San francisco, with its unpredictable weather, was at it’s foggiest best when we decided to go to House of Nanking for lunch. We gave the tour of Chinatown a miss and decided to start with Lunch. Situated at the corner of Kearney Street, House of Nanking is a SF landmark with a number of myths around it and we went in with some apprehension around overly hyped places that turn out incredibly lame by the time you are done with the first course.
House of Nanking seems like a standard Cart to Respectable Restaurant transformation and looks like it has history stamped all over it with old photographs everywhere. The restaurant still has some of that old cart feel about it in the way in which you are rushed to a table, and the way the scent emanating from the kitchen permeates through the entire restaurant and the way it sounds like there’s a war going on in the kitchen. Pretty soon we were ordering Jasmine Blossom Tea with Goji Berries. The tea is really a revelation and like a magic act, the ball of jasmine tea unfolds itself and the goji berry adds a sweet and sour taste to the tea making it a tangy, refreshing cuppa.
One of the apocryphal stories around Nanking is that the owner chef, Peter Fang would take special care of first time visitors to his restaurant, choosing what they should order with experiences ranging from the sublime to the pedestrian but definitely unpredictable. We had a regular server who waited patiently but in the spirit of the owner tried to nudge us towards the things that we should eat. We started with Green Onion Pancakes and it was unlike any Chinese food we’d had before, crispy exterior and an amazing mix of onions and a tasty peanut sauce, its like Chinese comfort food to an Indian that truly loves a samosa. You feel full enough after just three slices that you feel you could skip dinner but surprisingly there is space for more. And then come our main dishes of Stir Fried Pea Shoots, Tofu and Broccoli with some steamed rice.
The Pea Shoots were piled high in all their green glory and this generous portion was sauced beautifully with a simple yet amazingly flavorful sauce with a lovely garlicky savoriness complementing the sweetness of the pea shoots so well. One of us at the table that hates both Tofu and Broccoli, loved the Tofu & Broccoli dish. The tofu was fried, crispy on the outside and soft and succulent on the inside. The broccoli, green, crunchy and soaked the delicious sauce, and oh the Sauce. The sauce was the clincher. The slightly salty black bean sauce, unlike any black bean sauce we’ve ever have had.
House of Nanking probably faces plenty of criticism – oh it’s not authentic chinese food, oh their food is made to suit the American palate etc – but good food speaks for itself. It doesn’t matter which master chef runs the kitchen or how many Michelin stars are hung on the door. The food was fantastic. We loved this experience and we’re sure you will too. If you’re ever in San Francisco, stop by and experience it.