Mission Chinese Food

OK, let’s start out by crediting the folks who turned me on to this place. Mark reviewed it early last fall on Mus E Yum, but somehow i didn’t get around to going until my friends Richard and Flynn had also raved about it. Everybody’s right. The food’s excellent. I had the Slow Cooked Char Siu Pork Belly with soy cured egg, ginger scallion noodles, and cucumber, and it was the closest thing i’ve had to the Babi Pangang that i wrote repeatedly about eating in Amsterdam. Speaking of bellies, i got a belly laugh when i read Jonathan Kauffman’s review in SFWeekly in which he criticized this dish for being “fatty”. Folks, if you can’t stand the fat, stay out of the pork belly.

The chef, Danny Bowein, is ethnically Korean but was adopted as a baby by an Oklahoma couple, a friendly, delightful guy with an attitude toward food that combines down home good eating with haute cuisine. There’s not a pretentious bone in his body and he doesn’t act like the upcoming celebrity chef that he actually is. Check out this video of him talking with his business partner about Popeye’s fried chicken. I was lucky to be seated beside a work station where he stopped to make some dumplings, and while he worked we talked about regional foods. He explained that the reason he delivers everything on the menu is that he understands that sometimes you’re just too tired to go out but still want some good food.

As all the reviews explain, Bowein is sharing the kitchen in an existing Chinese storefront restaurant called Lung Shan at 2234 Mission Street (between 18th and 19th). The ambience is classic Chinese storefront until you look a little more closely and notice that a 50+ foot long red dragon is coiled along the ceiling.

The food, though, is nothing at all like your typical little Chinese place. Stealth fine dining. Here’s the menu.

winter sunriseAnd here’s the dragon.

My second visit was delayed by the General Adventure described in the entry below, but at the chef’s recommendation i had the porridge, more commonly called congee in San Francisco or jook in places where there are more Mandarin speakers. It was just plain meaty with shredded crab and was by far the best congee i ever ate.

Third visit i went in with Sybil and we had a pork festival: the Pork Belly and the Thrice Cooked Bacon. The bacon had in it what were called “rice cakes”, which were flat ovals about an inch wide with a texture rather like pasta…the dish was delicious, and it was the first dish i’ve had there that was marked with the pepper symbol. I found the pepper level to be just right so long as i ate only the jalapeño slices and avoided the dried red peppers. The bottom line: Sybil validated my love for this place.

Fourth visit: The pork dumpling soup, all the tastier for getting to watch from my favorite table beside his workstation while Danny made and cooked the dumplings.

Fifth visit: The Ma Po Tofu, marked with two pepper symbols, and he damn sure meant them both. Delicious and thank God for that steamed rice. Gasp.

Sixth visit: The eggplant. This is that Szechuan eggplant dish i’ve been eating with gusto for thirty years. Never had it better anywhere else.

Seventh visit: the Tingly Lamb Noodle Soup, with lamb breast, fresh Shanghai noodles, bok choi, and “numbing lamb broth.” Like everything else here, it was delicious. I’ve been using hua jiao 花椒 for decades to season pork roasts, but i’d never eaten enough at a sitting to experience its notorious numbing effect.

I have now.
And it’s more fun than the dentist.

And i’m not big on landscape shots, but this winter sunrise caught my eye:

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