg experience that Melanie had. Some of the dishes were a little too sweet, and all the soups were extremely salty, almost inedibly so. It probably didn't help that we had eaten Zuni's roast chicken the night before, but I haven't been back since. Maybe I'll have another go sometime soon, just to see for myself.

                    1. The one on the menu called "dry" zha ziang is translated to Korean as Sam Sun Gan Jja Jang Myun.

                      Sam Sun indicates the seafood.
                      Gan means the black bean sauce is freshly stir-fried with oil and served on the side in an additional bowl. The "Gan" is the only difference between the the Dry and non-Dry Korean translations.

                      I'm guessing they might call it "dry" because it's served like Dry Hu Tieu where the broth is served on the side in an additional bowl or possibly the stir-frying of the sauce (like the dry fried chicken), if it's all served as one bowl (haven't had it at San Tung).