Every so often I get a call from Paul Kwan inviting me to a Chinese restaurant he thinks I should try. Kwan, with his partner Arnold Iger, produced the documentary “Anatomy of a Spring Roll,” and they’re well versed in Asian restaurants in San Francisco.
The latest find is Kam’s, a place that has been around for nearly 40 years. When I walked into the bare-bones room I remembered being there about 15 years ago and thinking it was a fine if you lived in the neighborhood, but probably not worth a drive to 37th Avenue and Balboa.
Now the trip might be worth considering, if my meal was the new norm. The shift in the food quality is signaled by a change of ownership sign on the door; the business is being passed down from father to daughter, and now Kathy Wong is taking over. She’s also hired a new chef, Yip Fung, who was one of the talents at R & G Lounge.
Coconut pudding served in a young coconut shell
Another innovation: Wong’s partner, Sarah Chu, is starting her own pastry shop in front called Sarah’s Creation and her Asian-inspired desserts also show up on the Kam’s Menu. They’re truly brilliant, including one of the best coconut puddings I’ve had, served in the young shell; and a lava cake made with Callebaut chocolate that would rival any in the city.
In addition, it’s one of the few Asian restaurants I know of where you can get great cappuccino. Chu is also interested in tea and makes a wonderful iced tea, served with a float of freshly whipped cream. It makes the ending one of the best parts of the meal.
Squash pancake with shrimp
Now like many Chinese restaurants, the menu can take hours to read if you go through the hundreds of dishes listed, but with Kwan and Iger along, it became much easier.
The meal started with some of the largest oysters I’ve seen, lightly battered and fried, and showered with red and green bell peppers and thinly sliced coins of garlic. I was also impressed with the kabocha squash seafood soup, silken as if it had cream even though I know it didn’t, filled with seafood and the hint of a very good chicken stock for its base. Kabocha squash also was the basis for a thin, crisp pancake topped with tender sauteed shrimp and a drizzle of mayonnaise. Then there was salt-and-pepper crab and one of the best fried rice dishes I’ve had, made with dried scallops and egg whites.
I wondered whether I’d get this caliber of meal when I went back on my own, and Kwan let me in on another secret: Bypass the regular menu and order off the chef’s special menu