We were seven for lunch at Kam Lok, a small unassuming Cantonese restaurant in SF Chinatown (843 Washington). Descending the stairs into this basement restaurant one finds a modest decor and a predominately Chinese crowd, with many older men drinking tea and talking or reading Chinese newspapers.
Our choices included:
Fresh Crab with Ginger and Onion Sauce
Oxtail Special Sauce Claypot
Sautéed Snow Pea Sprouts in Broth
Braised Yee Noodles with Mushroom & Scallop
The sea snails were the only item I wouldn’t order again, but I’m not a sea snails kind of guy. It was the only dish with any significant left over when we were done.
The Yee noodles were excellent, chewy with a nice bounce, with mushrooms and shreds of scallop, great flavor and texture. The shrimp noodles with onion were also quite good, though not nearly as good as the Yee noodles, my favorite dish of the meal.
I’ve gotten addicted to the salt and pepper oxtails served at Tai Wu in Foster City and the claypot oxtail seemed by companion just an OK prep after my first bite, but later in the meal when the oxtail was gone I greedily cleaned up the sauce, veggies and tofu sheet remnants at the bottom of the pot, disappointed there wasn’t more.
The pigeon was very meaty (not like the scrawny birds often served), full of very flavorful moist meat. It may have been the best I’ve had in the U.S. It was probably not nearly as fine as the pigeon I had at the famed outdoor place near the Sha Tin racetrack in Hong Kong, but that was decades ago and my memory is dim. If the quality of Kam Lok’s birds is consistent I would come back frequently just for this and the Yee noodles.
The crab was small but sweet and flavorful. The snow pea greens were really good, cooked just right.
Despite Yelp reports, the service was quite good—water came quickly after a request, the server was pleasant and efficient, and fresh plates were offered twice. Maybe having our Cantonese speaker ordering made a difference.
Cultural note: Our Cantonese-speaking companion commented that the chef was “very Cantonese” after placing an order for extra to take home. His brief description of the conversation suggested an in-your-face gruffness that was perhaps intended to be playful. in my limited time in Hong Kong I was often reminded of attitudes in NYC, where gruffness/toughness was often worn as a badge of pride.
So along with some very good Cantonese food you get to experience a bit of Cantonese culture, a pleasant vacation for a couple of hours before returning to the U.S. without having to board a plane. We ate very well for $22 per person, tip included.