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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

All Season

Growing up, my mom always said that the sign of a good Chinese restaurant is roasted animals hanging in the window. Hearing the familiar twang of our village dialect is always reassuring too. Which means even more when the restaurant you’re visiting is located in a typically non-Asian neighborhood.

But news in the Chinese food community apparently travels fast. And on a recent Sunday, the normally quiet parking lot of the Diamond Heights Safeway was bustling. And atypically full.

After 30+ years in this location, Yeh Wah closed its doors last summer and the word on the street was that because rents became too high. The neighborhood waited with baited breath to see who would take that space. (In a moment of wishful thinking, MFM even wrote a letter to Ike’s Place suggesting he move there after a dispute with his landlord). Eventually, All Season (a Chinese restaurant with one location in the financial district) put up signs that they were moving in. But people were still skeptical.

Somehow, it’s working. It’s probably a combination of the free, easy parking, roomy-and-pleasant (by Chinese tea house standards) atmosphere, and actually good-tasting, authentic food. There were crowds of people lined up by 10:30am for dim sum on a weekend, and I was happy to see a lot of my favorites – like steamed turnip cakes, sticky rice with chicken, and shrimp dumplings being carted around. They even had some more traditional dishes like chicken feet and congee. And everything was tasty.

But here’s the rub - it's not exactly cheap. In Chinatown, or other Chinatown-like areas like the Sunset or the Richmond, you can find cha siu baos for .50 or .75 cents, certainly less than the $1 each they charge here. And a plate of chow mein or fried rice will set you back $12. I guess you can’t have everything. But for tasty and authentic food, the ease of parking, and the luxury of being able to carry a conversation with the people you are dining with, it’s well worth it. Plus, I think it’s a kick just to hear the twang of all those Chinese dialects in a place you’d wouldn't even expect it.



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