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.