I found myself on San Francisco's Clement Street on Friday night, a kind of mini-Chinatown that springs forth from the middle of the Richmond. I purposely went without any recommendations on where to eat--I figured that I'd follow my nose, peer in windows, look for signs of life (and dumplings). My dining companion and I lingered in front of many a window, retraced our steps a few times--you don't want to make a mistake, here--and finally settled on Taiwan Restaurant.
It wasn't the decor that drew us in, I promise you that, but rather the chef in the window manning two enormous steamers, with barbequed pork buns and elegant pinched dumplings on deck. We ordered the gingery chicken dumplings and the pork dumplings and then tried to pick the perfect time to eat them, before they cooled down but after they pass through the stage where they burn your mouth, thereby ruining the rest of your meal. We also enjoyed a very fine plate of braised green beans topped with a handful of ground pork, lots of garlic and some Chinese pickled vegetables. All of this is just build up to what I really want to tell you about, though: the Taiwan spare ribs.
Now, I'm not really a spare rib kind of girl. But my curiousity was piqued, and the waiter gave an appreciative nod when I ordered them, like I was in the club. A huge platter of riblets appeared minutes later, braised, then deep fried, then rolled in the sublime sauce, which had hints of five spice powder and pineapple juice. I ate lots of them with great gusto, thinking of my friends Julia, who loves meaty things on the bone, the messier the better, and John, who confessed to me not too long ago that he doesn't like a) meat on the bone and b) onions in his food. More for us, John.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Sunday morning I had an absolutely dreadful brunch. At a respectable place, too, the kind of place that sets you back $50 for breakfast. The kind of place that is great at dinner, but at brunch turns into a place that you should warn your friends about. Luna Park, 18th and Valencia. I'm not going to say that it was a disaster--wait, that's exactly what I'm going to say. A trainwreck, disguised as breakfast. I ordered a chickpea stew with poached eggs and merguez sausage, and what I received was a bowl of underseasoned, undercooked chickpeas in a thin tomato broth, with a soggy square of bread in the middle, topped with two poached-to-the-point-of-hard-boiled eggs. And grizzled dry bits of merguez. Four grizzled bit, to be exact, each about the size of my thumbnail. When I alerted the waitress to the fact that the eggs were way overdone, and asked that she replace them, she did--with a bowl of poached eggs so UNDERCOOKED that the whites weren't even set. Actually, they were brought out by another waitress; I didn't see ours again until she brought us the check.
I suppose I could have been more aggressive about it, but I kind of thought that my entirely uneaten breakfast would send a signal. Wrong again. And the final straw? $2.75 for a cup of coffee that wasn't refilled a single time. I'm over it, I swear.
They should go take some lessons from the folks at Taiwan Restaurant.