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Chef-created Chinese Dishes

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hyperbowler Feb 12, 2013 12:20 AM

SF has its fill of regional Chinese restaurants and various Chinese hybrid cuisines from Korean Chinese to Peruvian Chinese. When I think of American Chinese restaurants, I naively think of overlapping menus, with few if any specials truly unique to the chef. What are some of the noteworthy dishes you'll find only at one restaurant in the Bay Area, but not at any other, and certainly not in China?

One that comes to mind is Henry's Hunan "Diana's Special," a sandwich of "Deep-fried flour cakes filled with meat sauce, Parmesan cheese, vegetables [lettuce], onions and condiments" and optionally lathered with a hot sauce containing chiles, black beans, garlic, and ginger. It's a greasy but strangely appealing dish, and more reminiscent of something from a taqueria than what you'd typically find at a Chinese restaurant.

Love them or hate them, the menus at Mission Chinese and House of Nanking fulfill this niche. I would hope there are some 90s style "fusion" places that have something notable too. What about neighborhood Chinese places that don't normally attract Chowhound attention, anything happening there?

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  1. Melanie Wong RE: hyperbowler Feb 12, 2013 12:59 AM

    If the dish is only found in one place, why would it be called fusion or American Chinese instead of the chef's own creation rooted in his/her own individual culinary experience?

    No idea where Tommy Toy's seafood bisque oven baked in a fresh coconut topped with puff pastry originated. I haven't had the dish there for 20+ years. Surely it draws inspiration from Paul Bocuse's 1975 black truffle soup V.G.E. created for French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. But no idea whether it was invented by Tommy or came via China, which would make it Chinese-Chinese perhaps?
    http://www.tommytoys.com/menus/signat...

    Tomato beef chow mein is said to be invented in San Francisco. Salmon with black bean sauce, likewise. But both have been propagated across many menus.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
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      hyperbowler RE: Melanie Wong Feb 12, 2013 07:06 AM

      "If the dish is only found in one place, why would it be called fusion or American Chinese instead of the chef's own creation rooted in his/her own individual culinary experience?"

      100% agreed--- thanks for highlighting that. "Chef-inspired" or "Chef creation" Chinese would have been a better label for this thread and I'll request a name change from the mods.

      1. re: Melanie Wong
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        hyperbowler RE: Melanie Wong Mar 6, 2013 06:39 AM

        Tommy Toy's will close by the end of the month:

        http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

      2. mr_morcilla RE: hyperbowler Feb 12, 2013 08:01 PM

        Mission Chinese and House of Nanking in the same sentence? Ouch.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mr_morcilla
          Robert Lauriston RE: mr_morcilla Feb 27, 2013 03:08 PM

          House of Nanking was great at the beginning. Peter Fang made wonderful personal variations on Shanghai standards. It might still be possible to eat well there if you order right, due to the lines I haven't tried in years.

        2. Melanie Wong RE: hyperbowler Feb 27, 2013 01:18 PM

          I'd say that the deconstructed presentation of winter melon at The Garden Restaurant is chef-created though can't say whether invented here or copied from another restaurant.
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/891790

          11 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong
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            hyperbowler RE: Melanie Wong Feb 27, 2013 05:45 PM

            Nice! It makes sense that you'd see some cool innovations at banquet meals.

            I need to peruse a few Chinese vegetarian restaurants. From what I've eaten, it's mainly subsitutions of non-meat for meat, but there's got to be some interesting new creations out there. I'd like to believe SF in 2013 has a larger quantity of creative Chinese dishes than can be found in the unused China Moon cookbooks sold at every garage sale.

            1. re: hyperbowler
              Melanie Wong RE: hyperbowler Feb 28, 2013 10:13 AM

              Well, some of the neighborhood places have custom dishes that they name after a regular customer who always orders it that way. But these tend to be more on the order of wonton soup topped with XYZ. I'm trying to recall the chowhound who has a dish named after him on the menu at one of his usual haunts.

              If you're serious about pursuing Chinese vegetarian cuisine, then you should make the pilgrimage to Jyun Kang.
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/21406
              http://www.cttbusa.org/jyunkang/jk.asp

            2. re: Melanie Wong
              ipsedixit RE: Melanie Wong Feb 27, 2013 07:28 PM

              Happy Harbour in Rowland Heights, CA has a very similar dish as part of their banquet menu.

              1. re: ipsedixit
                Melanie Wong RE: ipsedixit Feb 28, 2013 10:15 AM

                I would love to know what the name of the dish is. I asked our waiter and I couldn't catch the meaning of his reply. Here's the phone number for The Garden, (415) 956-7888.

                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  ipsedixit RE: Melanie Wong Feb 28, 2013 07:02 PM

                  Did you want the Chinese name?

                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    Melanie Wong RE: ipsedixit Feb 28, 2013 07:13 PM

                    Yes, I'd love to have the Chinese name and an English translation.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      ipsedixit RE: Melanie Wong Feb 28, 2013 07:30 PM

                      No one's answering. Odd.

                      I'll try again later.

                      1. re: ipsedixit
                        Melanie Wong RE: ipsedixit Mar 4, 2013 12:24 PM

                        No worries, I really do appreciate that you tried.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong
                          ipsedixit RE: Melanie Wong Mar 4, 2013 02:51 PM

                          Ok, I just talked to them.

                          There's no special name.

                          Chinese name in Mandarin is 冬瓜羹

                          And the English name is simply "Winter Melon Soup".

                          Hope that helps.

                          (By the way I confirmed we were talking about the same dish as I made her describe it to me and matched it with your photo from the original post.)

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            Melanie Wong RE: ipsedixit Mar 4, 2013 03:25 PM

                            Thank you for the college try. No, there's another name, I know dong gua tang. My sense was that it was kind of poetic and the server tried to explain the meaning to us. Does Happy Harbour have a special name for the similar dish?

                            1. re: Melanie Wong
                              ipsedixit RE: Melanie Wong Mar 4, 2013 03:39 PM

                              Don't recall off the top of my head, I'd have to call and ask cuz I believe it's only available as part of their banquet menus.

            3. Melanie Wong RE: hyperbowler Feb 27, 2013 06:12 PM

              I'll nominate the Ma Po Doufu Dungeness Crab at China Village in Albany. Hopefully that place reopens while we still have local crab so you can try it.
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/21406

              Need not be banquets, but a restaurant needs to have a real chef to be turning out new dishes instead of rote cooking. Mr. Yao once told me that he expects his chefs to invent new specials. Once I had described to him a dish I'd had at a new place in Milpitas, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/539216, and he immediately knew who was in kitchen as this dish had been prepared for him in an audition. Here's a photo of that beautifully presented spicy pig ear cold appetizer on PekoePeony's blog,
              http://pekoepeony.blogspot.com/2008/0...

              1 Reply
              1. re: Melanie Wong
                h
                hyperbowler RE: Melanie Wong Feb 27, 2013 06:42 PM

                That does sound good. There's a report of getting the crab off-menu at Happy Golden Bowl from a former CV chef:

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8406...

              2. JoyM RE: hyperbowler Mar 5, 2013 04:21 PM

                When I lived in San Mateo I used to eat a lot at a hole in the wall called Sun Tung. Their food is a mixed bag -- everything from sweet and sour pork and chow mein lunch specials to Shanghai dishes like XLB. Some of their dishes are quite creative; stuff that I've never seen anywhere else, like pork and dill dumplings, and various types of latin american veggies, like chayote, stir-fried. I really miss those pork and dill dumplings.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JoyM
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                  hyperbowler RE: JoyM Mar 6, 2013 06:51 AM

                  Sounds very interesting!

                  D'oh, I thought that place sounded familiar... a new restaurant replaced it called Happy Noodles.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/879963

                2. h
                  hyperbowler RE: hyperbowler May 30, 2014 11:40 AM

                  New to SF, Chino : http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/977169

                  The House in North Beach is more general Asian-fusion or Japanese than Chinese inspired overall, but the saucing and Shanghai noodles in their wasabi noodles fit the bill of this thread (easy to make at home too from their cookbook recipe, but add some chili oil to approximate how they currently serve it

                  )

                  Are the offerings at local cha chaan teng places all based on Hong Kong standards, or do the chefs here ever get playful?

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