Chowdown at Ming's Diner Report (San Francisco)
This month's dish of the month, Stuffed Chicken with Sticky Rice, motivated a Chowdown at Mings Diner in the Outer Sunset. We came, we saw, we snuck off to Marco Polo for gelato afterwards.
We decided to get the $58 menu, which is portioned to serve 4-6. It included:
Seafood w/ tofu soup
Salt & pepper prawns in the shell
Steamed oysters w/ black bean sauce
Clams in super soup
Calamari w/ tender green
Baked crab w/ ginger and scallion: At no extra charge, they gave us lobster rather than crab.
As there were nine of us, we also ordered:
Eggs whites w/ mustard greens, pine nuts, and ham
Dragonballs (fried balls of tofu with a sauce that included dried scallops)
Small stuffed chicken with sticky rice ($8.25)
Large stuffed chicken with sticky rice ($28)
Mung bean dessert (for free!)
Melanie Wong graciously brought two delicious wines, and a friend of mine kindly brought a great cider, to accompany the meal. There's no corkage fee, nor is there a corkscrew. Vincent Lo, in the role of Han Solo, flew into the restaurant with a corkscrew at our direst moment.
Chicken report is at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8716...
I'll post my impressions of specific dishes later, but the food, including the large stuffed chicken, was overall much more satisfying than that eaten at the recent Chowdown at Zen Peninsula. Plus, ordering a set menu also gave us a nicely balanced meal that covered a lot of techniques and flavors. The bill, including tip, came to $20/person and a few people left with leftovers.
I had a great time too--- thanks to all who came!
Thank you to hyperbowler for organizing this excellent chowdown at Ming's Diner to compare the big and small Stuffed Chicken w/Sticky Rice for the SF October dish of the month.
Thank yous for the generosity of our tablemates for the apple cider, beer, and wines (Phil's Falanghina and Melanie's Riesling) enjoyed by all. 'Hounds are such delightful amiable companions. I enjoyed this evening with y'all. I'd replicate the evening anytime, not a miss at the table! Same food, same 'hounds!
The seafood set was a perfect choice and the supplemental dishes added variety and balance in tastes, texture, and color. Dragonballs are exceptionally healthful and there's intrigue to the final arrival of the eggwhites!
Now that I've tasted both versions at Ming's, I am now a hold out for the more complex $28 Big Chicken - it's a delicious leftover as a chilled nosh - the meat is moist and highly seasoned, and because the rice is cooked beyond soft, it sets up to a pudding consistency. I may special order this again to serve it chilled because I like a cold risotto.
Oh, I apologize for the oversights--- a hat tip to the other bringers of booze! And yes, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening-- it was the first time I've eaten a Chinese set dinner ("wor choy" ?), and I can't wait to have another with fun Chowhounds.
Salt & pepper prawns in the shell: I liked these a lot. Importantly, the heads and tails were crisp and 100% chewable.
Steamed oysters w/ black bean sauce: Oysters are one of my least favorite seafood items, but their flavor worked great with the black bean sauce. I enjoyed the presentation and freshness of this dish, and appreciated it much more than any previously eaten bivalve in black bean sauce.
Calamari w/ tender green: this was my favorite dish. The scored calamari lacked any hint of rubberyness, yet held their structure and flavor well.
Baked lobster w/ ginger and scallion: I got to this dish late, when there were slim pickin's, so I didn't get much out of it. It'll be worth a revisit during crab season.
Pea shoots: underseasoned, definitely missing garlic.
Dragonballs: pleasant texture, and a great vehicle for the sauce.
Fried flounder: Not sure what I think ... this was a difficult item to split across 10 people, and I was a bit timid about ravaging it like I normally would a bone-in fish.
Eggwhites: The pinenuts give the dish depth and provide a nice texture contrast to the gelatinous egg whites. I would have liked a slightly more assertive ham.
We did well, but I'd caution that the restaurant is really loud, especially when Muni went by. Such is life on Taraval... Also, the food came out very rapidly. It was a bit late, but I appreciated that the server offered to give us clean plates at one point.
Marco Polo Gelato was at top form too. The jackfruit and taro were delicious, and were a great way to finish off the evening.
thanks for this - i am so sorry i couldn't go. the food looks wonderful. off to read the report on the stuffed chicken now.
You make a good point about the set menu being balanced -- that's one good reason to order it. Melanie once pointed out to me that the set menu is also likely to be produced competently and expeditiously by the kitchen, since they do it so often.
I really enjoyed the convivial chowdown in search of the dish of the month. I'm glad the quest brought Ming's Diner to the top of a long list of inexpensive spots out in the avenues. It's now on my list of cheap eats to stop by in the area.
To my taste, all the dishes were solidly executed--especially good texture on the squid and vegetables. I enjoyed the egg white preparation (I've only had seafood versions of this before) and particularly like the combo of the fried greens and pinenuts. I don't know that I've ever added salt at a Chinese restaurant before, but the small stuffed chicken was really underseasoned but a few shakes of salt made the crispy exterior quite tasty. The salt and pepper shrimp were not as salty and peppery as I've had elsewhere, but this dish was more subtle than bland.
As an aside--in my wandering about the neighborhood I noticed the new Shandong Deluxe. The only thing I can find on it are a few positive Yelp mentions, with agreement that the noodles are good (la mien), and mention of some unusual dishes such as Xinjiang Chicken Noodles. Anybody been?
I meant to add this picture of the interior of the Dragon Balls from the extensive Vegetables section of the menu. While many (or maybe most) are likely not strictly vegetarian, I imagine the sort of vegi/pescatarian who doesn't mind a bit of stock, dried scallop, or other "invisible" meat would be pretty happy here.
Thanks again hyperbowler for organizing and to Mr. Asia, M and Melanie for bringing beverages.
I agree that the big chicken was better than the little one. It seemed that the little one was originally frozen, perhaps a cornish game hen and the large one was fresh. The skins on both were nicely crisped and held up well, though a bit underseasoned as mentioned by others. The rice stuffing favors were fine, as Cynsa said it had a very soft texture.
My favorite dish of the evening was the clams in super soup. The soup had a concentrated seafood flavor with jalapeno to kick it up.
In general I thought the execution lived up to the "diner" name - the lobster, flounder and oysters were done diner style - noticeably seasoned with salt, soy sauce or chili, rather than a lightly done nuanced style. For example, the flounder had a thick coating, but still very nicely crisped - with a few tablespoons of chopped garlic on top and a strong soy sauce based sauce. I enjoyed it, but there are more finessed versions of the dish. Overall, the set menu we had is a good value with a nice variety of items. p.s. I noted that the vegetarian section of the menu had a number of items.
Another "thank you" to hyperbowler for putting this together.
And, no hyperbole, a wonderful evening of good eating and conversation.
Visiting this stretch of Taraval reminded me it was time for a return to Dumpling Kitchen (between 29th Ave & 30th Ave). Last night's post-debate dinner included XLB and their excellent version of twice cooked pork belly. The Parkside end of Taraval is getting to be a Chow-rich environment.
A group of six visited Ming’s Diner earlier this year in late July for lunch. We ordered the $58 seafood set meal for 4-6. Attached are photos.
Seafood w/Tofu Soup
Salt & Pepper Prawns in the Shell
Steamed Oysters w/Black Bean Sauce
Clams in Super Soup
Calamari w/Tender Green
Baked Crab w/Ginger & Scallion
The stuffed chicken was ordered to supplement the set diner menu on the spot, it was not reserved in advance (was able to get it several times this year both eating in and on take-out without missing a chicken). The stuffing in the chicken in July was especially good; it had more than the usual amount of lop cheong sausage.
There are two printed to go menus at the front desk, both written in Chinese. One menu lists 22 Chef Special dishes from 7.25 to 10.50 (incl glutinous rice spring chicken at 8.25) and 36 dishes priced at 6.75 each. The other menu lists 42 vegetarian dishes from 6.95 t0 13.50 (pea sprouts is the expensive one!).
Ming’s Diner used to have a nice special vegetarian mock goose dish. It is no longer listed on the menu. I did not have the opportunity to order it or ask why and if it is still available. The “dragon ball”/ “pi pa (banjo) tofu,” which we did not ordered this particular visit, is another of their vegetarian menu specials.
After the Ming’s Diner lunch, to make the most of our trip to S. F., we too had gelato dessert further down Taraval Street at Marco Polo, and finished off at the old Happy Bakery and Deli (before fire) at Ocean Ave with half a real roast goose and half a soya chicken.
There's nothing much I have to add to others' comments. The dishes we had at Ming's Diner were all well prepared. Spectacularly? Probably not. It met my expectation of a good Cantonese restaurant in the Sunset/Richmond districts. A solid B+ meal. And can't beat the price!
As for the "clams in super soup." I think many Chinese restaurants use the term super or superior broth in the menu items loosely, and one can't expect they really spend much time or $$ to prepare that broth with Virginia ham, etc.
I like wanderlust's keying in on "diner", that really captures the meal style. No fuss, straight-forward, clean cooking at reasonable prices. The food seemed better to me than my last visit and the room is brighter and the management cheerier.
The steamed oysters on the half shell was my pick of the night. The manager apologized in advance that the oysters were smaller than usual. But to me, they were sweeter than typical and I didn't mind trading volume for the better flavor. On the fried flounder, I broke off the crispy tail fin bones and around the edges, the best part of a fried fish.
The small stuffed chicken didn't do much for me. The larger one was much better. While the rice stuffing was too soft, it was not nearly as mushy and underseasoned as the little one. Many additions, including big cubes of Chinese bacon (lop yuk), but the flavors were sort of washed out.
Thank you to Phil for the lovely Cantina del Taburno Falanghina. A restrained, youthful, fresh, floral, and bone-dry mouthful to contrast with the older, open-knit, waxy, honeyed, tropical and medium-sweet 2002 Basserman-Jordan Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling Spätlese from the Pfalz. Also greatly enjoyed the fruit-bound Angry Orchard hard cider contributed by Matthew, feeding my current cider kick.
Besides the Marco Polo gelato sequel, this chowdown had a prequel as well. Three of us arrived hungry about 45 minutes before our reservation time. We availed ourselves of an order of the minced squab with lettuce cups at Ming's. One chowhound mistook the lettuce cup for a yarmulka.