San Tung Chinese Restaurant (山東小館) in San Francisco
San Tung is a very popular Chinese restaurant located in the sunset district of San Francisco. It is known for its garlicky fried chicken wings. Lesser known is that this dish is called Gan Pong Chicken, a popular dish in Shandong style Chinese restaurants in Korea. The most authentic and original version of this dish is more garlicky and spicier in flavor rather than the current sweeter variety in most places.
Like most Shandong style restaurants (also referred to sometimes as Korean-Chinese style) in bay area, it serves dishes like Gan Pong Chicken, Liang Zhang Pi (double-skin), water boiled dumplings (Shui Jiao), and home-made noodle dishes such as ChaoMaMian and ZhaJiangMian. Other examples of this style of restaurant include the famous Great China in Berkeley, Cafe Yulong in Mountain View, and many others. I’ll be compiling a list of these restaurants and post it soon.
We started off with a classic Shandong dish which can be used to judge a restaurant’s quality. It is a cold plate dish that is well known mostly within the Shandong circle. It is usually called Shandong Chicken and is usually half a chicken served on a bed of marinated pickle. The chicken is made by first frying it and then steaming it and marinated with a special soy and garlic based sauce. The sauce is what makes the dish. The steaming process also seals in the juicy flavor of the chicken and makes this dish a complicated one to make.
Apparently San Tung decided to skip this critical step of steaming the chicken and chilling it. Their version came directly fried, with the meat still warm. So instead of Shandong Chicken, we got KFC chicken. When we asked the waitress, her attitude was “this is the way we make it, whether you like it or not”. We can what the restaurant’s priorities are by this simple exchange. (Grade: C- )
The ZhengJiao (蒸餃; steamed dumpling) was made with pork and veggie fillings. The skin was good but the filling was too dry. (Grade: C+ )
The ShuiJiao (水餃) water boiled dumpling looked bad as soon as it arrived. The skin was very thin, causing the wrapper to wrap tightly around the filling. The filling again is too dry and not juicy at all. The thin skin had no texture to speak of and no sign of a good hand-made dumpling skin that Shandong area is famous for. (Grade: B- )
The ChaoMaMian noodle looked ok. However, the broth did not have the strong garlicky undertone that is crucial to a good Chaomamian. The 3 types of seafood included shrimp, mussels, and squid. Additionally there was beef and the standard julienned vegetables.
The homemade noodles were actually pretty good. It was pourous enough to soak up the flavors of the broth. Overall this was a good version but could be better. (Grade: B)
The ZhaJiangMian sauce had big chunks of veggie instead of the normal smaller diced items. This means the ingredients are less flavorful because they can’t soak up the flavor of the sauce. It is in the “Gan”, dry variety instead of the more wet, saucy variety.
After mixing the noodles, the flavors are well blended with the handmade noodle. Again, it was a good version but could be better. (Grade: B )
Last item was the Gan Pong Shrimp. Like the popular dried fried chicken wings (Gan Pong Chicken) here, the sauce is the goo-ey, glop-py type of sweet sauce. It reminds me more of the Cantonese-American style Sweet & Sour sauce as opposed to tradtional spicy, garlicky Gan Pong sauce. For the most authentic and best Gan Pong Srhimp, Cafe Yulong in Mountain View is still the standard for all others are measured. (Grade: C )
So overall, I was pretty disappointed with San Tung with their traditional Shandong dishes. It is as if many of the items are Americanized and there’s no attempt to preserve the original, authentic flavors that distinguish traditional Shandong dishes. Which is fine if the Americanized versions are good, but they’re not – like many other victims of Americanized Cantonese establishments in middle America.
San Tung Chinese Restaurant (山東小館)