1751 Fulton St.
Cross: Masonic St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
24, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO
I'll admit it: I was a bit skeptical about ~POLENG LOUNGE~
when I initially heard about it. Let's just say the transformation
from the 1751 Social Club (o' troublemakers) into a tea lounge and
Asian street food hotspot made me arch at least one of my eyebrows.
And tea is just popping up everywhere, from the second Samovar location,
to Modern Tea, to Fierro en Guerra. Tea tea tea. It sounded like
T for trendy.
didn't exactly harbor the highest hopes for the food. But I am here
to testify: the food here is quite good, and certainly unique when
compared to what's out there. Just wait until you see the über-affordable
price point most dishes hover at (like $8)—for about the same
price you could be eating some greasy Chinese food loaded with MSG
or oil slick Indian from a buffet. You choose.
let's just dive into the food first, because that's primarily why
we go out, right? (Oh, and to drink to forget, but that's another
matter.) The menu is full of small plates to share, like 20 in all,
plus some killer sides, like sweet potato fries ($3) with banana
catsup (a first for me, and definitely not my last). The fries were
thinly cut (not quite regulation McDonalds size, but whatever),
but definitely weren't the usual fat spears you see elsewhere that
end up feeling soggy or mealy. These came out piping hot, crispy,
and perfectly salty. Bring it on.
deep-fried adobo chicken wings ($7) were just plain sick. You could
tell this recipe took some work to perfect it, and the talented
chef confirmed my hunch. (Sidebar: Chef Timothy Luym, formerly of
Fifth Floor, is totally Mr. Nice Guy—and he grew up in the
Philippines, so you'll see all kinds of Filipino touches on the
menu.) So, where were we? Oh yes, the crack wings. They are sticky,
sweet, juicy, and totally scrumptious, with a blistered crust that
does justice to their deep-fried provenance. Just writing about
them makes me crave another hit. GIVE ME ANOTHER HIT, MAN! I also
liked the accompanying pile of achara, thin shreds of lightly pickled
papaya seasoned with ginger, and a slight kick of heat. Yup, we're
two for two on fried items.
let's segue to pan-fried: had to try the Buddha's treasures ($6.50)
that seem to have their own publicist there's so much buzz about
them. They were almost like pot stickers that are folded more artistically
(they looked like food flowers!), and instead of pork have minced
veggies inside; you dunk them into a bowl of black sesame and ponzu
sauce. So, how were they? They were totally fine—I mean, what's
not to love about dumplings? Well, true, sometimes dumplings can
get a little greasy, but these were just right. Okay, tried the
dumplings, check. Next.
garlic and crab pan-fried egg noodles ($10) come with chunks of
Dungeness crab mixed in and scattered on top—of course I wanted
more crab, but for $10, I can't ask for too much. The noodles packed
a little spice, which I liked, and weren't so garlicky that you
come out of there smelling like an Italian. (Trust me, I finally
got used to it.) It's a good substantial dish to mix in with the
other small plates, but I think there are definitely other dishes
that are more interesting on the menu.
about four skewers of braised pork belly and pineapple ($7.50)?
Uh, yeah! The grilling added a unique dimension to the dish, which
struck a delectable balance of salty and sweet and yes, fatty. (A
few bites were just fat, which is a little indulgent, or just plain
nasty for some. I'm totally down with fat. I better be, because
I seem to have some of my own.) This dish also came with a little
side of tender bean sprouts with sesame—I could eat an entire
bowl of 'em.
stir-fried snake beans ($6) are probably not for everyone because
of the tangy shrimp paste that lends a deep, fermented undertone
to the dish. If you are down with fish sauce, then you are good
to go. If you're even remotely squeamish about "fishy"
then order it vegetarian. I couldn't eat enough of these tender
little buggers. The tomatoes were a bit out of season, however.
Whatever, this dish was totally tasty.
aesthetic detail that is really pleasing: most of the food arrives
thoughtfully presented on wooden plates and bowls. Many have a nice
grain, undulating edges, and other little ethnic touches, and the
dipping sauces arrive in small celadon ceramic bowls. It's nice
to see small plates that are artfully handled, and not just dumped
on a plate. I also found the flavors of most dishes quite balanced:
just enough of everything good (spicy, sweet, tangy, salty) without
one aspect dominating an entire dish. Bravo.
the Southeast Asian feast with desserts like a rich coconut bread
pudding ($6.50) drizzled with hazelnut caramel and topped with ribbons
of coconut, or my fave, the vanilla bean coconut tapioca ($5), a
smooth soup-like tapioca with soy and coconut milk, and Thai basil
seeds and toasted coconut sprinkled on top. We also ordered up a
pot of the velvet rooibos tea ($5.50) which comes with the grooviest
tea steeping timer I've ever seen: it's a little contraption with
three hourglasses holding different colored pastel sands in each—your
server tells you which ones to watch to insure the perfect timing
for your tea. Pay attention, you.
boozehounds, take your pick from a variety of shochus (also available
by the bottle), whiskies, sakes, or do one of the three sake flights
offered ($14 each). The wine list felt a bit lean to me (I wanted
a riesling in there), but most folks are drinking cocktails, many
infused with tea. I didn't really care for my drinks: the mint julep
($8) was too thick with mint, like a mint salad, and I could have
done without the tea in it—it watered it down. Just give me
my bourbon. Hic. I also thought the $9 price point on the "Po'
my leng" was really spendy considering the paltry amount that
was served. But they do make a number of dranks with fresh-squeezed
juices, so that's notable.
in, the first thing I noticed was the very tropical vibe, read:
serious humidity, and the club in the far back wasn't even going
yet. Let's just say there are some ventilation challenges. The space
is dimly lit and has an island exotica feel, like poles that are
covered in batik, a "weeping water wall" made of hand-broken
limestone, exposed wood beams overhead, dark wood tables plus loungey
seating with driftwood tables and a very long piece of driftwood
(the mack driftwood daddy) suspended over the bar, Balinese doors
as decoration, and even a fireplace. There are some elements that
reveal a high-end restaurant designer didn't design the space, but
it is charming nonetheless, and the owners did a good job transforming
it, that's for sure.
vibe is casual, easygoing, and has a nice buzz. Good for groups.
The three-star review in the Chronicle definitely ended
up skewing the demographic of their initial clientele—on a
recent night there were tables of middle-aged folks that I imagine
wouldn't otherwise be dining there, but they certainly were digging
the food. The rest of the crowd was a mix of 20-something neighborhoodied
hipsters, 30-something fashionista fillies, plus some b-boys and
at 10pm, WHAM!, the hip-hop bomb went OFF. The light in the dining
room was suddenly dialed way down, so they seriously need some candles
or ambient lighting in the restaurant area—it was too dramatically
dark. Wait, where's my purse? (Kidding.) The separate club area
in the back fills up quickly with hedz there to enjoy good lineup
of dub, hip-hop, or whatever beats are on tap that night (which
includes Pabst). Check out the calendar
for the 411 on who's on the 1s and 2s. Word.