On Christmas Day 2011, we found ourselves in San Francisco to celebrate the holidays. Months earlier, when my husband found out that we’d be in San Francisco, he had asked if we could go to Chinatown and eat there for Christmas. Afterall, how does the story go? If you aren’t going to be partaking in a traditional holiday meal, then the next best thing is Chinese food? It’s Chinatown, you know that on Christmas day there’s going to be restaurants open and waiting for people who don’t want to cook to come to their restaurants. The Chinese never miss an opportunity to make money (I know, I’m part Chinese!).
In 1848, just before gold was discovered in California, the first Chinese immigrants – two men and one woman – arrived in San Francisco. In 1853, the Old St. Mary’s Church, the first Presbyterian church in Chinatown is erected. This becomes the oldest Asian church in North America. Only 6 years later, the “Chinese School” was established and all Chinese children were assigned to this “Chinese School” as they were not permitted to attend any other public schools in the city. A little over 25 years later, the “Chinese School” is renamed the “Oriental School” so that Chinese, Japanese and Korean children could be assigned to this school. In 1870 Anti-Chinese ordinances are passed in order to curb their housing and employment opportunities, further isolating the Chinese community to the tiny district which they have already inhabited. So begins the history of the Chinese community in San Francisco. Today, Chinatown is a major attraction for tourists who visit the city. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest of its kind outside of Asia and the oldest Chinatown in North America.
A few years ago, on a previous trip to San Francisco, I had eaten at Chinatown Resturant located right in the heart of Chinatown and had been fairly satisfied with my meal. And, I knew they would be open on Christmas Day. This time around, I figured if we couldn’t find a more appealing option, we’d eat here again. I wanted to take my husband to a place that I knew would have food that we would enjoy. Chinatown and Chinese restaurants are a dime a dozen, full of food made sometimes with items you can identify in dining rooms that are non-descript in settings that may be less than stellar. But, in the end, it’s the food your after. I knew that a few years ago I had enjoyed Chinatown Restaurant, so, to me, it was a known quantity. In the end, Chinatown Restaurant was where we found ourselves for lunch celebrating Christmas. Afterall, Chinatown Resturant was established back in 1919. If a restaurant has been around that long, it can’t be that bad, right?
After perusing the menu, we settled on a set combination menu. Each guest is charged a set amount, and based on the number of people in your party, they bring out dishes based on a set menu. Each party that orders off this combination menu is given the same set dishes, with the amounts varying depending on the number of guests. Then for each additional guests or two you have, more dishes are added to the menu to create variety. For example, the menu is available for a minimum group of 3 guests. For 3 guests, you get the basic menu. And the food should be enough for 3 people. With 4 guests, the table will receive an additional 2 dishes on top of what the menu for 3 guests includes. With 5 guests, the table receives an additional 2 dishes on top of that, so on and so forth. For our party of 4, we ended up receiving an appetizer platter, plus a plate of fried rice, a plate of noodles, an entree dish, and then 2 additional dishes. Additionally, each table receives a plate of chicken potstickers to start the meal and a dessert to finish the meal.
The chicken potstickers we received were very well received by the table. The potstickers had been boiled until cooked and then lightly pan-fried in order to create some crispness and texture to the potsticker. It was served alongside some tangy and tasty soy dipping sauce. Or, if you are unlike me and can stand the heat, you could opt to use the restaurant’s “secret spicy sauce” to dip the potstickers. I’m told that the secret spicy sauce was pretty darn tasty.
Next up came the appetizer platter. The platter consisted of vegetable spring rolls, curried chicken skewers and Thai-style crispy prawns. Each person was given two of each appetizer. The curried chicken skewers were delicious. The curry created enough spice to give the chicken skewers great flavor without overpowering it and without any of the heat. The Thai-style crispy prawns were a definite hit at my table. The prawns are wrapped in thin egg roll wrappers and then deep-fried. They come out completely light and crispy and flaky and the prawns themselves are light and delicious. Finally, the egg rolls were stellar as well. Stuffed with lots of vegetables and wrapped in the egg roll wrapper and deep-fried, again, the egg rolls come out incredibly crispy and flaky. You almost wouldn’t believe that you could deep fry a wrapper and have it be that light and crispy and flaky.
Finally, our entree dishes started coming out. Everything was served family style so it was a large platter for everyone to share. The first dish was their orange chicken. Surprisingly, I liked this orange chicken and I generally tend not to like orange chicken at all. Again, the chicken was nicely fried and crispy and the orange sauce wasn’t too overpowering or sweet.
Next up was chicken fried rice, which came just in time since my mom was about to ask the waitress for some white rice or something to eat her entrees with. Being Asian means its necessary to have some sort of starch to eat with your food! Everyone enjoyed the chicken fried rice except for me. My only problem with it was that it was made with peas and carrots and I absolutely abhor peas and carrots. I tried to pick around the peas and carrots, but just gave up after a while.
The noodle course was next with a serving of flat noodles stir fried with vegetables and beef. The noodles were good, the beef was tender and the noodles didn’t stick together. The vegetables were a mix of bell peppers, green onions and bean sprouts, which were all tender and flavorful. We were all happy with this dish.
The meat dishes we received were a Mongolian beef dish and some sort of spicy chicken stir fry dish. The waitress had asked us in advance if we had wanted it spicy and I had said I wanted a little spice. I felt that the Mongolian beef was a bit spicy, but no one else said they could taste it. In the chicken dish, I could see some red pepper flakes and chili sauce. Both dishes were good; the chicken in the chicken dish was particularly tender.
Lastly, we all received dessert which was a scoop of green tea ice cream topped with a fortune cookie. I normally never eat green tea ice cream, but I will admit that this one was pretty good. I almost finished my whole scoop. But, I’m guessing it’s because there was some sugar added to this green tea ice cream. It was nice to see that all four of us actually had some really good fortunes come out of our fortune cookies.
Overall, this was a pretty good meal. However, I was off put by one item; when we received our bill there was an automatic tip added on to the cost of the food and drink. I had thought perhaps that it was done because this was a holiday, so we just paid it and didn’t bother to argue it. Though, now that I have read through the Internet, I have seen that this has been a complaint of many patrons that tip is automatically charged rather than discretionary regardless of the day and the size of the party. I do think the practice of doing that is a bit shady. But we weren’t about to let it ruin our Christmas celebration.