Wo Hing General Store, the latest jewel in the Charles Phan crown, has moved back into the original Slanted Door location. Even after an artistic make-over by architect Olle Lundberg, the narrow space still echoes the sensibility of Phan’s first restaurant which brought local ingredients and smart design to Vietnamese cooking. Wo Hing’s chef, Michelle Mah, continues the tradition by transporting the southern Chinese food Phan grew up eating in Vietnam, to this strikingly modern setting.
A recent lunch upstairs in the cozy, quieter mezzanine, announced, at least to me, that the new restaurant had arrived. I could taste each sparkly ingredient in a brimming bowl of won ton soup ($13), full of thin, chewy egg noodles, bite-size won tons filled with hand chopped pork and shrimp, and crisp baby bok choy, all bathed in rich chicken and pork broth.
Not everyone likes bitterness, but for lovers of radicchio, broccoli rape and Campari, Wo Hing has the dish for you, bitter melon ($8). The bitterness of thin, crisp/tender slices of this pale green squash becomes exciting when offset by a grainy coating of almost anchovy-like salted duck egg.
Texture stars in Wo Hing’s scrambled cage-free eggs with hand chopped pork belly ($11). The yolks are just barely broken when they hit the wok so they form big, soft curds. They’re like no other scrambled eggs –except maybe at another Charles Phan restaurant.
Thin, flat, house-made wheat noodles ($14) with plenty of chew are part of an easy to eat tangle of julienned ingredients that includes cabbage, pork shoulder and preserved radish. Delightful.
At dinner one night, every table got a lagniappe of star anise-scented boiled peanuts in the shell, still warm and soft, so nice with a cocktail.
I particularly liked a thin, egg and rice flour crepe set with tiny, briny Fanny Bay oysters ($15), just warmed through. A soy and red chili dipping sauce completed the dish. Mah aces one of my favorite Cantonese dishes, a delicate, steamed, hand chopped pork pancake seasoned with salted fish, and here, with plenty of ginger and black mushrooms ($13). Served in a shallow crock of its luscious steaming juices, the dish calls for a little bowl of rice. Accompany it with gai lan, Chinese broccoli ($8). At Wo Hing, the stems are peeled making the vegetable extra sweet and juicy, and able to absorb a light oyster sauce seasoning.
Evocative cocktails, and wines chosen to match the food are part of the experience. A long, stand up bar that stretches the length of the first floor buzzes at night where patrons can sip an Iceberg Daiquiri ($10), a balanced concoction of white rum, grapefruit, lime, maraschino, vanilla and bitters that somehow tastes like almonds and cucumber.
A dessert called apple pie ( $7)–a pile of raw apple sticks, caramel, cinnamon crumble, apple cake and creme fraiche–not only suggests the original but bested it. A little glass of Meyer lemon posset ($7), like an unset panna cotta, electrifies with tiny segments of pulp.
The Phan vision embraces the best of his two worlds–homey, pure, Asian cooking and stylish San Francisco design and amenities. Like him, I want to live in both.
Wo Hing General Store, 584 Valencia (between 16th and 17th streets) San Francisco
Contact: 415 552-2510; www.wohinggeneralstore.com
Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily; dinner Monday through Saturday 5:30 p.m. to midnight; Sunday 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Price range: $8 to $22
Recommended dishes: gai lan, scrambled cage free eggs with pork belly; house made wheat noodles with cabbage; won ton noodle soup; oyster crepe; bitter melon with salted duck egg
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