Cheap EatsBy Dan Leone
by dan leone
AFTER EATING PIZZA three days in a row in three different states (California, Oregon, and Idaho), the last thing the chicken farmer wanted to eat, upon his return, was pizza. What is the furthest thing in the world from pizza? he asked himself.
No, that didn't seem right, somehow. It seemed right, off the top of his head, but then it very much didn't seem right. So he called up his friend Haywire, who was back in town for a week, visiting, and said, "What is the furthest thing from pizza?"
"In the world?" Haywire said.
"The furthest thing in the world from pizza," Haywire proclaimed, "is pizza." On a deep, metaphilosophical level, the chicken farmer realized, his friend had a point. Everything else that is food has at least one thing in common with pizza. Whereas pizza, being pizza, can't be said to have anything at all in common with pizza. It is pizza. Ergo: It is the opposite of pizza.
Does that make sense?
No? Perfect, then, we'll go with it. Metaphilosophically. Gastronomically, I didn't want pizza or the opposite of pizza, if the opposite of pizza is pizza. I wanted Chinese food. There's a Chinese restaurant in West Portal I keep thinking about, but unfortunately they're closed on Mondays and that's what day it was.
But we'd already parked, and it was getting late. Foggy, cold. Dark. Restaurants were closing right and left, right in front of us, as we walked one way down West Portal, and then back again the other way. There was a sushi place that was open, and I could tell that Haywire could go for sushi. I could tell, even though he didn't exactly say anything, because he lives in Pittsburgh now. Who wouldn't want sushi, after spending any amount of time in Pittsburgh, let alone years?
But, I don't know: sushi ... pizza. Sushi, pizza. You see what I'm getting at? The slab of rice, like crust, and the fish on top, like toppings. No, sushi seemed too much like pizza for the chicken farmer. So we wandered on, all the way to the edge of the neighborhood, where the Muni stop is.
Around the corner there on Ulloa there's another Chinese restaurant, New Tsing Tao. Open Monday (closed Tuesday), glowing red like brake lights in the fog.
We stopped. We looked at the menu in the window. We looked inside: nobody. Just all these hanging red lights and three big fishes in a tank. We sat in the window, me with a view of the fishes swimming around behind Haywire's head, making faces at him. Him with a view of the Philosopher's Bar across the street. Our future.
Chicken pot stickers ($5.50) and beef with bok choy ($8.50), both off the specials menu. Haywire ordered mu shi chicken ($7.50). Everything was good. The mu shi chicken was great. The pancakes seemed more substantial than usual, like maybe they were homemade or something. And the chicken was not as minced up into relative chickenlessness as it usually is in mu shi, or mu shu. This had big chunks of tender white-meat chicken with, you know, cabbage, green onion, eggs, etc.
The beef and bok choy needed a few squirts of soy sauce and/or scoops of hot sauce and/or, I don't know, salt and pepper, MSG, or something. But it's pretty good too, once you mess with it. At any rate, the beef was juicy and I always love bok choy.
Pot stickers? Good.
We both liked the extra-friendly service and the atmosphere in general, although Haywire might have liked it a lot less if he could have seen the fishes swimming through his head, in one ear and out the other while he talked about Descartes, and essence preceding cheese and so on. No, wait. That was at the Philosopher's Bar afterwards, having a drink.
Which is a whole nother story. One with TVs in every corner: sports, the nature channel (featuring beavers), news, sitcoms, and sure to be almost any philosopher's favorite touch the Hooters swimsuit competition!
Anyway, yeah. West Portal. New Tsing Tao. They have lunch specials that include soups and an appetizer for five or six bucks, between 11 and 3, even on weekends. Otherwise, be prepared to spend seven-something per dish, nine or ten for seafood.
New Tsing Tao. 811 Ulloa (at West Portal), SF. (415) 566-9559. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Takeout available. Beer and wine. American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa. Wheelchair accessible.
Dan Leone (email@example.com) is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).