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New Woey Loy Goey Restaurant -- amazing lobster with Cantonese (black bean / ginger) sauce [San Francisco]

Last night we stumbled into a basement restaurant in Chinatown -- New Woey Loy Goey Restaurant.

Looks like it has been there for a very long time.
I see only one or two mentions here on chowhound, both several years old.

I asked if they had any specialties, and the waiter pointed to the fish tank and said they did crab or lobster with a black bean sauce (or alternatively, I believe, ginger scallion). I asked if the black bean was the traditional cantonese sauce for lobster, and he said yes. So I decided to try the lobster cantonese.

This was my favorite dish as a child (only for special occasions, as it was expensive!), but I have not had it in a long time (decades!)

I've never tried it before anywhere in SF, so I have no idea whether I lucked out or whether other places in SF are this good. But this was absolutely amazing. One of my favorite things ever. The sauce had black beans, ginger, ground pork, chunks of onion and chunks of green pepper. It was amazingly flavorful, and the lobster was perfectly cooked and delicious. This was quite different from the more bland 1970s east coast counterpart that I remembered. But I have to say, even with the nostalgia factor, this was much better even than the dish I remember from my youth.

I am craving it again already and can't wait to go back.

Warning! It's pricey but IMO worth it. They charge $18 a pound, and mine showed up as $27 on the bill, so I guess it was a 1 1/2 pound lobster which sounds right for what I received.

Also, when the bill came it looked a bit high. The dishes added up right but the writing below that was cramped and messy. So I asked if the tip had been included, which would have made the grand total add up about right, and our waiter said yes, tip was already included. So watch out for this or you may end up double-tipping...

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  1. Pleased to have this update. Did you order anything else? I've heard that some of the Chinatown restaurants will add in the gratuity for anyone who looks like a tourist. So, yes, do check the bill carefully.

    This place is more than 80 years old. Here's more about Woey Loy Goey:

    6 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Thanks, Melanie. I'm curious since you seem knowledgable: Is this dish always so good? Do you know other places that do it particularly well? Part of me wants to try it at other places, part of me just wants to keep returning here.

      As for the tip, yes, I think they figured we were probably tourists. Clientele seemd to be about half locals (some big families) and half tourists. Perhaps when we return they will catch on...

      Yes, we also ordered:

      Dried scallop soup. This tasted kind of as expected. Kind of an old dried up fishy undertone which is pleasant or unpleasant depending on your perspective.

      Cantonese Fried Chicken. This was good. I am not a fan of fried chicken but I liked this. It seemed to have been prepared much like they might handle a duck. The fat had been kind of rendered out to make a nice crispy skin (no batter added like american style). They had also used some seasonings that made it kind of duck like and not like american style at all. I liked it.

      1. re: pauliface

        Great tip--- The Cantonese fried chicken was as you described it-- the fat was completely rendered out and left a crispy, albeit oily, skin and juicy meat. Comes with shrimp chips.

        For $9, this half a chicken was definitely worth it.

        1. re: hyperbowler

          Juicy meat is not common for this dish. The way this style of chicken is made typically is to start with the salt boiled chicken, the kind served with green onion-ginger oil condiment. It's cooked a second time by deep-frying to crisp up the skin. I love the skin but the meat, especially the white meat, is generally disappointing. I've been told that the secret is to do successive fry,-drain-fry steps so that the meat doesn't get overcooked., but not every kitchen takes the time.

          And for pauliface, sorry, I haven't ordered lobster Cantonese for ages and couldn't tell you where else to go.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            This is unfortunate. When I was a child in Hong Kong, juicy (even white) meat with thin crispy skin was the default. In upscale restaurants, they were (and still are) supposed to cook the chicken by laboriously pouring hot oil over a hanging chicken to cook the meat as well as crisp up the skin, without ever dunking the chicken in any water or oil. It was often debated whether upscale restaurants would use a live (instead of fresh/refrigerated or even frozen) chicken for their Cantonese fried chicken, with the understanding that a steamed chicken dish would always (but perhaps not nowadays) start from a live chicken.

            This kinda reminds me of how sticky rice is supposed to be stir-fried nonstop for 20-30 minutes from scratch. But virtually everyone these days just starts from cooked rice and stir-fries for a few minutes to finish.

      2. re: Melanie Wong

        My Dad use to take me and my siblings there as kids. Use to call it the Basement place. Looks like they cleaned it up a bit. :)

        1. FWIW, my Dad took me there when we visited in the early 70's. We went because his business associates took him there in the early 60's!

          1. Thanks for the detailed description of the sauce!

            There are a few East Coasters here who decry the difficulty in finding East-Coast-style "shrimp in lobster sauce" (sauce used for lobster, not sauce made from lobster) which does not include black beans or onions and peppers; this lobster sauce is clearly the West Coast version.

            1. Woey Loy Goey he'ped keep my body and soul together in the early '60s with its 10 cent baked pork buns. Here's an amusing anecdote which highlights the role it played for the Beat generatkion:


              2 Replies
                1. re: soupçon

                  How white of those old beats! Probably got along well with Officer Jack Manion. Haha, what great guys!

                2. Great report. Reading your description of the lobster made me really hungry.

                  Also pretty cool that this place has been open for more than 80 years. How many tables are in the restaurant?

                  1. When and why did they add "New" to the name?

                    I thought they had moved, but I have a 1943 guidebook that has it at the same address (699 Jackson), so I must be confusing it with some other place.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Calculating the date from the first thread linked in my reply above, December 2001 when it re-opened.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        That matches the liquor license records.

                        Maybe I thought it had moved but they just updated the interior so it looked unfamiliar when I went a few years back. Before that they had funky old booths, right? And they used to be open for breakfast?

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I guess not, it was already "New" in the September 1999 Chronicle stories about a kitchen fire there.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Yeah, I have the business card from 1993 to prove it.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            They added the "New" after a remodel at the same location.

                            A 1930 City Directory has Woey Loy Goey at 683 Jackson, and the 1903 Telephone directory has a "Woey Loy Kue" (which I think is a different transliteration of the same name) at 633 Jackson.

                            1. re: soupçon

                              So there was a previous remodel at 699 Jackson sometime between 1943 and 1993?

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                The best info I have is that the "New" was added sometime after 1982, which narrows the timeline somewhat.

                          2. From a google map, this looks like it must be almost next door - or basement - to Bund Shanghai. Yes?

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: c oliver

                              Funny, google maps has it on the wrong side of the street. It's a basement restaurant, but it's on the south side of Jackson, between Grant and Wentworth. It's on the same side as Z&Y and Great Eastern.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                it's near the corner (Grant ave). almost across the street from Red's (the bar) and new lun ting.

                                1. re: shanghaikid

                                  Thank you both for that. Is there a sign? That makes me chuckle asking that :)

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Yes, you can see the large sign in google map's street view when you rotate around to the correct side of the street.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      Thanks, Melanie. I delight in the idea of going to a place that's been around for 80 years.

                                  2. re: shanghaikid

                                    Ah, Red's brings back memories. I used to hang out there when we were kids (parents were very social at the bar). This was back in the day when my dad knew almost everyone in Chinatown.

                                2. Way way back -- about half a century ago -- it was one of the regular spots for me and my buddies, all of whom were short of money and lived not far from that end of Chinatown. We called the place "Gooey Louies". Our favorite orders were duck broth yee foo wonton, and beef chow mein with black bean sauce.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Sharuf

                                    lol, we called it Huey Dewey Louie after Disney's Donald Duck's 3 nephews in the 70s.

                                    1. re: Sharuf

                                      heh. Four decades ago for me. Same deal, good cheap food. I don't think I've been there for at least 30 years. Does it still look like a NYC subway station? (white tile walls, etc)

                                    2. I returned to the scene of the crime last night. I had friends visiting town and we called ahead for one of the big tables with the giant lazy susan in the middle. We were 9 people, 2 vegetarians among us.

                                      The man in charge recognized me from last time, and our waitress Gloria, who I loved, helped me work out an order for the table, giving frecommendations and worknig in favorites from the group.

                                      I gotta say I love this place. Basically, I feel like they made it easy to put together an informal party with no advance prep.

                                      Here's what we had:
                                      -- fried calamari -- the winner of the group, everyone loved this
                                      -- fried tofu with spice peppers -- also delicious. a simple dish, but very nice
                                      -- potstickers and veggie spring rolls -- nothing special, but perfectly solid

                                      -- vegetarians had a mixed vegetable soup. I did not try, but it looked fresh and good
                                      -- sizzling rice soup -- this is becoming my favorite chinese soup. This was very good, but not the best (which for me is Shanghai dumpling king's at the moment)

                                      -- orange peel beef -- I do not like this dish in general, but it was a fine preparation
                                      -- pork -- I really don't know what this was called. One of our party wanted sweet & sour pork, and Gloria told us to try this instead. It was great. Pieces of pork, most attached to ribs of some sort, slightly fried in a tangy sauce. Very nice.
                                      -- eggplant -- I hate eggplant and would not taste it. But the peoople who ordered it loved it.
                                      -- chinese style fried chicken -- we got this last time and it was just as good the second time
                                      -- lobster -- we got a different kind than last time, this one over noodles to soak up the sauce. It had a lot of green onions in the sauce. It was very good, but not as good as the black bean ginger one from last time.

                                      All in all, a lovely evening.
                                      I feel so glad to have a go-to restaurant in chinatown now.

                                      Also: this time they did *not* automatically add the tip in.So, Melanie, I think you were right in saying that they do this for tourists but not locals...

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: pauliface

                                        Thanks for the report. I want to try this place sometime soon, and it's good to know you can call ahead for a big table.

                                        What did the pork/pork-chops look like? Was the sauce a dark color, or a light color? Curious to know what version of pork this was!

                                        1. re: pauliface

                                          Sounds like you had Peking spareribs and Lobster lo mein (with ginger-scallion sauce).

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Peking spareribs sounds right. She never named the lobster dish, but I suspect lobster lo mein is correct. There was not a lot of ginger, but I do think there was some...

                                            There was not a lot of sauce on the pork; it was more worked into the coating. But I'd say it was not dark, more matching the color of the meat itself perhaps?

                                            1. re: pauliface

                                              There's a dry style of Peking spareribs that we don't see much any more, the saucier versions being more prevalent now.
                                              I googled to find an image and nothing comes up. This is the closest, but even this has more sauce and breading.

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                aha. I'd say we had the dry style then.
                                                What we had last night was neither as red nor as wet as your image. However the shapes of the pieces was similar.

                                                This image is close, if you take away the orange slices and baby corn...

                                                1. re: pauliface

                                                  Maybe you had salt & pepper spareribs, if the sauce was not reddish. But since you said the sauce was tangy and the dish was offered as a substitute for sweet & sour pork, I thought Peking spareribs was more likely.

                                        2. East Coast lobster cantonese is usually without the black beans.

                                          1. Thanks to this report, I had dinner here tonight. It was pretty busy when I walked in around 7:45, and actually got busier as the evening went on. Still nearly full at 9 PM on Sunday, though some larger tables were starting to empty out.

                                            We ordered a version of sweet and sour porkchops that I saw on a neighboring table. It was on the menu, in the pork section, though I'm not seeing it now on any online version of the menu. I can't recall the name, but it was basically the same as the Zhenjiang spareribs at Lucky River, which I really like. Portion was extremely huge.

                                            Sauteed pea pod stems were OK. A tad undersalted, and a bit tough, but again a ridiculously large portion. We barely made a dent.

                                            Shrimp w/ lobster sauce was a version w/ some pork, some black beans and lots of onions and peppers. Shrimp wasn't overcooked, but didn't taste amazingly fresh, and the sauce was only OK. I'd probably skip in the future, and would probably skip 'lobster sauce' here in general.

                                            Spicy eggplant in claypot was also very large, with pieces of eggplant, strips of mushroom, and pieces of bamboo shoot. Wasn't my favorite version of claypot eggplant, but it wasn't bad. A bit sweet, but not overly so like it is at many places.

                                            Total bill was $43, before tip. There were only two of us, but with steamed rice, this was enough food for 5 people. We brought back more than half in leftovers.

                                            Thanks to pauliface and others who reminded me about this place!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Dave MP

                                              in the old school 'lobster sauce' from the 50s and 60s of my childhood, minced pork was an essential element, as were egg white and fermented black bean. the stuff in your photo though appears like it might have catsup, which goes in some other old style sauces but wouldn't be correct for 'traditional' lobster sauce.

                                              1. re: moto

                                                Yeah, it did look like it contained ketchup, but it didn't really taste that way. It was strange. Maybe there was a tiny bit for a touch of sweetness?

                                                It did contain pork, and egg white, and the black beans. I'm not sure what else.

                                            2. For the lobster in black bean sauce, try the old timey Grant Av restaurants -- Imperial Palace (still around?), Four Seas, Empress of China, Far East Cafe...haven't been but worth a phone call for you.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Sarah

                                                Imperial Palace isn't owned by the same people anymore. not on grant either (where tommy toy worked)
                                                imperial is now on washington st.