One month old Sichuan Home is the best Chinese restaurant to open in San Francisco since Hakka Restaurant appeared on the outer edge of the Richmond. This shiny new place, just west of Park Presidio Boulevard, has a wood paneled dining room and only a handful of tables which are always full. Word has spread quickly about the luscious and the original food here, presented on lime green ceramics and bamboo pieces.
The visionary behind Sichuan Home is boyish chef/owner Liu Hong, trained in Chengdu, and a resident of San Francisco since 2005. His meticulous Sichuan cooking radiates vitality and personality. Far from being monolithically hot, his dishes explore texture.
The laminated menu with photographs is written in both English and Chinese, but the generic English translations neither describe nor do justice to his creations. Be sure to take note of the identifying menu numbers of dishes that interest you if you don’t read Chinese.
The key to a sensually exciting meal at Sichuan Home is to alternate hot and mild dishes. Start with #84 Red Chili Oil Won Tons ($6.95), one of the best dishes in town. The thin noodle wrappers are filled with juicy, hand chopped pork that stands up to modulated chili spiked broth. Dive into heat with an incendiary cold beef brisket and tendon salad, #5 Couple’s Delight ($7.95). Then follow with #16 Nutritious Mutton Soup ($12.95), a clear, herbal lamb broth scented with Chinese celery and jujube– caramelly Chinese dates; or #39 House Special Chicken ($12.95), a bamboo bucket of exquisitely moist, steamed “yellow” chicken in pure, rich broth.
The opaque “Chef’s Recommendations” menu section is a hunting ground for ravishing dishes. #20 Chef’s Special Fish Stew ($18.95) has a broth perfumed–not blasted–with Sichuan peppercorns and both pickled and fresh red chillies, which embraces firm slices of flounder, thick ribbons of tender kombu (dark green seaweed), and crunchy bean sprouts. As always, the play of textures seduces.
Comb the “Sichuan New Style Food” section for fantastic vegetable dishes such as #40 Nen Yow in Special Sauce ($10.95), crunchy lotus root sandwiches filled with a thin layer of chopped pork, that are battered and deep fried like dumplings, and swathed in shocking, atomic red, sweet and sour sauce that tastes astonishingly delicate and natural. This one too is all about texture–the vegetal crunch of barely cooked tuber; the crispness of fried batter; the silk of the sauce. So is # 32 Chef’s Special Combo Mix ($7.95), a haystack of julienned lotus root, purple-speckled deep fried taro sticks, and green slashes of Chinese chive, all scented with toasted pine nuts. Don’t miss it.
A huge bowl of # 91 Dao Chow Noodles ($5.95), thick, chewy, curly-edged handmade noodles, with star anise braised beef stew and a red chile broth, makes for the ultimate lunch.
Generosity rules at Sichuan Home. Every table gets a plate of teasingly hot cabbage, celery and carrot pickle, and a saucer of freshly roasted peanuts. The two, smiling young women servers try to be as helpful as language barriers will allow, even during a rush. They make Sichuan Home feel like home. Eating here fans the fire of my love of Chinese cookery.
Sichuan Home, 5037 Geary (between 14th and 15th avenues) San Francisco
Contact: 415 221-3288
Hours: daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Price range: $4.95 to $12.95; $18.95 and up for some fish dishes
Recommended dishes: Won ton in chile oil; chef’s “new style” vegetable dishes; dao chao noodles with spicy beef; chef’s special fish stew;
Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard