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Feb 12, 2013 12:20 AM

Chef-created Chinese Dishes

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. 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?

    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

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

        1 Reply
        1. re: mr_morcilla

          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. 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.

          11 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            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

              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.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

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

              1. re: ipsedixit

                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: ipsedixit

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

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      No one's answering. Odd.

                      I'll try again later.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        No worries, I really do appreciate that you tried.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          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

                            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

                              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. 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.

              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,, 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,

              1 Reply
              1. re: Melanie Wong

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


              2. 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

                  Sounds very interesting!

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