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Jul 3, 2014 03:32 PM

China North Dumpling on Noriega [San Francisco]

I've had several quick meals there in the past month and been impressed every time, although one lunchtime meal appeared to have been cooked by someone different and wasn't up to the standard of the others.

I've had the twice-cooked fish almost every time. Photo attached. It's battered (although quite lightly) and then stir-fried with cabbage, black bean sauce, whole chilis, green bell peppers and a little bitter melon. Really excellent (except one lunch time).

I've also had what's wrongly described on the menu as cold cauliflower (I think that's it). I was told on an early visit that it's a very popular item. It's actually bean curd skin and cucumber, with peanuts and cilantro. (Photo attached). It's quite spicy and really excellent - particularly for those who like a cold Chinese cucumber salad - one of the best I've had.

I tried the Spicy Garlic Fish, which I also thought was really good. The batter was heavier than on the twice cooked fish, but it was excellently spiced with both sweet and hot flavors. It reminded me a little of the dry fried fish at Shanghai House on Balboa - but this was seasoned a lot better with a great combination of flavors.

I also had the chive and fish dumpling. Unfortunately I wasn't there on a day they'd made it fresh, so it was defrosted and too soft (soggy) for my liking. After a night in the refrigerator, however, it made a great snack dipped in their outstanding chili garlic table sauce.

Every time I've been, there have been at least two women making dumplings in the open area behind the cash register. They also make their own noodles, they said, which I'll try shortly.

Service has been friendly and helpful.

It's not particularly sophisticated, but I've really enjoyed eating there and I've developed a bit of a craving for the twice cooked fish and the "cauliflower" (bean curd skin & cucumber).

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    I checked to see where and it's between 20th and 21st. Thanks.

    1. Hah, Made in China has the same "cauliflower" dish and I've spotted it on some other menus too.

      From some pics on the web, it looks like they do Shanghai style chow mein with "handmade noodle." I've been looking for that for years!

      3 Replies
      1. re: hyperbowler

        I'm very curious to hear what you guys think.

        1. re: hyperbowler

          I tried the Shanghai noodles. Noodles themselves were nice, but I found the dish a little bland and sweet for my taste. It was much improved with a few spoonfuls of chili sauce.

          1. re: davidg1

            In general, shanghai dishes will be on the sweeter side, unlike Sichuan or hunan style. In addition to chili, I recommend some dark vinegar on the noodles.

        2. davidg1, thanks for letting us know about this place! I had an enjoyable dinner there a few nights back.

          The owners and/or one of the dumpling makers are from Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province in Northeatern (Dongbei) China.

          The meal started with some complementary spicy pickled cabbage and a finger bowl of peanuts.

          The "cold cauliflower" on the in-house menu is better translated as "mixed bean curd, cucumber, and peanut" on the take-out menu. davidg1's recommendation hit the mark – for such a simple salad, it's crave inducing.

          Paperthin tofu skin is used sparingly. It drapes up against the cucumbers and absorbs a lot of the chile oil, vinegar, and crushed garlic dressing. Shandong Deluxe and Made In China also have this dish but use layered "tofu sticks," which offer more of a compressible rubbery texture. Compared to those other versions, the absence of shredded carrots and potatoes here shifts this dish to being more a glorified cucumber salad, and at $5.50 it's a great one.

          The "northern style homemade colorful mixed" (五彩拉皮 , literally five color pulled skin) contains slippery mung bean noodles, shredded cucumber and carrots, shredded fried egg, wood ear mushrooms, cilantro, and stir-fried pork. After seeing the pretty arrangement of ingredients, and knowing what a mess I would make, I asked the server to have the kitchen mix it for me. The dab of black sesame paste in the dressing adheres the ingredients to one another. but doesn't bind the flavor as strongly as the mustard dressing in the liang zhang pi served at Shandong/Korean places (aka "double skin" ). Speaking of which, is this the historical precedent of double skin, or are these more cousins?

          The Shanghai style chow mein, their only chow mein dish that uses the thick housemade noodles, were better than a lot of Shanghainese places , but I agree that they're bland. Plenty of well seasoned pork strips and shiitake mushrooms for umami, and not too much oil. The dish overall needed more seasoning since there wasn't any charring in the noodles or the veggies (d'oh, I'll take the above advice to use condiments next time). The noodles were stiff, but I liked that the noodles were boxy, had a rough texture, and had lots of irregular twists.

          I was happy overall with what I ordered, but got jealous of the dumplings everyone else was eating. I'd like to explore this place with a larger group (if interested e-mail what's on my profile or join the sf yahoo group).

          2 Replies
          1. re: hyperbowler

            The "northern style homemade colorful mixed" salad dish is presumably the same as Sungari's "Multicolor lift" going by the Chinese name. It will be interesting to compare the two.

            I've been to China North Dumpling only once, and was well pleased by the "spicy beef noodles." I also had the cucumber-tofu skin dish as the perfect accompaniment to the spiciness of the noodle dish, and can see how this dish could become addictive.

            1. re: soupçon

              Yes--- the google pics you linked to on the Sungari page of that dish in general don't often show dressing so I'm curious how variable that might be.

              Re: sungari, I did a line by line comparison of the dishes there to the menu at NCD. Sungari has lots of unique ones, but the overlap illustrates some dishes to try at both places. Sungari also has lots of things not on menus from dongbei places outside of SF. My gut tells me to try the common dishes at NCD first though.

          2. Thanks everyone who has posted about this place so far. I checked it out tonight with three others, and we ended up ordering way more than enough food. Total bill was only $44 before tip!

            Scallion pancake tasted freshly made and came out hot and with a nice crispiness. As it cooled, it got a little bit more limp and doughy, but it was still a nice rendition. While not the best I've ever had, I'd definitely order this again. I dipped it in vinegar and soy sauce mixture (little saucers available on the table). There's also a bottle of a sweeter sauce on the table, which looked like prepared fish sauce, but there's no fish sauce in it. Maybe just prepared sweet vinegar sauce? First time I've seen this.

            The "cold cauliflower" dish, like others have said, is not cauliflower at all. There's a picture on the menu which helps clarify, but it's bean curd skin w/ cucumber, peanuts, cilantro and celery, all in a spicy and sweet sauce. Like others, everyone in my group thought this was very good.

            We tried the twice cooked fish, which was good but not amazing (for me, anyway). I think others at the table liked it more. The pieces of fried fish were tender but the crispiness of the batter had diminished and they were quite salty. Cabbage lacked wok char. But overall flavors were still nice.

            Beef noodle soup was good: I liked the broth, which tasted homemade and not too MSGish. Beef pieces were tender. Homemade noodles, sadly, were a tad overcooked. Maybe the kitchen was busy and timing wasn't quite right. Hopefully this is a fluke, because the noodles have great potential.

            Lots of dumplings on the menu, and we tried two types. Beef and celery dumplings we ordered pan fried, and these were really excellent. The filling was bursting with juice (almost soup-dumpling-like) and the outside shells were crispy. Tasted great dipped in vinegar.

            The pork and fennel dumplings were less to my liking, but still good. The green veggies in it (dill in addition to fennel, from the taste of it) was strong. But others really liked these, and they were well made.

            Pacing was somewhat slow, which I appreciated. Things came out basically one at a time over the course of 30 minutes. Service was friendly, prices were very reasonable, and I'll be back!

            1 Reply
            1. Had another really good dinner there.

              1. Cauliflower Salad (ie spicy bean curd skin and cucumber salad). Excellent, as always. Every table of Chinese customers seems to get this.

              2. Had them substitute out the chicken for fish in the Crispy Salt and Pepper Chicken. Probably the best S&P fish I've had. Nice crispy batter, with just the right amount of salt, some other flavor of a savory spice also added, along with sesame seeds and lots of very hot chilis.

              3. Tried the Sizzling Plate Fish w/Black Bean Sauce, and asked them to make it spicy. Again, really excellent and tasty. Really well spiced, with a number of flavors, and the onions and fish caramelized on the bottom of the sizzling iron dish, making for very tasty leftovers the next day.

              4. Green Onion Pancake was more like a slightly puffy bread and less like a pancake, but again very good with really strong green onion flavor.

              8 Replies
              1. re: davidg1

                Your scallion pancake picture does look pretty bready. The version I had last week wasn't like that.

                S&P fish looks good!

                1. re: Dave MP

                  I'd love some more details on the S&P fish nee chicken if anyone has them, eg what it might look like in Chinese characters or perhaps other English transliterations. It's not a dish I've run across in my travels, and it looks and sounds right up my alley. Why oh why do I read CH late at night when the food in photos like this one are unattainable? ;-)

                  1. re: grayelf

                    Salt and pepper fish, tofu, shrimp, squid, ribs etc are pretty ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants. 椒盐豆腐, 椒盐虾 etc.

                    The item is deep fried, often with batter. Then it's seasoned with some salt, and usually a mixture of fried little pieces of garlic and green onion, pieces of chili and whatever other spices the chef may care to add.

                    I think it's originally a Cantonese dish, although Sichuan restaurants will typically have a version where the deep fried protein is served in a basket mixed with fried whole chilis and possibly sichuan pepper etc., and the oil from the batter turns bright red and drips down out of the basket. I've seen it as "Chongqing Style Chicken," although I have no idea whether that's a valid name for it.

                    China North Dumpling's version was particularly tasty.

                    1. re: davidg1

                      Here's how to make s & p prawns (did I really write that 14 years ago?),

                      1. re: davidg1

                        The first item on the meat section of the menu is listed in English as crispy salt-and-pepper chicken and I am wondering whether it is prepared the same way as the fish. The Chinese characters indicate it is lazi ji (chicken with chilies) which is sometimes called Chongqing chicken, and the server assured me that it's different then the Cantonese salt-and-pepper chicken. The boneless version if lazi ji around here tends to have some type of coating like Melanie describes for salt pepper chicken and is pictured for the salt and pepper fish above, and the bone in version such as chicken wings tend not to have a coating. Come to think of it, the coating may be browner than your typical Cantonese salt-and-pepper chicken.

                        For the chicken, here is a more complicated and simpler version from Dunlops :

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          I did say that I had them substitute out the chicken for fish in the Crispy Salt and Pepper Chicken. 

                          You can see the coating and chilis in the photo I posted, and also my comment about the chongqing name.

                          I guess I'd describe the CND version as halfway between traditional S&P chicken/fish and chongqing chicken/fish.

                          Here's a photo of Dongbei Mama's excellent Chongqing Fish.

                          1. re: davidg1

                            Oh, my bad--- not enough coffee :-) I got confused because they list a "salt and pepper fish" on the menu as 椒盐魚. Based on the characters, I'd expect that to be more the Cantonese preparation.

                            1. re: hyperbowler

                              Okay, I think I have it straight now. The chiles in davidg1's photo threw me a bit, as I'd not seen them on what I think of as salt and pepper chicken (or tofu or squid or whatever) before. I am very familiar with la zi ji which often gets called thousand chili chicken where I'm from. And I would eat something that fell between the two! Thanks for the extra details.