I had two spectacular meals at All Season Restaurant, an expansive, second floor dining hall with tall windows in a Diamond Heights shopping center with a sea of parking. A picky Shanghai friend of mine hosted a dinner there that I loved so much, I returned with a group for mid-week dim sum.
I can’t imagine approaching All Season’s long and perplexing menu cold, especially if you cannot read Chinese. To get the best out of a major Cantonese operation like this, gather a group and plan the meal in advance with a manager. Order dishes that play to the strengths of a southern Chinese kitchen: fresh, simply prepared poultry, whole fish, shell fish and vegetables, all cooked with exquisite timing and little or no sauce. Then ask a manager (Fannie Liang or Justin Ng) to suggest a few creations that the chefs consider their own. At All Season, the dinner chef is from Zhongshan, and the dim sum chef is from Hong Kong.
Maybe it was the spot prawns ($56 for 8 people), so delicately poached they almost tasted alive (which they were, minutes before), that made me fall for this place. I raked the crunchy roe off their feathery legs with my teeth, thinking that nothing could top these plump shrimp from Los Angeles, until their heads arrived later, deep fried, full of even sweeter, richer meat, and super crunchy. In between, we sipped a restorative, clear, chicken and meat broth ($18) with sea coconut.
We dipped the dark, velvety flesh and crunchy skin of roasted squab ($25) into finely ground salt and white pepper as we gnawed on the bones. We dug out the snowy, juicy meat of a steamed Dungeness crab ($31) perched on a garlicky bed of sticky rice infused with the tomalley of the crab.
Tender/crisp mustard greens ($16.50) with slices of abalone mushroom (king trumpets) in a sheer, clean sauce, sang.
We ate chilled chicken ($24), steeped in fried green tea leaves; and steamed squares of soft tofu topped with a paste of shrimp pork and black mushrooms ($11). We probably didn’t need super tender beef filet ($12.50), wok fried with red onions, because a clay pot of melting pork belly braised with dried and pickled vegetables ($13), had satisfied the meat niche so completely.
At $224 for 8, including tax, this luxurious meal was an astounding bargain.
Of scores of lunch time dim sum, look for loosely bound shrimp and scallop har gow ($3.45); and sticky rice balls cinched with strips of banana leaf ($4.10), two savory, two sweet, in the same steamer. Another original, purple flecked mashed taro rolls ($4.15), are filled with shiitakes, shrimp and pork, and wrapped in bean thread noodles, so each bite delivers three different textures. For dessert, coconut coated rice dumplings filled with runny, sweet and salty egg yolks ($4.15) are a knock out.
All Season’s dim sum service was pronounced “very Hong Kong” by eaters at my table because of the kitchen’s willingness to prepare almost anything, on or off the menu. For those of us who don’t know enough to ask, All Season’s dim sum offers many visits’ worth of great eating, for which you can just show up.
All Season Restaurant, 5238 Diamond Heights Blvd. San Francisco
Contact: 415 282-8883; www.allseasonrestaurant.com
Hours: Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Price range: dim sum start at $3.45; dinner $6 for appetizers; $ 10 to $12.50 for hot dishes
Recommended dishes: live spot shrimp (coral shrimp) two ways; taro roll with minced pork and shrimp; coconut ball with egg yolk; mustard greens with abalone mushrooms; pea greens with tofu and fish paste puffs; clay pot of pork belly with preserved vegetables
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Reservations: accepted for dinner, not lunch