Chicken Corn Soup – Large Order
I try to remain as unbiased as possible while reviewing restaurants. Every new place you visit, I aim to start with a clean slate, casting aside all of the other restaurants I’ve tried that serve up the same cuisine or any opinions I have heard about the place prior to my trying it. But once in awhile, one restaurant just molds itself into an “indisputable favorite” category, and one by which you measure up all others that fall under the same cuisine. When it comes to Chinese seafood, R&G Lounge is that which raised the bar for me.
House Fried Rice
It’s not so much that they serve the very best of each dish; it’s more that overall, course by course, R&G serves excellent food. There’s fresh seafood to be had all over San Francisco, but served Chinese-style and with each bite exuding the ultimate freshness despite the fact that all of it is cooked thoroughly, this restaurant stands alone.
Even dishes as simple as a house fried rice is exemplary. The flavors are mixed and subtle but unmistakably present, from each bit of green onions and slices of yellow onions, or the small curds of egg. The seasoning in this dish wants for nothing and it’s fried at a perfectly high heat for the ideal number of minutes to achieve just enough browning while not showing a hint of burnt flavor. It’s best when eaten at the restaurant, served ridiculously hot — but I know firsthand that it’s almost just as good reheated at home, without sticking together into chunks. A quick stir in a hot frypan and it’s basically as good as fresh.
The restaurant itself is rather large with a sprawling second floor filled with huge tables, suitable for parties of 8-10 each. In fact, it’s easier to get a reservation here for large parties than for smaller groups of 2-4 people. Once you’re up there, it’s like you’ve discovered every Chinese family’s untold secret: this is where they all come to have large family gatherings!
Typical of Chinese restaurants, the service is decent but nothing to write home about. You can tell each server is used to running a restaurant at capacity, and nobody is frantic; a full house is nothing new to R&G Lounge. But due to always being so busy on a nightly basis, you can also tell they don’t value your business anymore than the Mayor himself visiting. They serve good food, and they know you will come back even if they don’t roll out the red carpet — and mark my words — you will.
Deep-fried scallops, anyone?
Closeup of the scallop. Perfect.
Afterall, when a restaurant takes significantly large and meaty full chunks of scallops, breads them lightly and then flash-fries them in hot, hot oil — the end result is something irresistible, and barring something really offensive, you will return to order this dish. Each well-seasoned bite that needs no dipping or sauce will surprise you; the batter is crunchy but light, and takes nothing away from the sweetness of the scallop that somehow retains all of its juiciness throughout the cooking process. Furthermore, the fact that these scallops were fresh enough to eat raw shines through with each bite–and that’s what makes R&G food shine.
The R&G Special Beef dish is served with some lemon, and whatever this special soy-based sauce is, it tastes similar to Korean galbi, but with a distinctly Chinese spin to it; add the lemon and the flavors pop. Each slice of the top sirloin beef is unusually tender but has a nice crisp to each bite, and with a bit of fried or white rice, this would make for the perfect entree for one person. But how one goes to R&G and orders just one thing on the menu is beyond me; you almost have to share because you want – no, need – a bite of every single thing.
Abalone with Tender Greens
My favorite dish at R&G and one that I always order, no matter what, is the abalone with tender greens. The dish is covered in a light gravy that adds subtle texture and flavor to the dish; the thick slices of abalone are so tender and tasty, and the Chinese greens are boiled, soft and nicely seasoned.
Steamed crab with garlic
But the real star at R&G Lounge, and one that almost every table has at least one of , is the Dungeness Crab. On this night, we kept it simple ordering the steamed crab with just garlic, but the ginger and garlic crab is also fantastic. I prefer the roasted/fried crabs of PPQ Dungeness Crab more, but for steamed crab – R&G rocks it. The shell is pre-cracked to a degree, and each bite of crab meat is fresh and juicy–the garlic flavor is light, unless you want to pick some of the bits off the plate to combine with each bite (I recommend it!). When sharing – you can order one crab for 2-3 people; if you’re not sharing many plates, most good appetites can finish off one large crab by themselves.
Seafood Garlic Noodles
If there is one dish I’m not entirely crazy about at R&G, it’s perhaps the seafood garlic noodles. Compared to the other crab joints in San Francisco, I find the addition of seafood to what would be fine noodles without it, to be overkill. And, given the slightly sweet and buttery garlic noodles of restaurants like PPQ and Thanh Long, also known for their crabs and garlic noodles, I supposed I’ve become accustomed to that combination. Then again, those restaurants are “Vietnamese” whereas R&G is primarily Cantonese, so perhaps the difference is justified. I’d love these noodles on its own as an entree–I just prefer the buttery flavor of the other noodles which easily replaces the act of dipping crab meat into butter.
Black Mushroom with Mustard Greens
Even with their vegetable-only dishes like the one pictured above, R&G makes sure that their natural freshness shines through. Despite the heat at which these dishes are cooked, each ingredient retains its flavors and a good bite; the mushroom snaps nicely while leaking nice “shroomy” juices and the greens are still crunchy while also being cooked enough to be rather tender. This dish is served with an oyster sauce gravy that adds seasoning and a nice fragrance.
The main problem here is that the menu is huge and the varieties endless, but with each visit, you begin to accrue your favorites, which makes trying everything impossible.
For instance, they have a Geoduck Sashimi I have been hoping to try for ages — and have still never ordered. They have lobster cooked in much of the same ways as the crab, and I am waiting for the day I can go and feast on just the crab and lobsters –which sounds like the perfect birthday meal! The whole fish that they prepare here, of which I have only tried the Sea Bass (which would blow anyone’s mind) is expensive but so delicious, and for the right occasion, there’s not much that is as scrumptious to look at as the entire fish laid before you, perfectly cooked. The cooked oyster dishes are also all outstanding–succulent oysters served with a fresh black bean sauce for flavor, or with just ginger and scallions, to truly appreciate the outrageous freshness of each large oyster!
Call ahead to make your reservations and visit R&G Lounge. You notice many Chinese restaurants getting a lot of publicity lately, like Mission Chinese Food (seriously!?), but they can’t hold a candle to R&G Lounge for real Chinese food. The flavors, texture and quality of seafood at R&G reigns supreme over all others in San Francisco.
Addictive Factor: 9.2/10
Overall Rating: 8.88/10
About Grace Keh
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food.
In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.
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