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Mar 29, 2014 03:40 PM

Chowdown at San Wang, 3/29/2014 [Japantown, San Francisco]

Six hounds braved today's downpour to sample specialties at San Wang in Japantown. We had the following dishes:

Water dumpling
Fresh mussel
Beef with jalapeño pepper
Shrimp with hot pepper sauce
Dry-fried chicken
Sautéed pea sprouts
Noodles with plum sauce (aka za jiang mian)
San wang soup noodles

I will post my impressions of the meal below.

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  1. The portions at San Wang continue to be generous servings...with increased prices for the Chinese Korean fare.
    The San Wang Soup Noodles tops my list of today's choices with it's light peppery chili broth, toothsome al dente hand pulled noodles, and a good variety of seafood to satisfy my soup quest on this rainy afternoon. A big bowl of soup is really all that I need on a day like today.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cynsa

      Should add that the way to choose from the menu is to focus on the dishes that are listed in Korean as well as Chinese and English.

    2. Six of us shared the above 8 dishes. Service was extremely prompt and friendly and everything came piping hot with fresh ingredients all around. Though this place looks like you ordinary Chinese restaurant with no special élan, the food is worth it though parking is not easy even on a Sat afternoon.

      Did not care for the Water Dumplings - rather bland in taste, not exciting at all. Loved the mussels (in some kind of bean and spicy sauce) - I could have eaten a dozen more - as well as the Shrimp w. Hot Pepper Sauce - sweet and hot w chiles and jalapeño peppers if I remember correctly.

      I love Pea Sprouts and often cook them at home - these were young, sautéed in some oil and garlic just right. Noodles with plum sauce were ok but not my favorite and the San Wang seafood soup was hot with various sorts of fish.

      I recommend this place.

      1. In 2001, San Wang/San Wong was the site of one of our community’s earliest chowdowns. I’ve been in a few times for the noodles, but no more than that, and it was great to sit down to a fuller meal. And we managed to try some different things than reported on 13 years ago.

        Water dumpling – Pork and chive, and little pork at that. These tasted rather stale and from the way some of the wrappers broke, I think these are frozen and not freshly made. I did like the seasoning sauce a lot though, too bad the shui jiao weren’t better.

        Fresh mussel – Funny that it’s called “fresh” on the menu, as I think this is made with frozen green lip mussels on the half-shell from New Zealand. The same seasoning, oyster sauce spiked with fresh jalapeños, is also available with fresh clams.

        Beef with jalapeño pepper – One of the Korean-Chinese standards, this was not so good a rendition. While I liked the treatment of the julienne of jalapeño chiles, the beef itself did not have much taste.

        Shrimp with hot pepper sauce – One of San Wang’s signature dishes. Battered and fried shrimp bathed in a slightly sweet and spicy gravy made of chile sauce, red pepper flakes, and fresh jalapeño chiles.

        Dry-fried chicken – Somehow I’ve never tried the chicken wings here. These are truly dry-style, first deep-fried with crispy skin and then cooked with the sauce. I like the non-goopy, not so sweet style, though I would have liked these to be a bit spicier.

        Sautéed pea sprouts – Perhaps my favorite dish of the meal, and surprising because I’ve rarely liked dou miao prepared by non-Cantonese chefs. These were the small type, the very thin and delicate shoots rather than the big spinach-like type, and it has been ages since I’ve been served these in a restaurant. There’s a tendency for the small type to become stringy and wiry when they dry out, but that was not a problem here. Very fresh and spring-like with pea green flavors and lots of garlic. My brother got the leftovers and commented that they were too green and grassy for him.

        Noodles with plum sauce (aka za jiang mian) – Good job on cooking the seafood and nice caramelization on the onion bits. Chewy hand-pulled noodles, but the black bean sauce lacked some oomph.

        San Wang soup noodles (aka chao ma mian) – Another favorite for me. The light textured but intense soup stock hit the spot. Not served so steaming hot, so the noodles did not turn soft as they often do. Plenty of seafood, stir-fried veggies, pork, chicken, and what not. Frankly, I’d much rather tuck into a bowl of this than most of what’s sold as ramen in this City.

        Cost per person came to $17.50, including tax and tip, and we had some leftovers.

        All photos,

        3 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Great review. Chaomamian looks to have had too much scallion than normal but the key is the soup and that sounded like it was done well.

          Did they distinguish between zha jiang mian and gan (dry) zha jiang mian? I would always get the dry version if offered at a Korean-Chinese place, as it is considered the "deluxe version" with better ingredients.

          Not sure if Beef with Jalapeno is a Korean-Chinese dish... as there's no Jalapeno in Korea. :)

          The "any meat" with hot pepper sauce dish is supposed to be spicy and garlicky without any sweetnesss (which is reserved for "Gan Pong any-meat"). Tong Soon Garden does this dish the best in bay area.

          1. re: tanspace

            Hey there, tanspace lives! Nice to see you here.

            Ok smartypants, how about la jiao chao rou? :)

            I was a bit late getting to the chao ma mian and didn't really examine it closely before others served themselves. Looking at the photo now, that looks more like flat Chinese chives than scallions. What I liked about it was the soup stock did taste like seafood and not canned chicken broth. Also, it was not so overpoweringly spicy so that one could drink the stock without choking.

            Yes, there's gan zha jiang mian on the menu too, I think it was translated as fried noodles with plum sauce or something like that.

            1. re: tanspace

              Alright, here's the follow-up, I got an order of the fried style zha jiang mian to go. The caramelized onions were great, seemed like it had more seafood bits than our lunch here. The flavors were more intense in this version at the trade-off of being exceptionally greasy. The take-out box was lined with foil as protection.

          2. dishes listed in order from favorite to least favorite, mostly comparing with san tung:

            Shrimp with hot pepper sauce
            nice and spicy, lots of very good diced vegetables

            Dry-fried chicken
            I like these chicken wings a lot more than the version at san tung.

            Sautéed pea sprouts
            perhaps the best chinese vegetables i've had in the bay area.

            San wang soup noodles
            a great noodle soup. broth was nice, noodles were nice. significantly better than a similar dish at san tung.

            Fresh mussel

            Beef with jalapeño pepper
            good, though i prefer the restaurant's beef with broccoli.

            Noodles with plum sauce (aka za jiang mian)
            okay, but signifcantly better at san tung.

            Water dumpling
            pretty flavorless. nowhere near the level san tung of kingdom of dumpling.

            Overally, I really like this place, and eat here every couple of months. In my experience, I prefer their "regular dishes" like we had on this visit to their whole crab, whole fish, etc.

            The biggest drawback is their corkage fee of $25, which is really high for a chinese restaurant.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Dustin_E

              Those shrimp in hot pepper sauce are a guilty pleasure. It's really more of a Chinese-American style dish: heavy batter, diced carrots and peas, sweetish sauce, and yet it's quite addictive. For many years my roommate and I had a standing agreement that if one of us went there, she had to bring home a full order (not just leftovers!) for the other.

              1. re: Dustin_E

                Good to meet you at long last! And I'll say it was pretty coy of you to hang back and not tell us that you've eaten here before until the order was in. :) Good comments, I'm glad you enjoyed trying things from the Korean-Chinese vernacular.

              2. My favorites were the shrimp in hot pepper sauce, the dry fried chicken, and the san wang soup noodles. The shrimp and chicken were nicely crunchy and had good flavors. The soup noodles had a very red broth that was surprisingly not that spicy and hit the spot on a cold day. Noodles were pleasantly chewy and I got a very fresh tiny clam and small squid tentacles in my bowl.

                Downers for me included the water dumpling, which was unpleasantly soggy and its filling was almost entirely chives. I did not like the sauce on the mussels; it seemed gloppy and without much flavor. Same for the za jiang mian sauce.

                As always, the company at these chowdowns makes it worth the trip no matter the quality of the food. Shout out to Dustin_E, who attended his first chowdown and hopefully will return for more.

                3 Replies
                  1. re: Cynsa

                    I got chicken chow mein to go and it was very good. Same chewy noodles, good wok hei flavor.

                  2. re: sumimao

                    thanks for the shout out!

                    i'll definitely try to make more of these -- great to meet some fellow members of the boards!