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May 13, 2013 11:43 AM

A Toronto Chowhound's trip report: Sunnyvale, San Jose, Sonoma, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and San Francisco

Tao Tao
We lunched at Tao Tao, which is famous for their Chinese Chicken Salad. It was unlike other Chinese Chicken Salads I've tried. This one included rice in the mix. We also shared Wor Won Ton Soup, Tao Tao Beef and Lemon Chicken. I really liked their Wor Won Ton. Very reasonably priced. We shared the lunch specials of each dish, rather than ordering a la carte.

San Jose
Minato in Japantown
Met up with a friend at Minato, which had become a tradition when I'm in San Jose. Friendly service and good food.

Hunan Taste
This place is an old favourite for us, and some people in my family have been going here for 25+years. We ordered the Mo Si Soup (pork, bean curd and greens), the Hunan eggplant with meat sauce, dry sauteed string beans without meat sauce, and the Seafood Delight.

El Molino Central
I finally made it to El Molino Central, after having it on my list for at least 3 years. We tried the pineapple agua fresca, the guacamole, the chile relleno, enchiladas suizas and skirt steak tacos. Everything was delicious, and I look forward to visiting next time I'm in the area.

Mateo's Cucina Latina
This place worked well for our group of 11. We shared the fried smelts, halibut ceviche. I tried the fried oyster salad, and ordered at duck tamal. Others at the table tried the saddle of lamb, the salmon in mole, various tacos. Chef Mateo visited each table while we were there. I liked everything I tried, and would return next time I'm in Healdsburg.

The Spinster Sisters
We had a weekday breakfast at The Spinster Sisters. I enjoyed my asparagus, bacon, mushroom and fontina scramble. They offer a Golden State hash, with golden beets and corned beef, which I thought was a neat idea.

San Francisco
Ferry Building and Saturday Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building
I had time to walk through the Farmers' Market, but was too short on time to stop and buy anything. What an amazing selection of produce. At the Ferry Building, I picked up some dark chocolate English toffee for gifts at Miette,as well as some locally made chocolate bars.

Saha for dinner
We decided to go the prix fixe route at Saha. Our group of 4 ordered: the kale and quinoa salad, the fattoush and an Egyptian pureed spinach soup for our starters, a crab stuffed artichoke, fava bean cake, Yemeni style okra and seafood stuffed kibbeh for the small plate, and the lamb tagine, vegetable tagine, couscous royale and lamb mansaf for mains. I loved the lamb tagine, and preferred it to any version I've ordered or made. Lavender creme brulee and a coconut/mango/passionfruit mousse for dessert. Quite a loud space, and not too much atmosphere, but great food. I'm glad we went to Saha.

Dim Sum at Great Eastern
We needed to leave SF by 10 am, and I discovered Yank Sing, Lai Hong Lounge and City View open at 10 am. I started searching for dim sum options open before 10, and found Dol Ho, Great Eastern, and a few others. We went with Great Eastern, and were very happy. For those who haven't been, Great Easter uses a menu checklist, rather than carts. We enjoyed the cilantro shrimp dumplings, sticky rice in lotus leaf, fried turnip cake (both fried and steamed are offered), steamed bbq pork buns and shrimp paste stuffed eggplant.While Toronto often prides itself on its dim sum, I'd say the 5 dishes were ordered at Great Eastern was better than what we'd find in Toronto at a similarly priced restaurant. Our 5 dishes came to just under $21, including tea.

Andale at SFO. Huevos Rancheros. Pretty good for an airport breakfast, if you ask me!Took a chicken burrito for the plane, which was better than anything United was selling.

Thanks to everyone for all their comments and recommendations.

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  1. Thanks for the report! After reading this, I definitely want to try Great Eastern for dim sum sometime soon. What time did you arrive at the restaurant, and how busy was it? Also, what day of the week was it?

    8 Replies
    1. re: Dave MP

      We were at Great Eastern from 9:30 am-10:15 am on a Saturday morning. It was around 1/3 full when we arrived, and 2/3 full when we left. The opening time on the MenuPages webpage is incorrect. Great Eastern is open at 9 am on Saturdays and Sundays, and at 10 am during the week.

      It was what I'd consider at the better quality end of the economical dim sum spectrum. I'd think Yank Sing and City View might be better for innovative dim sum and service, but Eastern Standard went beyond my expectations for decent dim sum in Chinatown at this price point.

      Just to clarify, when I wrote both steamed and fried turnip cake (lo bak go) are offered, I mean you check off whether you want the fried or steamed version on the menu. Didn't want Chowhounds to be expecting duo of turnip cake!

      Great Eastern is where President Obama had dim sum while visiting San Francisco last year. I'm not sure if I've eaten at any other American restaurants after President Obama has visited, but seeing that the President ate there made me a little more likely to dine at Great Eastern than some of the other dim sum restaurants on my list (Wing Sing, Dol Ho, Delicious Dim Sum, Good Luck) that were also open by 9 am on a Saturday.

      1. re: prima

        To be accurate, he did take-out dim sum for himself and his entourage from there (over $100 worth), which presumably was consumed in the limousine.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Thanks for the clarification, Ruth! Most of what I read about his visit was based on a little broken telephone via Yelp reviews. :-)

        2. re: prima

          Thanks again for this report, and inspiring us to go back for a new look at Great Eastern. Turns out the only place where we overlapped in ordering was for the pan-fried turnip cake which I felt was barely average. Other things fared better.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Sounds like a fun chowmeet! While I enjoyed the 5 dishes we ordered, the turnip cake was the one that was the most average, followed by the stuffed eggplant. I suppose one thing I really liked about GE was that there were no complete misses. At this price point in Toronto's Chinatown (Dundas/Spadina, not northern burbs), I'm used to dim sum where 2 or 3 dishes tend to be duds. I wasn't looking for wow, at a walk-in Chinatown dim sum I hadn't read about on CH, so I was pleasantly surprised when everything we ordered was average or better (for us). ;-)

            Are there any specific places you'd recommend for turnip cake for another visit to SF?

            1. re: prima

              The daikon cake at Out the Door on Sutter is excellent.

              Yank Sing used to make my favorite turnip cake but they changed to a vegetarian recipe and now it's meh.

              1. re: prima

                Koi Palace makes the best version of panfried daikon cake, served up with housemade chile sauce.

                Lai Hong Lounge's is also very good.

          1. Some more thoughts about Mateo's in Healdsburg.

            The current printed menu at Mateo's was considerably more descriptive, complex and innovative than the online menu. The online menu doesn't do the restaurant justice. There were also at least half a dozen dishes on a printed features menu, as well as a few daily features that were offered verbally by the server.

            Several of the features involved seafood. The fried cornmeal-crusted oysters served in my salad (which isn't listed on the online menu), as well as the raw oysters, were Drakes Bay oysters.

            My duck tamal, served with a duck egg and rice, and some type of mole sauce, was one of the features. Several different moles were used in various feature dishes, including a green mole which did not contain chocolate. The servers were knowledgeable and helpful.