Monday, January 17, 2011

San Tung Chinese Restaurant in San Francisco

Following the Crowds in the Inner Sunset
1031 Irving St., San Francisco
Inner Sunset
PH: 415.242.0828
Open daily (except Wednesday), 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted, reservations only for parties of 5 or more

Sometimes when I see a crowded restaurant, it just piques my interest on why it’s so popular. That’s the case with San Tung Restaurant near the 9th and Irving neighborhood.

My friend Hector pointed it out to me one day during lunch and the restaurant was crowded with people gulping down the Northern Chinese-style noodles. San Tung is apparently known for its ja-jiang mein (cold noodles with beef sauce and cucumber slices).

Recently Hector and I checked out the final days of the Impressionists exhibit at the DeYoung museum at the Golden Gate Park on a Friday night, and afterwards we walked over to San Tung. The place was packed as usual, and we added our names to the wait list. But the restaurant goes through its tables pretty quickly, so our wait at the peak hour was only about 25 minutes. Not bad for a Friday night.

Of course, we ended up sharing one of the big tables with other diners, but we made do.

We started with the shrimp and leek dumplings ($7.50) because I wanted to try one of their dumplings and I had read that the shrimp version was pretty good. When they arrived, they looked dumpy. And when I bit into them, the skin tasted mealy like it was steamed too long. The filling was also 90 percent leeks and very little shrimp.

Hector, who has been to San Tung a couple of times before, ordered the restaurant’s specialty, the dry-fried chicken ($9.50). You can order them as boneless diced pieces or chicken wings, and Hector went with the wings. Since I’m not a fan of deep-fried foods, I only tried one piece.

I have to say, I can see why this dish is so popular. The crispy fried chicken was sauced with a savory-sweet sauce that was balanced and tangy. People probably come here just for the ja-jiang mein and this fried chicken (in fact, several tables had these two orders).

Wanting to try a seafood dish, I ordered the braised flounder fillet ($13). And looking at the photo, you can see that it’s a deep-fried fish covered with a mixture of vegetables. Yes, I knew it would be deep-fried, but I was hoping the vegetables on top would even things out. Instead, it looked kind of like a chop suey mess covering up fried fish, and tasted pretty much the same.

Thinking tofu would be a nice healthy alternative, I ordered the family-style beach curd ($8), which sounded like a nice comfort dish. Instead it was basically another mixed plate of tofu pieces and mixed vegetables and bean thread noodles (the clear thin noodles).

The sauce for the tofu dish was similar to the fish dish, which is basically the average brown sauce in many average Chinese restaurants consisting of oyster sauce and corn starch.

We had a lot of leftovers, that’s for sure.

San Tung is known for a few dishes, and they do those dishes well. But taken as a whole, this is a basic Chinese restaurant where almost every dish taste pretty much the same and they attract new diners with lots of food like gigantuan potstickers I spied at other tables. An example of quantity over quality.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (stick with the wings)

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

San Tung on Urbanspoon


Hungry Dog said...

Sorry you didn't have a stellar experience at San Tung. I love that place though must admit it's probably been a year or so since I've been. I always liked the shrimp & leek dumplings but maybe they went downhill.

Single Guy Ben said...

HD, the dumplings were just overcooked. It's a bustling place, but I have to say other than the chicken wings, I can't see why.