Happy Garden Restaurant
One could argue that Chinese dim sum is the Grand Pu Bah of small plates traditions. Because it’s Chinese. And anything Chinese, be it pottery, noodle-making, basket-weaving or the serving of various little bits of food to be consumed communally is presumed to supersede any other culture’s offering in terms of longevity and importance. Basque pintxos, Spanish tapas, Mexican antojitos, the meze traditions of Greece and the Middle East, Venetian cicchetti…all give props to the hallowed tradition of dim sum. Or, so I assume. Perhaps they don’t give a rat’s ass (which is one of the lesser known items sometimes found in dim sum palaces, usually ordered on the D.L, off the menu).
Last week I went to a very informal, counter-service/to go dim sum eatery called Wing Lee, on Clement Street. It was stripped down and no-nonsense, designed to ship product at breakneck speed out the door. This week I shifted down a gear and went to a sit-down dim sum restaurant called Happy Garden, also on Clement but three blocks closer to Park Presidio Boulevard. First thing: there are two bills of fare: the regular restaurant menu, and the dim sum menu, which groups its contents by plate size, with a blank space next to each individual item for the diner to indicate quantity with a pencil. It’s a very effective way to streamline service. Having come by myself, I nonetheless ordered for two people with ravenous appetites: deep-fried meat dumpling (1.90), black pepper pig’s belly (2.20), baked pork bun (also 2.20), shrimp & leek dumpling (3.00), duck feet & mushroom w/ oyster sauce, and, to my eternal shame, shark fin dumpling (2.20). That last one gave me long pause, but I figured, fuck it, JUST THIS ONCE.
Those dumplings ended up being the highlight of my meal, which only deepened my sense of guilt. My eternal, perpetual comeuppance will most likely consist of getting chased around a small lap pool by an angry, finless mako shark. Until then, I plan on exploring more of what Clement Street has to offer, which is a hell of a lot. Join me next week when I dine on the poached uterus of an adult panda.
815 Clement Street (@ 9th Avenue)