Rice Valley replaces China Wok -- any good? [San Francisco]
As I was driving down Monterey Blvd. in SF the other day, I noticed that Rice Valley Shanghai Bistro has replaced China Wok next door to the Safeway. Has anyone been there yet? I plan to go pretty soon -- in the midst of wedding planning for my daughter so don't know exactly when. Anyway, this is just a heads up for those who aren't going crazy. And, by the way, it's very close to the new Shanghai Dumpling King. A comparison should be interesting.
I totally didn't notice this had opened! Chef is reportedly from Shanghai.
I only had a chance to get some takeout dishes. I got the "you won't like that" treatment before the server would allow me to place an order for the Shanghai style spare ribs (fried and in black vinegar). When I got home realized they'd given me the reddish sauced braised Wu-Xi spareribs instead. Hmmph. Still, they were tender and meaty and much better than the Wu-Xi ribs at Old Shanghai.
Preserved cabbage, soy bean, and bean curd sheet was a nice healthy tasting side dish.
Shanghai style rice cakes weren't oily, which is a plus, but they had neither wok char or a developed flavor. Toppings (cabbage, spinach (?), and pork) were lightly cooked.
The menu has enough Shanghainese offerings to justify its name, many you can't get at Shanghai Dumpling King across the street. A minimal number of offal dishes, lots of braised things, lots of crab and eel dishes, crab and/or pork xiao long bao, sheng jian bao, gluten and tofu dishes, a bunch of bing (pancakes), four rice cake dishes, and a bunch of things with preserved vegetables or shepherd's purse (what they call "shanghai vegetable").
The menu helps guide customers to the Shanghainese specialties--- the word "Shanghai" precedes lots of the English dish names, even if it doesn't in Chinese.
Hoping to find dishes not available elsewhere, I did a line by line comparison of Rice Valley's menu to Little Shanghai and Shanghai Dumpling King. Excluding Sichuan, Cantonese, American, and a few Xinxiang lamb dishes, Rice Valley has the following dishes two I've not noticed elsewhere:
Shanghai Omelete Pancake (chicken dan bing -- Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland has a dan bing, but nowhere in SF. I've been on the lookout for dan bing, so I'm excited to try it)
Shanghai breakfast sushi (???)
These piqued my interest too:
Fried celery with gingko nuts
Shanghai spice noodles soup (eight treasure spicy sauce; noodle version available here and at Bund Shanghai)
Lobster braised rice cake (this seems to more commonly be done with crab)
Open everyday 11am-10pm, delivery 5-10pm.
wuxi spareribs is an lost art in milpitas
shanghai delight used to excel in this. it was melt in your mouth, now it's just chewy. thinking they are subbing shanghai sweet & sour spareribs instead.
shanghai jin jiang gourmet also made a poor rendition of wuxi,
wasn't on the menu. they said it was. they also subbed something else instead.
rice valley sounds interesting enough to check out.
Looking through the menu a bit more, there are some other interesting items.
+ #5 Crab meat dumpling on sizzling platter (they don't do this for the regular pork XLB. Has anyone had XLB on a sizzling platter elsewhere?)
+ #88 Crab meat with pork meat ball soup (crab and pork lion's head meatballs, not offered in a braised version)
+ #105 Yangzhou boiled and dried bean curd ( 扬州煮干丝 , Little Shanghai has this shredded dried tofu dish with ham, chicken, and shrimp)
I also noticed that there are three types of spare ribs on the menu, so be careful when you order:
#97 Wuxi style spare ribs (无锡排骨, typically fried and cooked in reddish stewing liquid)
#98 Shanghai style sweet and sour spare ribs (酸甜排骨, sweet and sour spare ribs, typically fried and baked with black vinegar sauce)
#120 Sweet and sour spare ribs ( 京都排骨 , peking style spare ribs)
Interesting. I thought peking spare ribs were like a Cantonese sweet and sour pork, only on the bone. That said, Yank Sing has a peking spareribs with a star-anise flavored black sauce reminiscent of "Shanghai Sweet & Sour" spare ribs, but they're not cut into bite sized pieces.
The Wu-Xi and Shanghai Sweet & Sour are listed both under the primarily Shanghainese "Chef Special" and the hodgepodge "Meat" section. The peking spareribs are only listed under the meat section, so I suspect this is a fool's gold entry on par with the Mongolian Beef.
XLB and braised dishes are probably the best ways to assess a place, but here's what I got:
#3 Shanghai pan fried pork bun (sheng jian bao): pretty good. Bottom crisp and thinner than the rest of the bun, evenly steamed dough, flavorful juicy filling with a droplet of loose liquid. Topped with black sesame seeds and slices of scallion. Not accompanied by a dish of vinegar. Much better than Shanghai Dumpling King's fluffy version.
#11 Shanghai omelet pancake :This item is listed on the take-out menu, but not the restaurant menu, and they no longer make it. The chef was kind enough to make an exception for me, but I could see why they put it to pasture. The search for dan bing continues ...
#80 Lady shong's fish soup : a thickened soup containing little chunks of fish and ji cai (shepherd's purse). Good texture but some pieces of fish tasted a bit off. I've not eaten this dish before, but it in no way resembles the several centuries old mock crab chowder described elsewhere as Madam / Lady Song's fish soup.
#105 Yangzhou boiled and dried bean curd : Thin strips of pressed tofu with chicken, shrimp, and ham. This is a light dish that I could see balancing out an otherwise rich meal. I wasn't sure what you're supposed to do with the cupful of salty broth leftover.
#110 Fried celery with ginkgo nuts : My first time eating ginkgo nuts. Dense and kind of waxy, they're an interesting texture contrast to celery. Another simple dish to cut the fat of heartier ones.
They've got a very large staff and the service was very attentive. The largest tables seat about 8. There's one seat that might fit up to ten.
Having now sampled a bunch of stuff, they're a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I've had some stellar XLB at Shanghai Dumpling King over the years, but when it comes down to hit rate for good dishes, I think Rice Valley has it beat.
They have an opening special: 2 orders of xiao long bao for $8.
#74 Shanghai gluten cake in soy : terrible. Gluten texture and flavor indistinguishable from canned soy gluten. Comes with wood-ear or jelly fungus, peanuts, and black mushroom. Little Shanghai's intense and syrupy version is so much better.
#2 Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao) : small and pretty good. Two of the eight XLB had thin enough skins that the bottoms sank from the weight of the soup. Others were thicker, but no XLB leaked. Skins a little sticky. Not a lot of soup, and its flavor was weak. Meat tasted of Shaoxing wine. I wasn't expecting, and didn't touch, the second basket of XLB, and they all lost their soup by the time the check came.
#124 Shanghai style pork meat ball (red braised lion's head meatball) : pretty good. Good flavor and texture. Not too dense either--- I had to spit out a few big chunks of cartilage, so I would guess the meat is chopped rather than ground. Outside not scorched, insides fully cooked but not dry. Very different than Shanghai House's version, which is juicy, bright pink in the center, and cut with tofu. Thick sauce was really salty, and went great with the baby greens topping the dish.
#50 Shanghai spice noodles soup (八宝辣酱面, eight treasure spicy sauce) : Lots of good pieces, but as a dish, it didn't come together for me. The noodles didn't mingle, and were topped with a thick layer of chili oil that hid the flavor of the broth. Broth itself was reminiscent of that in a tasty wonton soup. Eight treasures appear to be : dried bamboo, black mushrooms, gluten, spiced pressed tofu, chicken, peanuts, scallions, and fermented black beans (?). Gluten, and, especially the chicken, absorbed a good amount of flavor and were intense.
They seem to be doing good business and have a bunch of Chinese cakes in the front area. The other night, I got a complementary slice of layered cassis (?)
Looking around the room, a few things caught my eye. The shanghai noodles seemed thicker than at most places, but didn't have visible wok char. A woman who I suspect was the owner was eating sheng jian bao and pot stickers.
I really like the complementary "kim chee" (I don't know the Chinese name). Crunchy and with a thick red sauce.
#3 "Crab meat dumpling on sizzling platter" $11.99 : Tasty, but I wouldn't get again. Crispy bottom of the skins overpowered the delicate flavor of the filling. Bottoms are crunchy, but so thin that they lack the elasticity of a good potsticker or Sheng Jian Bao. I don't know that I'd be able to identify the flavor as crab, but the texture and flavor of the filling was noticeably different than 100% pork Xiao Long Bao. Inside juice was about a teaspoon of an orangish oil rather than soup. Insides were a solid meatball and liquid instead of the sludgy roe-based filling I had at Din Tai Feng in Shanghai.
#30 Shanghai chow mein : Fine, but lacks the wok char or the pleasantly irregular texture of some other places in town http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/874436
#76 Shanghai veggie and tofu ( 香干馬蘭頭 / pressed bean curd w/ malantou vegetable ) : Minced salty but fresh tasting greens combined nicely with the rubbery pieces of tofu. House of Pancakes has this dish too.
#78 Shanghai casserole : ( 醃篤鮮 , Yān dǔ xiān shāguō ) Salt pork (?), fresh rib meat, bamboo (okay, not great), knots of bean curd sheets, and baby bok choy (or choy sum). Damn good, intense and salty broth. Bean curd knots seemed a bit too big. More about Yan Du Xian on this external post by a chowhound : http://eatingchinese.blogspot.com/200...
#96 Fish filet in wine sauce : Sauce was great and I liked the texture of the fish against the wood ear or jelly ear mushrooms. The fish is flounder, and had the same slightly unpleasant fishy taste as what was in the Lady Shong's Chowder
#98 Sweet and sour spare ribs : I prefer Little Shanghai's version, which has some smokiness from black cardamom, but this is a good version and on equal footing with the version at Dumpling Kitchen. Meaty rib nuggets in nicely balanced sugar and black vinegar sauce. Some pieces were a bit dry, but good eating overall. It's much better than the version at Shanghai House.