My elegant Shanghai friends, one in her 70s, the other a venerable 89, swept into the humble little Golden Gate Dim Sum Seafood Restaurant like two empresses.
Watching from the table, I had a premonition that this could be a culturally fraught lunch. But I needed them. Most of the dishes I wanted to try were posted on the wall in Chinese.
For three years, Golden Gate has been serving straight-ahead Guangdong Cantonese food in the former location of Mao Zedong Village Cuisine. The gruff, non-ingratiating service here seems like a Mao-era holdover, though the two dining rooms are actually cheerful and cozy.
The small front room has tables covered with white linen and white paper tucked under a beamed A-frame ceiling, with forest green chairs and red lanterns.
A small back dining room looks out through a glass wall to a vertical rock garden studded with ferns. Giverny-style white, yellow and blue china, adds that je ne sais quoi.
Both of my empresses speak Mandarin, Shanghainese and English, but one had to dredge up her adolescent, post-1949 Hong Kong Cantonese to order. The ining room was full of Cantonese-speaking lunchers. We were the outsiders. Only I admitted to liking anything.
I don’t see how my friends could have been immune to the charms of red wine oxtail ($10.95), No. 10 on the Chinese wall menu, a clay pot dish evocative of boeuf bourguignon, full of tender carrots, a deep sauce melded with garlic and Western red wine, and flavorful meat nestled into bones.
With a platter of spring pea leaves ($14.95) and rice, this is a meal that should have satisfied the pickiest eater.
From the dim sum menu, the empresses grudgingly approved of soft, delicate turnip cakes ($2) with a custard-like texture and crisp edges; and some notably fresh, home-style har gow ($2.50), shrimp dumplings.
Warm chicken feet ($4.80) also disappeared quickly, the skin and soft cartilage scented with Chinese celery, steeped in a clear broth studded with red wolf berries, and caramel-nuanced Chinese dates called jujubees.
At dinner one night, a Cantonese-speaking Vietnamese guest ordered exclusively from the Chinese wall menu. I’m still thinking about No. 8, succulent boneless pork neck stir fried with sliced jalapeños, onions and fermented black beans ($8.50) — a spicy, salty, irresistible combination.
So was No. 2, a clay pot of creamy gingko nuts, tofu skin, curls of clean pork stomach, black mushrooms, tons of black pepper and pickled cabbage leaves in boiling broth ($8.50). I didn’t want to stop eating this one, either.
For those who love that homey Cantonese dish of steamed ground pork seasoned with salted fish, Golden Gate does an excellent version. The pork is actually pounded, not ground, so it becomes velvety, and almost gelatinous. The mild salted fish adds depth as baby bok choy contributes color and balance.
With these dishes and others, Golden Gate Dim Sum Seafood Restaurant has now joined my top comfort food list. The chef, Mr. Wong, reportedly came from the respected Mayflower nearby on Geary Boulevard.
Dim sum lunch, by the way, is easy to order. Just check off items from a long list. But the best dinner finds demand Chinese literacy. If you can’t read, bring someone who does and is not affronted by socialist attitude.
Patricia Unterman is the author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Golden Gate Dim Sum Seafood Restaurant
Location: 1829 Clement St. (at 19th Avenue), S.F.
Contact: (415) 666-3883; www.goldengatedimsumsf.com
Hours: Dim sum from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; dinner from 5 to 9:30 p.m. nightly
Price range: $2 to $12.99
Recommended dishes: Pork neck with fermented black beans, red wine oxtail, turnip cake with Chinese sausage, herb chicken feet, clay pot with gingko nuts, dessert soup of jasmine tea, soy milk and tofu skin
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard