Friday, June 05, 2009

Back for Seconds: Mission Street Food --CLOSED

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

Serving Up Chinese Food in Lung Shan
UPDATE 06/15/2010: Mission served up its last dinner in June 2010 and will reopen serving up Chinese food and also focused on another restaurant called Commonwealth
2234 Mission St. (between 18th and 19th Sts.), San Francisco
Mission District
Thursday and Saturday, 6 p.m. to midnight
No reservations, cash only

Original visit: February 2009

The underground restaurant Mission Street Food won me over when I first visited earlier this year, but I haven’t been able to get myself back there since. My friend Peter, who lives in the Mission, had never heard of Mission Street Food so I dragged him to Lung Shan Restaurant last Saturday.

As a refresher, Mission Street Food was started by Chef Anthony Myint as a place to experiment with food. He borrows the kitchen of a divey Chinese restaurant on Thursday and Saturday nights, and invites guest chefs to cook up special meals with him. Prices are kept low to keep dishes accessible, and proceeds go to a charity of choice.

Typically, I would be the first in line when the doors open at 6 p.m. because the crowds can get heavy, causing some long waits. But Peter is a late eater, and I had heard that the wait wasn’t too bad on Saturday nights, which was added to the rotation back in February. (Myint used to open just on Thursday nights.)

When we arrived around 8 p.m., we were told the wait would be about 45 minutes. (So much for the theory of smaller crowds on Saturdays.) We went off looking for a drink and returned to find just a few people waiting outside. We were seated by 9 p.m.

Last Saturday’s guest chefs were Leonard Shek, formerly a cook at Nopa and now working at a restaurant in New York City, and Timothy Luym, chef and co-owner of Poleng Lounge. (The charity for the week was Community Educational Services, which helps youth in San Francisco’s Chinatown and North Beach neighborhoods.)

The first time I ate at Mission Street Food the guest chef served up vegetarian fare. It was great, but I was really looking forward to some meaty dishes. Because of Shek’s and Luym’s background, the menu this night had a definite Asian bent, which for once matched the settings of Lung Shan.

After we ordered, the dishes came out randomly (since it’s a limited menu, the kitchen just cooks up everything and servers pick up whatever is ready and bring it to your table). First up was the Red Braised Oxtails with King Mushroom and Daikon Fettuccine, Shiitake Mushrooms and Scallions ($12.50).

The two chunks of oxtails were tender but not necessarily falling off the bone. Still, it was in a tasty full broth with a strong mushroom flavor and sitting on top of the fettuccine. Peter and I were really perplexed by the fettuccine, but in a good way. It looked like fettuccine but the texture was so different. There was a snap to the pasta, which almost made us think the fettuccine was thinly sliced daikon. (A disadvantage of eating at Mission Street Food is they turn down the lights and put up Christmas lights, which is the only source for lighting along with a votive candle.)

We debated for awhile and thought it would be genius if they did make pasta of daikon strips, but our server says it was just regular fettuccine that was made very al dente. (The daikon were two chunks of tender daikon served in the bowl.) It was unusual, for sure, and opened our eyes to a new way of cooking pasta.

Next up was Lung Shan’s Vegan Delight ($5.50), which were dumplings made of shiitake and oyster mushrooms. The folding of the dumplings was a bit simple, basically huge triangles that I found a bit difficult to bite into. But the filling was tasty and they sat in miso broth that Peter really enjoyed, saying it was rich and intense.

We also ordered the Soft Shell Crab Curry “Bun Rieu” ($13), a Vietnamese-inspired dish that included vermicelli glass noodles. The soft shell crab, lightly deep fried (I know, this is probably the few times I eat deep-fried foods), was a foil to the spicy curry. I’ve never had bun rieu like this in Vietnam, but it was really satisfying.

Next was the Grilled Blue Point Oysters ($9), which were four pieces served with bits of pork fat and a pepper lemon sauce. The oysters were plump and juicy, and definitely had the taste of bacon because of the pork fat. But both Peter and I agreed that the accompanying sauce wasn’t very successful in complementing the oysters.

We also ordered Myint’s signature King Trumpet Mushroom flatbread, but our server forgot to bring it to our table and by then we were nearly full. So instead we went straight for dessert and got both the Lychee and Banana Cream Napoleon ($5) and scoop of Humphry Slocombe Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream ($3.25).

The Napoleon was made with lots of cream, chunks of canned lychees and these very thin sheets of pastry. The pastry was so delicate it basically cracked like glass, and it was a light vehicle for the cream. The banana cream and lychee fruit blended well together and the overall dessert was fantastic. The sweetness of the Napoleon was balanced with the deep flavor of the Humphry Slocombe coffee ice cream (which BTW Peter hasn’t visited yet either; I know, I have so much to show him!).

As we ate, very few people arrived after us and many of the diners from the earlier seating seemed to linger to enjoy their meals. So it was actually a relaxing feel dining at this hour at Mission Street Food compared to the early rush. All the dishes, while still small in serving size, still seemed to deliver in the quality of ingredients and execution of preparation. With draws like Shek and Luym (once named a rising star chef by the San Francisco Chronicle), it’s really no surprise.

The only surprise is that Mission Street Food hasn’t added yet another night!

Update experience: Just a reminder that I didn’t give a rating last time because it’s unfair to rate the Mission Street Food concept with its rotating chefs, but I can say that it’s still a destination to visit and the food is still going strong.

SCHEDULING NOTE: Mission Street Food is hitting the road tomorrow night (Saturday) and will be at the Yerba Buena Gardens’ “Big Idea Night.” The event, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., features a gathering of street food including Mission Street Food. So they won’t be at Lung Shan this Saturday, but you can find them at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. (Just a planning note, the Big Idea Night is free but you needed to RSVP for an entry email. The event is filled up now, but you can try to enter as a walk-in. Priority will be given to those who already have an email RSVP.)

Related posts:
Mission Street Food: Where People Gather for Unpretentious Food
The Yin & Yang of Dining: A Conversation with Chef Tim Luym of Poleng Lounge
On the Trail of the Crème Brulee Cart


Carolyn Jung said...

How fun! I love Tim's food at Poleng Lounge, too. On my blog next week, you'll find a fun interview with him, too. Lucky you got to eat oxtails -- one of my favorite things to eat and make.

foodhoe said...

ooh, late night dining! I really like the rotating chef thing and it sounds like a great meal. I've been curious about those vegan dumplings, they always seem to be on the menu. Hmm, just checked out your interview with Chef Luym, too bad you went all the way to Poleng and didn't eat any food! Anyways, looking forward to reading about the YB big night thing, so you got to see the MSF truck in action!

Cookie said...

Soft shelled crab curry? That sounds AMAZING!