San Francisco. It's a city of IKEA sized apartments that cost more than my lifetime's total accumulated wealth (estimated; if we have another 2008 market crash, I'm screwed) and whose weather seems to thumb its nose at any and all forecasts. It's a magical land whose culture is exemplified by extreme success and failure; where the homeless flood the high-rent business and living sections of town, and no one seems to care as they drive past the food bank line around the corner, in their brand new Tesla S P85+. It's quite possibly my favorite city in the U.S., not withstanding my hometown of Knoxville, TN. Traveling from East Tennessee to California means spare time for quick adventures once I'm there; airlines and time zones all but ensure this happens. This trip marks my fourth visit to the San Francisco area in a year and this time, I had a side mission: discover a local restaurant, then come back and write about my dining experience. Easy enough - I've been to a few places on past trips that were fantastic (Scoma's, Market One, Bouchon Bakery), so when I decided to find some where to eat this time, I tried the old tried 'n true method - ask a cabbie.
My hotel was just around the block from China Town, so I thought I would try getting a recommendation over there. The cabbie laughed when I told him I had eaten at Hunan Home's Restaurant and enjoyed it. Saying it was a "tourist trap" and none of the "Hunan" restaurants there were decent, was in stark contrast to my experience:
We bypassed the menus and told the waiter to have the cooks make us whatever they wanted. It was some of the best Chinese food I've personally ever had. The cooks made multiple dishes, many of which were not on the menu to begin with; they cooked what they wanted to eat, after work. Fantastic.
Having my self-confidence diminished somewhat, the cabbie pointed me to a place where the locals go when they want good Chinese food - the R&G Lounge. Your classic "hole in the wall" restaurant that is hard to get into after a certain hour, has been around for a while (1985), and from the outside, looks like a place the local mafia hangs out in.
My stomach still feeding on Eastern Standard Time, I went to dinner a little earlier than the locals - no wait! When you walk in the door, the first thing you notice is the white "middle school" looking tile on the floor, with the gold trimmed tables and chairs, still around since day one in 1985. Not realizing they had two floors, I was slightly taken back when I was escorted down to the lower floor - no windows, old school wood paneling on the walls, and the same gold trimmed furniture as the upstairs. There's a bar and the obligatory fish tank(s) along the walls down there also - it's great.
I was seated in a back corner of the "basement" at a table big enough for two. My waiter spoke very little english (that's stretching it a little bit) and could not have been nicer, or more knowledgable about the food. After some complimentary hot tea and a my order of Tsingtao beer (which is pretty good), my waiter came over to take my order. I had chosen a dish (Soy Sauce Chicken) based upon the picture on the menu, to which he informed me how long it takes to prepare the dish (45 minutes!!!), how it's served (cold), and he was honest enough to say I probably wouldn't enjoy it. I appreciated the honesty and instead ordered the Sliced Lamb in X.O. Sauce.
I'm a big fan of Lamb - it's a beef that has to be cooked just right and can be cooked many different ways, so I thought I would take a chance. The food was prepared quickly and as expected, came out steaming hot. A simple dish - just lamb and green vegetables, with a side bowl of steamed white rice - it was all cooked perfectly. The lamb has it's signature "spice" flavor, with a touch of soy sauce marinade and not too chewy, which lamb can sometimes end up being. The vegetables were crisp to the bite, which was a big deal for me. I'm not a big fan of vegetables but these were freshly picked, and cut that day. It's the little things that make the difference.
Understated and letting the meal speak for itself, I was a happy tourist. The staff were all very nice and the facility as a whole was very clean, and inviting. I'm not sure how the prices compare to other restaurants in the area, but being in San Francisco I'm going to go out on a limb and say the R&G Lounge is on par with other similar establishments in the area. It was well worth the trip.
As my travels take me around the country visiting clients, I'm hoping to continue my guest posts here. Having my own blog that's mostly geared for my passions (tech, photography, and gaming), it's not often that I get to write about my food experiences (by often, I mean never). I love to eat and traveling around to other cities, soaking in the local culture and food, Mike has given me a great opportunity to share what I find with all of you. I'm looking forward to the next time...