R&G Lounge, one of San Francisco’s premier Cantonese dinner houses, continues to change. The restaurant opened in 1985 with 50 cramped basement seats and an inexpensive menu. Through the years, it expanded, adding a carpeted and quieter upstairs room for fine dining, and then a full bar and more seating on the ground floor, bringing seating capacity to 250. The kitchen could not keep up.
Last year, R&G closed down for a costly three-week, around-the-clock re-do of its 30-year-old infrastructure. Owner Kinson Wong installed an extra stove, increased BTUs (fire power) on all the stoves and hired another chef.
Recently, I revisited for a banquet, arranged by longtime manager Angel Liu. It was an opulent meal highlighting new dishes inspired by Liu and Wong’s annual eating trips to Hong Kong.
The completely packed upstairs dining room, filled with large, white linen-covered round tables, felt like the old Vanessi’s on Broadway (for those of you who remember). Everyone was there — Chinatown players, tourists and plenty of serious eaters.
Barbecue chef Wei Chan put out one of the finest cold appetizer plates in town, an array of Cantonese-style, steamed, rice wine-marinated cold delicacies that literally gave the mouth a warm-up. Drunken squab ($16), duck wings ($8), duck tongues ($8), beef shin ($8), vegetarian goose made of layers of tofu skin ($8) and jellyfish ($8) were chewy, gelatinous, bony, unctuous, juicy and crunchy. Geoduck (clam) sashimi ($30 per pound) was so sparkly and fresh it tasted alive, because it is!
Then, an elegant Cantonese five-hour double broth ($30), ladled from a tureen — with smooth silky Asian pears, fresh green figs and snow fungus — gave our hardworking teeth a rest. I ate several bowls.
No kitchen does huge salt and pepper-dusted prawns ($32 per pound), shipped live from the Gulf of Mexico, better. A mountainous chunk of local black cod ($35), now in season, melted in our mouths. R&G’s soya sauce chicken ($22) delivered another version of culinary satin.
Crisp, cleansing loofa ($18) — called silk gourd — shaved into ribbons, preceded mild, tender lamb in a stirfry with leeks and celery ($18).
In a reprise of the beginning of the meal, the creamy interiors of the geoduck created a sauce for tender e-fu noodles.
With four martinis and a couple of beers, this feast for eight (it could have easily fed 10) came to $635 with tip — $80 a person. Attentive service was meticulous. I rank it as one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in San Francisco.
A few days later, I returned for casual lunch in the basement. Three of us ate fabulous clams steamed in egg custard ($17); R&G’s signature cold, rice wine-marinated princess chicken ($15 for half); and a perfectly steamed rock cod pulled from the nearby fish tank ($30 per pound).
We spent $100 on lunch and got no service at all. Plates weren’t changed. The tea, made with tea bags, tasted like water. The dishes were plunked on the table all together. We had to beg for rice and rice bowls and the waiter simply refused to give back our original check with individual dish listings.
Where you sit at R&G Lounge makes a difference in service. It improves radically if you are known. The Cantonese cooking, however, is reliably excellent.
Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at www.rnglounge.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily
Price range: $3.50 to $30
Recommended dishes: Soy sauce chicken; princess chicken; cold appetizer plates; salt and pepper crab; clams with steamed egg; lamb with leeks and celery
Credit cards: All major
A New Generation of frozen yogurt
2150 Irving St. at 22nd Street and 2240 Chestnut St. near Scott Street; www.tuttimelon.com
During the ‘80s, frozen yogurt aspired to the creaminess and sweetness of soft-serve ice cream. The bad versions had no yogurt flavor at all. The decent ones, such as California-made Honeyhill Farms low-fat yogurt, maintained a hint of tanginess that actually evoked yogurt. The demand for this kind of product waned in the 90s. Then, three years ago, Pinkberry took Los Angeles by storm with its distinctively tart, refreshing version of frozen yogurt. Though Pinkberry has opened 58 shops in Southern California and New York City, there are none in Northern California. Now we have something very similar at two new Tuttimelon shops. This local company has created a tart, light, not-too-sweet frozen yogurt with just the 21st-century qualities that made Pinkberry such a craze. Try a cup of Tuttimelon’s “original tart” frozen yogurt with fresh raspberries and blueberries. Right now, a small original costs only 99 cents during an introductory promotion. Add two toppings for $1.15. I’m becoming addicted.
— Patricia Unterman
Alhambra Halal Meat
3111 24th St. (at Folsom Street), S.F.; (415) 525-4499
An immaculate new meat market in the Mission now exclusively sells naturally raised beef, lamb, goat and chicken. This means that the free-range animals are fed a vegetarian diet without antibiotics or hormones. Try their house-made lamb sausages. You can buy everything you need for a tajine plus other Middle Eastern ingredients.
— Patricia Unterman