Chef’s specials shine at Hong Kong Seafood

Last March I wrote about a small homestyle Cantonese spot in the Outer Richmond called KL Restaurant, a boon for its neighborhood.

Directly across Golden Gate Park in the Outer Sunset is another popular local place, Hong Kong Seafood. This spotless corner restaurant deservedly draws a citywide clientele for its clear-flavored, Cantonese-style seafood and other dishes from a chef with skillful technique and a refined palate.

Find the ocean-blue booklet in the pile of menus plunked on the center of the table, as did Cecilia Chiang, my Chinese food guru. All the chef’s specials are listed there, except, of course, the ones that aren’t, such as geoduck clam prepared two ways.

Geoduck — gigantic, prehistoric looking clams from a highly regulated fishery in the Pacific Northwest — have long, trunk-like siphons and rich body meat. At Hong Kong Seafood, the geoduck ($65 for a 2 ½-pound clam) came first in a creamy chowder with mustard greens, tofu, black mushrooms and hunks of body meat served in a separate bowl. You sip the hot, fortifying broth as you dunk the poached solids into a soy-chile dipping sauce. The flavors are subtle and comforting. Then, a platter of thinly sliced siphon, wok-tossed with celery and snow peas, shows off the geoduck’s most prized qualities — nuttiness, natural sweetness and its tender yet crunchy texture. If geoducks are available, don’t pass up this experience.

In the menu booklet, house special chicken ($9.50/half), served cold, has flesh so velvety and succulent, andyellow skin so plump and firm, it must start every dinner. Then move on to another signature dish, whole Dungeness crab coated in duck egg yolk ($20) and deep fried just until it develops a golden gritty crust outside with juicy flesh inside. Again, it’s one of the best versions I’ve tasted.

From the “sizzling platter” page, order frog with green onion and ginger ($12). The delicate white flesh slips off the bones in your mouth. The heat from the metal plate releases the aroma from ribbons of ginger so thin you can eat them. Though I raised my eyebrows when Chiang ordered ostrich, once again she proved infallible. Thin, melting, beeflike slices glistened in a dark, rich sauce punctuated with bright Chinese chives and broccoli stems. The stir-fry picked up haunting smokiness from the wok.

The two small dining rooms of Hong Kong Seafood are cheerful and shiny clean with patterned carpeting, pink tablecloths and an acoustic ceiling that keeps noise in check. High-backed upholstered chairs keep diners comfortable. The food comes quickly and all at once unless you really, really make an effort to slow it down. Even Chiang was not successful.

At dim sum lunch, light streams in through big windows, affording a glimpse of the ocean at the end of sloping Noriega. The dim sum chef is particularly adept at making shrimp-filled steamed rice flour rolls; delightfully toothsome fried then steamed tofu skin stuffed with pork and shrimp; and floppy chiu chao dumplings — noodle wrappers filled with peanuts, dried and fresh shrimp, celery, black mushrooms and a whisper of sweet spice.

As the only Caucasian in the restaurant on all visits, I observed that everyone in the dining rooms got equally inattentive treatment. I considered this de rigeur. Chiang, the dowager empress, did not. Yet, we both agreed that for quality and price, Hong Kong Seafood is a bona fide destination.

Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant

Location: 2588 Noriega St. (at 33rd Avenue), San Francisco

Contact: (415) 665-8338

Hours: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Price range: $7 to $20 for dinner; $2.20 to $5 for dim sum

Recommended dishes: House special chicken; crispy fried crab in duck egg, frog legs on a sizzling platter; geoduck clam cooked two ways; dim sum dessert buns with golden filling; fried then braised tofu skin with oyster sauce; chiu chao dumplings; king dumpling in soup

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Reservations: Accepted for dinner, parties of eight or more for dim sum

Patricia Unterman’s San Francisco Food Lover’s Pocket Guide is available at bookstores now. Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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