North China , Shanghainese in the Outer Richmond (SF)
North China on Clement has been open for a little over a year and has a small dining area. It adds to the large number of restaurants with Shanghai-oriented dishes in the Richmond district (Shanghai House, Old Shanghai, Shanghai Dumpling King, Five Happiness) and more generally to those in other parts of SF (Rice Valley and Shanghai Dumpling King #2 in Sunnyside, Bund Shanghai in Chinatown, and Dumpling Kitchen in the Outer Sunset). The menu says it's open everyday till 11:30pm, so that means they're open about two hours later than any of the others.
The Chinese name of the restaurant is 江南私房菜 ("Jiangnan private kitchen"). Jiangnan ("river south") refers to the geographical region south of the Yangtze and which encompasses both Shanghai and many of the regions that influence Shanghainese cuisine. I was told the chef is from Shanghai.
They have four separate menus: a standard Chinese-American menu, a fully translated Shanghai-oriented menu, a laminated and translated "chef's new recommendations" menu, and a blackboard with five or six untranslated items. I was initially offered only the standard menu, but, upon request, they gave me the other menus without a problem and translated what they could of the blackboard.
Ham, fresh pork, & bamboo shoots in casserole ( 醃篤鮮 , Yan du xian ) : Soup had lots of flavor and body, and it started to form a skin as it cooled. Solid parts were okay. Bamboo shoots were the narrow tapering types and were a bit overcooked.
It seems that the xiao long bao and pan fried dumplings ( sheng jian bao ) aren't available on the takeout menu attached to this post, but they're on the in-house menu. The sheng jian bao were very basic. The meatball inside was bland, and the bottom tasted more of the toasted sesame than of the charring of the bun.
Special fish gluten with vegetable : the balls of fish gluten ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/921861 ) were served with snow peas, wood ear mushrooms, and carrots. Choice of vegetables was a little boring, but I liked the texture contrast of these vegetables to the chewy hollow balls of fish gluten. The fish gluten have a very mild but pleasant flavor.
I went there recently, and it's pretty good. At 9pm, an hour before closing, we were the only people in the tiny restaurant-one big round table and 4 or 5 small tables.A lot of Shanghai or Jiangnan dishes, so it would be hard to sample a lot of them. Braised pork belly was okay, not falling apart tender. "Crab's challenge" (scrambled egg white with braised fillet of fish) was mild but tasty. Seafood and vegetable rice soup was a bit on the greasy side, but soul warming nonetheless especially on a rainy night. Think of it as an introverted and more substanced counter to your loud, overpriced ramen. Looking over the menu, I see items that attract both carnivores like me and people more sensible to seafood/soy products like my gf.
Is it the level of Jai-Yun? No. Little Shanghai in San Mateo? Probably not. A decent option in the city? Definitely. It's a bit out of the way on Clement St, but I hope the business will pick up before corners start to get cut.
Ah, another example of the way Shanghainese restaurants are especially prone to multiple-menuitis!