Monday, May 19, 2008


The food at this restaurant came out so quickly that within 20 minutes of sitting down, it was like the nine-course meal never happened. Luckily, this was food that could not be forgotten.

One wouldn’t know upon arriving at House of Nanking that it is famous, but you utter it’s name and any self-respecting foodie who hears you (like the bellman at our hotel) will moan in recognition. Not exactly located in the most savory section of San Francisco (the apartment above the restaurant had long strips of meat drying in laundry bags on the fire escape--some might find this grotesque, I thought it was awesome), don’t be afraid to surrender your control of this experience. What I mean is, when you sit down, there are no menus on the table. Peter Fang, the chef and owner, walks over to your table with a pad of paper and asks if he can order for you. He asks you how many dishes you’d like, and within minutes, the day’s specials start landing on the table. Beverages? Steamy and greasy in there, what else was I to do? I ordered a can of soda.

The food is amazing. Chinese food San Francisco style—each dish was fresh, colorful, and filled with al-dente vegetables. I was impressed. There were six of us, and the feast proceeded as follows:

1. Zucchini just barely cooked, sauteed with chili pepper, red onion and Thai basil.
2. “Shrimp Cakes:” Wonton-like (but bigger and more delicate), filled with tender shrimp, peas and drizzled with a hot peanut sauce.
3. Fried calamari—a dish I’ve had many times, but which my cohorts called “the best calamari” they’d ever had. Sprinkled with hot chili oil, this was the only dish without vegetables.
4. Congee with crispy fried beef, zucchini, basil and spicy chili oil. At the time, we were calling this “white soup” having no clue what was in it, but slurping the thick stuff down hungrily. It was indeed however, congee, or savory rice porridge.
5. Garlic Pork—my favorite dish of the entire meal. Pieces of steamed pork with lots of bitter wilted greens and a hot vinegar sauce poured over the entire thing. Spicy, savory piquant goodness.
6. Sesame Chicken—fried chicken strewn with raw pieces of bitter melon and cooked sweet potato.
7. Sauteed whole mushrooms with Thai basil and red onion.
8. Spring rolls—now, these were the best I’d ever had—full of roasted chopped pork, no filler.
9. Onion Cake--the shrimp cake wasn't enough for our party, they had to have the onion cake (that they tried there the day before). Same thing--delicate fried won ton wrapper filled this time with scallions and drizzled with peanut sauce.

Everything came and went so fast and furiously--hot, crisp, fresh, salty, sour and alive. We left the restaurant stuffed, and as we walked out, I glanced up at the beef jerky hanging off the balcony of an apartment overhead and smiled, wondering when I'd eat something that authentically flavorful again.

House of Nanking is located at 919 Kearny Street, San Francisco

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