Sometimes, I pick a place for an Umamiventure just to regroup with friends, their friends, and loyal Umamimart readers. That's what these trips are for, afterall: to meet + eat. Choosing a place, however, it is never an easy task-- the restaurant must be delicious, relatively cheap (ideally $20 per person) and can handle a large group. There are a plethora of restaurants out there that satisfy two out of three of these traits, but finding a spot that can check off all three? Near impossible.
Which is why it is actually quite rare for me to organize Umamiventures at actual restaurants.
But as I suspected, San Tung proved to be perfect for such an occasion. Twelve of us showed up in the Sunset district of San Francisco on a cold foggy Saturday in August. (Oh, why must Bay Area summers be so cruel? And they tried reassuring me that "September is the warmest month, don't worry." LIES!)
As you can see from the photo up top, the place is crazy packed. Our reservation was at 7:30pm and the line already went out the door. Actually, it's basically like this all the time, no matter what time or day. San Tung is quite a well-known institution in San Francisco. As I mentioned, I stumbled upon it with my friend one day and thought I had made the best "secret discovery" ever-- only to come home and find it has 1800 Yelp reviews. HA!
They made us wait at the door for a while until our table was ready. With this crowd, you can't blame them. I am just thankful that they even let me make a reservation!
San Tung is a Mandarin-style Chinese restaurant. Here's a complimentary cold plate of kimchi-like cabbage, delivered to every table as you sit down. This is so spicy and tastes so fresh and just-made. I could just eat this with a bowl of rice all day.
Yoko was in charge of the ordering. At big dinners like this, you've gotta just let one person take the reins, or else it just gets too complicated. And sometimes, don't you just want to let someone else decide what you're gonna eat? Life should always be full of surprises.
Mu Shu Pork. A sauteed combination of cabbage, willow tree mushrooms, bamboo shoots, onions and fluffed eggs. Served with four homemade mu shu wraps, julienned scallions, and hoison sauce.
Perhaps because I was so hungry the best dish arrived first: Mu Shu Pork. I really loved the wrappers that came with the dish. They wrappers were not your usual mass-manufactured ones that are curiously monotone. These were flawed in shape and color. The texture was firm without being crusty and they tasted fresh. I am always really excited when the carbs (i.e. pasta, tortillas) "wow" me at a restaurant.
My love for mushu is easy to justify since its hard to not to love hot sweet pork cooked just right. I could do with a serving now, at 7am.
Steamed Potstickers. Filled with ground pork, napa cabbage, ginger and garlic.
Potstickers. Same as above, but wok-fried.
Shrimp and Leek Dumplings. 12 dumplings filled with a mixture of ginger, garlic-infused ground shrimp and Chinese chives.
The dumplings eclipsed all else as the best thing, and I wasn't even going to have any because it wasn't what I was in mood for. I mean the one with the chives in it. Muah!
Cold Noodles. House-pulled cold noodles in a peanut sauce topped with shrimp, five-spice beef, dried bean curd, and cucumbers.
I'm not usually a fan of noodles, especially noodles without sauce. But adding bit of sweetness and the right chewy consistency was a game changer.
Black Bean Sauce Noodles. Sliced beef, shrimp, squid in a dark soybean sauce served over fresh hand-pulled noodles.
They look so innocent, but...
...CAUTION!!! These noodles are near impossible to portion out with chop sticks. Many a great man and woman have tried this feat and failed, dropping noddles somewhere along the way between the serving bowl and their own. Of course, all things impossible have their exceptions, as Washi proved, making a clean transfer with a focused, patient, and intense calm.
HERE COMES THE HOT STEPPER! (Murderer)
Original Fried Chicken (Dry). Chicken wings deep fried in batter and sauteed with garlic, ginger, scallions and roasted red chilis.
Original Fried Chicken (Wet). Chicken deep fried in batter then sauteed with a spicy garlic sauce enhanced with roasted red chilis, mushrooms, carrots and bamboo shoots.
Best wings you will ever eat. No seriously, I know my wings! They are the perfect balance of crispy, a little sweet and a little spicy. The crispyness is probably the best part, it's so satisfying yet not overdone. I could go on and on but I suggest you just haul yourself down to San Tung and try them for yourself. The hype is true, they are THAT good!
Garlic Eggplant. Fresh eggplant cut in strips then braised in a spicy garlic sauce.
I am a bit of a Chinese-style garlic eggplant connoisseur, so I order it wherever I can. San Tung's is too saucy however. Plus, they peel all the skin off and cut them in strips, and the end result is a flabby saucy mess. I prefer the eggplant to be cut in diagonal chunks, skin-on, for the contrast of textures.
Dry Sauteed String Beans. Flash fried, then tossed in garlic sauce with Chinese pickles.
These were a winner.
We ordered second and even third plates of dry chicken wings, dumpling and noodles. That, and many bottles of Tsing Tao later, we were all satisfied.
I have no complaints as far as price goes. After gorging on dumplings, noodles and chicken wings to the point of feeling like my uterus was cursing my stomach for taking up so much space, the bill for one person came out to $18! I am a bit suspicious now that I think about it (was all that safe to eat?) but really, who cares because it was hands-down satisfying.
I agree with Yoko. Couldn't believe how cheap it was! Service was efficient and nice.
I was really impressed with the service too. I didn't have to ask for anything twice. The tea was refilled instantaneously and the beers kept coming. In the states, Chinese restaurants usually stick out like a sore thumb in the service sector-- clanging dishes, dirty dishes, rushed servers, servers who don't explain anything and servers who just don't give a sh*t. San Tung's service is extremely efficient considering the fact that they are always operating at maximum capacity. The waiters smiled, everything was served fast and the menus were really well-written and easy to understand.
All I can say is cold noodles and mushu- delish! Their combination of cold noodle salad and delicious hot pork wraps made the meal.
We rocked it with a big group. It's really the way to go, taking full advantage of the family style portions and getting to dip your fingers in many plates.
The place "closes" at 9:30pm, but was still packed with people waiting when we left around 10pm. Yoko's right-- San Tung really has the recipe for a successful business/restaurant: Good Food + Affordable Prices + Spectacular Service = Happy, Repeat Customers.
Thank you everyone for coming out to Umamiventure #28! I love these special dinners and meeting + eating all of you. Let's do it again soon.
Next Umamiventure will be in NYC next Sunday 9/26! I'm behind on this, but details coming shortly so stay tuned-- save the date for now, please!
*Umamiventures are organized monthly, traveling far and wide to find awesome, cheap grub off the beaten path.
Past Umamiventures include:
1.) Ocean Jewel Restaurant – Flushing, NYC; June 2007
2.) Red Hook Ball Fields - NYC; June 2007
3.) Taste of Jackson Heights – NYC; October, 2007
4.) Sripraphai Restaurant – Woodside, NYC; November 2007
5.) WINTERMARKET – South St. Seaport; December 2007
6.) Jackson Diner- Jackson Heights, NYC; January 2008
7.) Pacificana – Sunset Park, NYC; February 2008
8.) Puerto Alegre – The Mission, SF; March 2008
9.) Dinosaur BBQ – Harlem, NYC; April 2008
10.) Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden – Astoria, NYC; May 2008
11.) Brooklyn Banh Mi Crawl – Sunset Park, NYC; August 2008
12.) Sheapshead Bay Lobster Crawl – NYC; September 2008
13.) Flushing Food Circuit – NYC; October 2008
14.) Strong Beer Month – SF; March 2009
15.) Loisaida Throwback Crawl – NYC; April 2009
16.) Harley Farms Goat Dairy – Pescadero, CA; June 2009
17.) Tomales Bay Oyster Farm – Marshall, CA; August 2009
18.) Din Tai Fung – LA; September 2009
19.) Din Tai Fung – Tokyo; September 2009
20.) Schroeder’s Oktoberfest – SF; October 2009
21.) Fish Taco Crawl – San Diego; November 2009
22.) St. George Spirits & Hangar One Vodka - Alameda; January 2010
22.5) Everett & Jones – OAK; January 2010
23.) Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse – NYC; February 2010
24.) Guerilla Ramen Night – SF; April 2010
25.) Knife Sharpening Workshop at Hida Tool & Hardware – Berkeley, May 2010
26.) San Pedro Fish Market - LA, June 2010
26.5.) Candytown – LA, June 2010
27.) The Trappist - Oakland, July 2010