Flaming in the Castro - Page 2

A new branch of Brandy Ho's offers spicy, wood-smoked Hunan treats in the Castro's human aquarium
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Photo by Rory McNamara

Nonetheless, their effect is quietly potent, abetted by the hoisin sauce you swab on your pancakes before filling them with the actual stir-fry, whose main players are shredded napa cabbage and tree-ear mushrooms, bound together with egg. As much as I've loved mu shu pork over the years, I found this porkless version of the dish to be quite as convincing as its fleshier siblings and did not miss the meat.

Seinfeld's George liked his chicken spicy — and in the third person — and he would have liked Brandy Ho's gon-pou chicken Hunan ($8.95), a fabulous mélange of boneless chicken cubes, onion slivers, chunks of red bell pepper, garlic, water chestnuts, and — most fabulous of all — wok-fried peanuts. There was plenty of chili-pepper heat in here somewhere. We mentioned to our server that we wanted the food to be spicy but didn't want to burst into flames, and he'd nodded sagely, as if he heard this sort of thing every day and took it as a precise instruction. We ended up tingling yet unflaming, so the message must have gotten through somehow.

What was more remarkable was the dish's uncanny resemblance to that old Szechuan favorite, kung pao chicken. What could distinguish the two, besides the spelling? The wok-frying of the peanuts? Is that some expression of Hunanese character, or just a flourish from this particular kitchen? Hunan and Szechuan provinces do adjoin each other, so maybe neighborliness accounts for some of the apparent cross-pollination.

Considering the quality and noteworthiness of the food and the restrained high style of the setting, Brandy Ho's is notably inexpensive. Although portions are generous, many of the dishes cost less than $10, and even the pricier ones struggle to reach into the low teens. If you're tired of fretting about the stock-market burn-off but aren't yet ready for the depths of Carl's Jr. or microwaveable burritos, Brandy Ho's could very well be the place.

BRANDY HO'S

Continuous service: Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–midnight

4068 18th St., SF

(415) 252-8000

www.brandyhos.com

Full bar

AE/DC/DS/MC/V

Moderate noise

Wheelchair accessible

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