Monday, October 18, 2010

Mission Chinese: My New Favorite Restaurant in SF

My most recent post was a bit of a rant on why I seldom go out to wine bars. I could probably cut and paste elements of that rant, and with a few deletions and additions, make the same case for why so many restaurants are boring, overpriced, and utterly fail at exciting the discerning diner, or even the intrepid eater who merely wants an honest taste of something authentic at a fair price. More often than not, restaurants are poor examples of the cuisine which they purport to purvey, or simply offer yet another unoriginal, expensive take on whatever it is that "New American" cuisine is. Thank you, but I'll pass on that $75 meal and instead use the cash to head to the excellent Mission Chinese for a much more satisfying meal at a quarter of the cost. Owners Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint are to be congratulated for not only creating a spectacular new Chinese restaurant which pays homage to Szechuan, Taiwanese and Islamic Chinese food traditions, but for establishing such reasonable price points, thus encouraging menu exploration and multiple visits.

Mission Chinese is a small restaurant where the former restaurant Lung Shan still offers their more traditional, exhaustive, American Chinese menu. Upon reviewing the new, tidy, 15 item menu, however, I do not doubt that it is here where you will set your sites. Here are a few terrific examples of the traditional Chinese delicacies, often times re-imagined with top notch American ingredients:

Slow Cooked Char Siu Pork Belly

Thrice Cooked Bacon

Sizzling Cumin Lamb

A few notes about the above entrees. They all are very robustly flavored, with the first one perhaps being the most accessible to the largest number of people, given the more rich and savory (not hot and spicy) quality of the dish. Thrice cooked bacon uses bacon from Benton Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Tennesse, the same place that David Chang of Momofuku fame (as well as many other restaurants nationwide) sources his pork. This is my favorite dish here. Finally, the Sizzling Cumin Lamb is not at all shy with the cumin! Or onion. Or jalapeños. These entrees average a modest $10 each.

In addition to what I mentioned above, be sure to order the szechuan pickles: salt fermented cabbage, cucumber, roasted peanuts, chili oil, sichuan peppers and cilantro. Also, the chicken wings, which are coated with salt and ground sichuan pepper, buried beneath a layer of charred dried red chilies, will literally make your lips buzz - an unusual, but very cool sensation.

For beer, there is Tsingtao, Heineken, and something cheap and domestic, forget if it's Pabst or MGD. The wine list is short and, while you can do worse many other places, corkage is only $5 per bottle. I would suggest that you bring some Riesling and go crazy.

After my first visit, a lunch about six weeks ago, I could not stop thinking about the meal. I returned for a quick dinner a few weeks after that, followed by four more visits, three in the same week. In other words, Mission Chinese is that rare restaurant so good, so memorable, that you begin to plan a return visit as soon as you finish your meal. Fortunately, because it is so reasonably priced, that is exactly what I have done, and will continue to do, time and time again. They serve amazing food - for my money amongst the best in San Francisco.