Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dish on Dining: Hong Kong Lounge

A Banquet for Family and Friends
5322 Geary Blvd. (between 17th and 18th Avenues), San Francisco
Outer Richmond
PH: 415.668.8836
Open daily for dim sum and dinner
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

During my Mom’s and sister’s visit last week, I feasted at several Chinese restaurants as my Mom got together with family and friends. One of those restaurants that are made for family-style dining is Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco’s second Chinatown, aka the Richmond District.

Hong Kong Lounge is in the same location of the once-popular Hong Kong Flower Lounge, but it has no connections to the previous restaurant other than the name is almost the same. We arrived early on a weeknight for dinner as my Mom met up with three of her friends.

The restaurant, which is also popular for dim sum, glitters like other ostentatious Hong Kong-style restaurants. Most of the tables are for large parties, which was fine since there were six of us.

We ordered the $69.99-prix fixe menu, which comes with soup of the day, choice of sautéed lobster or Peking duck, and four other entrées that you select from a long one-page list. Since Chinese people are always worried there won’t be enough to eat for guests, we added an additional two courses off the regular menu.

Soup of the day at most Chinese restaurants is typically a dark broth with some kind of meat and a few herbs for flavor. At Hong Kong Lounge, they sweetened their soup with summer corn, which really added a nice twist to what can be quite a boring soup.

First up was sautéed fish with vegetables, a pretty basic dish that my Mom likes to order to make up for all the meat that typically comes to our table. I never can figure out what kind of white fish is used because of the Chinese names, but I’m guessing it was a cod. The dish was light and simple, but nothing exceptional.

Next came XO Chicken, which is basically soy sauce chicken but they use the XO brand. While this is a very pedestrian dish, the chicken was nicely cooked. It wasn’t overly salty, and our chicken pieces were quite plump.

Side note: I should point out that in the pictures, I didn’t always shoot the entire dish because, as per etiquette in Chinese dining, the guests and elders get served first. So oftentimes the food were placed in front of my Mom and her friends on the other side of the table and by the time it rolled over to me, several people had already gotten their hands into the dish!

We opted for the lobster instead of the Peking duck, and I’m kind of thinking we should have gotten the duck. The lobster was presented in a grand way with the head on the plate, but it seemed like there wasn’t much meat. It didn’t look like the lobster was very big, and it was simply cooked with the typical gloopey sauce of cornstarch.

We also ordered a plate of ong choi, the Chinese greens that were simply sautéed. And there was also a plate of sweet and sour pork, which was tasty but heavy on the batter, IMHO.

I’m a big fan of claypots, so we ordered the Oysters and Pork Belly Claypot, which also had mushrooms, greens and tofu. My Mom and her friends were disappointed that the claypot only had three pieces of oysters (even though they were quite huge) because that made it hard to make sure everyone at the table got one. I was one of the lucky ones who got an oyster, but I was disappointed that it was overcooked despite having a lot of meat to it. The pork belly was nice and they overcompensated for the lack of oysters with a lot of tofu.

To try something different, we ordered the Coffee Spare Ribs, which was served with a squirt of whipped cream to suggest a cappuccino, I guess. The spare ribs had a nice glaze on them, and a very distinct coffee flavor that lingered in your mouth even after you were done chewing on the meat. This was an odd dish that I found likeable and strange at the same time. The coffee taste didn’t seem to belong with the dish, but the honey is what must have kept me wanting to eat more.

The service ranges from friendly to brusque; it’s not the type of restaurant where they check up on you. If you need something, you have to flag down a server. When you order, a slip of paper with the dishes you ordered is kept at the front of your table (it’s a computerized slip with Chinese characters) and the server scratches off the dishes as they arrive.

The total for our table of six was $109 (the prix fixe plus the additional two courses). For a total of six courses, that works out to be about $18 per person, which is a pretty good deal. (We also got complimentary dessert, which at Chinese restaurants is typically a sweet bean soup served warm or a tapioca soup with melons served cold. This night we got the sweet bean soup, which was fine except I did take my Mom to a dessert place in the afternoon before dinner so we couldn’t finish our desserts. Complimentary desserts aren’t always a given at Chinese restaurants. Often you have to ask about it, and generally it’s only given to large parties.)

Overall, I found the food at Hong Kong Lounge to be satisfactory but not exceptional. It’s not greasy, which is always a sign of good Hong Kong-style food, but the cornstarch ratio can sometimes veer on being too much, which creates the gloopey sauce. It’s what I would consider a good family-style neighborhood restaurant that you can bring guests to, but it’s not a destination restaurant.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (Familiar and reliable)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Hong Kong Lounge on Urbanspoon

Similar restaurant reviews:
Jai Yun: “Family Dinner with Chef Nei”
Great China: “Feasting with Family in Berkeley”


Cookie said...

I love how you can feast at a good Chinese restaurant without breaking the bank! That coffee spare ribs sound really interesting and I'll have to look for it next time we're out. I love clay pots too and actually don't mind all the tofu. YUM I bet that sauce from the XO chicken was great poured on top of rice!

Mark Scarbrough said...

May I please, please just go eat with you for a week? I don't care if the clay pot was disappointing. I would have sucked it down in no time flat. And those coffee ribs. Yum. (Although I could do without the whipped cream.)

Hungry Dog said...

I've been to the HK lounge once a long time ago...doesn't sound as though it's worth returning to in a hurry. The coffee spare ribs sound bizarre, esp. with whipped cream--what?

Carolyn Jung said...

Coffee ribs with a squirt of cream? In a Chinese restuarant?!? Oh my gosh. Are they going nouveau or something? How weird!

And why is it every Chinese restaurant feels the need to drown a poor lobster in a vat of cornstarch? It's sad, I tell ya.