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Absolute Mission (SF)

I ended up at Mission Chinese by accident. The unpredictable baby is unpredictable, so dinner plans and reservations are always up in the air. The place is a dump, which I almost certainly essential to it’s appeal. Same food in a nicer setting would invite far more criticism. But in the hull of Lung Shan it sort of works. I expected Mission Chinese to the ironic take on an Americanized Chinese restaurant – a San Francisco answer to Torrisi. But they are doing their own thing at Mission Chinese and I actually ended up liking the place. Flavors are loud, ingredients are a step or two above a typical Chinese take-out joint. The dishes real like stunt food, but are really more about cultural kitsch than making a fashion statement. Given the great cooking you can find in San Francisco, I am not sure I am going back, but it’s fun. I could think of worse ways to spend a night out.

I started with Tea Smoked Eel, constructed like bánh cu?n from pulled hamhock, rice noodles, Chinese celery, cognac and soy. With slightly mushy texture the eel wasn’t handled as delicately as in your favorite sushi house, but it has a nice flavor. The tough hunks of raw Chinese celery ensure that the roll falls apart as soon as you take the first bite, but it doesn’t really matter. It tastes reasonably good either way.

I could not resist ordering a General Tso’s Veal Rib as a main course, which ended up being a hunk of meat big enough to feed me and the party of two I was sharing a table with. Picture three large veal ribs, smothered in General Tso’s sauce, chile flakes, leeks and mostly raw green onions. No fewer than 5 people asked me what I was eating as soon at this dish hit the table.

 

I am not 100% certain why baby cows had to die for this dish, as any subtlety of veal was absolutely clobbered by the sauce, but it has a great play on texture. Crisp, almost charred outside reminiscent of burnt ends on well prepared smoked brisket, followed by a layer of fat, and an extremely tender interior with a mouth feel of soft baby back BBQ ribs. I offered much of my food to my randon dining companions, but they were far too shy and ended up eating the whole thing myself (though I did score some tender cumin lamb from one of their plates for being a gracious table mate).

Mission Chinese doesn’t serve dessert, but I did manage to find Friday Pie, a home-made pie stand a few blocks away on Yelp (not every Yelp user wants to destroy restaurants and carrers – often the site is quite useful). It wasn’t the stuff of legends they used to serve at Bootsie’s, but the pies had a savory crust and were very good.

All in, not a bad night in the Mission district.


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