No, Fang isn’t a new breed of vampire-inspired theme restaurant, though that would be entirely plausible in the “Twilight” and “True Blood” era. It’s the latest restaurant from Shanghai native Peter Fang and daughter Kathy. Peter Fang opened House of Nanking in Chinatown in 1988, with a short order counter, extremely limited seating and, soon after, lines down Kearny Street. Popularity had the power to knock down walls, which eventually allowed for the kitchen to take a back seat to, well, seats. Despite expansion, House of Nanking’s lines remain long, and since I’ve been eating at the restaurant since my high school days, it was great to learn about a new alternative from the Fangs.
Fang opened late last year near SFMOMA, featuring banquet rooms and a full liquor license, both of which were impossible in the original location. The space is a quantum leap forward from Fang’s humble origins, with Chinese lanterns that resemble spiral-like beehives, a wall of Chinese characters stenciled onto glass and decorative wall placards.
Each dumpling appeared on an edible cucumber coaster and was top-able with tangy vinegar based sauce loaded with pepper-flecked ginger shavings. The sauce had more complexity than the traditional version that comes with Shanghai style soup dumplings. I asked for the missing link(s), but Peter Fang wasn’t about to reveal his secret, saying, “That’s the key, isn’t it?”
Peter Fang is well known for his predilection to overrule orders. Show any uncertainty and you’re headed for a veto. My step-mother asked whether Fang liked the salt-and-pepper shrimp and mushrooms. He clearly saw a crack in her confidence, since he instantly prescribed another mystery item. My father was amused by his dismissive attitude, as always. My step-mother? Not so much. Thankfully, when our surprise soup finally arrived, nobody complained.
Almost every dish at Fang seemed to have a peppery kick. That might bother some people. Not me. At least you know your food won’t arrive under-seasoned.
The dish resembled shaking beef, but with an upgrade from lean filet to juicier rib meat, and a richer sauce than the lime-, salt- and pepper-centric Vietnamese dish. The crunchy room temperature stalks of bok choy, red pepper strips and red onion shavings added to the texture and helped to layer the flavors.
While there’s something elemental about eating at House of Nanking, and the prices are about 50% cheaper for many of the same dishes, it’s worth the added expense to skip lines and dine in a more comforting setting that offers a deeper reservoir of dishes. Fang also features a proprietor who seems to have mellowed with success. Or maybe it’s just that he has more time to tend to his guests, since there aren’t lines down the block…yet.