REVIEW Wow, this place is excellent, and even better if you can swing an off-the-menu order or two. When I visited this affordable, familial gem on Clement, there was extra tomato soup in the back, a nice little on-the-house warm-up dish that was a bit on the sweet side but afforded a friendly lesson in etymology (ketchup is taken from the Cantonese for "tomato sauce").
Lover's Shrimp seemed a suspiciously named special, against which we decided only after much debate. Instead, we opted to order some ee mein noodles and the catfish we smelled as it steamed by our table it helps to have a friend with you who can ask, "What was that?" in Cantonese, even if the waiter answers in English.
I recommend the catfish (whole), so long as you're willing to negotiate the bones. It's steamed, then recooked in a pour of hot gravy, which also drenches the tofu bed underneath. And lo and behold, ee mein is unlike other Chinese noodles I've had. It has a deep-fried, maybe even refried, thing going on, and it tastes great with clumps of crab and mushrooms.
The staff liked my friend's Cantonese bullshit and my cheesy smile well enough to throw some pastries our way too. Mmm ... handheld, doughy, served-hot numbers filled with sesame goo ... tsk tsk, now, not for tourists. Best of all? The bill was a laugh, especially considering the tasty extras and healthy portions. Next time it's Lover's Shrimp, come what may. (Chris DeMento)
HAPPY GARDEN RESTAURANT Daily, 9 a.m.11 p.m. 815 Clement, SF. (415) 831-3322
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