KL Restaurant raids the seas to prepare impressive Cantonese dishes.
Outside of surfers and residents, not many people venture to San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood. However, a few hopeful restaurateurs have wagered that people would make the effort to look beyond mainline hoods like SoMa and the Mission, including Elbert Kong, a Hong Kong native who operated a restaurant in San Gabriel before taking over KL Restaurant, which delivered one of our favorite Chinese meals in the Bay Area.
We were lucky to be dining with a food-crazed San Franciscan who’s been a weekly regular at KL and speaks Cantonese. That means he has a read on when geoduck or Dungeness crab might be in season, and the occasional off-menu dish might make it his way.
Initially, our meal avoided the sea, which was fine because we feasted on birds like roasted squab with crisp, burnished skin. A squeeze of lemon and a dip in salt helped balance the bird’s gamy flavor, which isn’t for everybody.
Plates hit our table so fast that some dishes got lost in the mix, one of them being roasted chicken in soy sauce. By the time my chopsticks snagged a piece, the skin was a bit soggy, and the meat lukewarm. There’s no telling how the bird would have been at full strength.
They definitely treated humble Ling cod with a lot of deference, preparing the fish three ways, including braised heads with fatty, collagen-rich skin and crisp gailan, and in a murky soup that captured the cod’s essence but didn’t contain much actual meat.
KL cooks also sautéed supple cod with scallions, peppers and crunchy snap peas.
Lobster was even better, with sweet chunks of Maine meat tucked away in cuts of red shell.
Braised tofu and mushrooms arrived in a soy-based sauce and maxed out on umami.
We were all impressed with pepper greens sautéed with sweet, punchy caramelized garlic.
They braised oxtail with red wine until the meat and collagen absorbed the flavor. We gladly plucked rich tail meat from their chambers and piled bones alongside the clay pot.
For dessert, we received sweetened red bean soup and two puddings: mango with sweetened condensed milk and “turtle pudding.” It was unclear whether the pudding actually contained traditional powdered turtle shell, but even if it didn’t, the bitter black jello in syrup was interesting, and supposedly had health benefits. As Louie said, “After you eat this you’ll live forever.”
We received an unusual specialty, a glutinous, mochi like ball studded with sesame seeds and filled with oozing black sesame. This was a great way to end our meal.
This was one of my favorite Chinese meals so far in San Francisco, though it may be hard to recreate unless you hit KL in the right season, and knew to order off menu, ahead of time.