Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
In a city built on the strength of its restaurants, there are plenty of choices for Vietnamese food. But one of the best you’re going to find in all of San Francisco is the Golden Flower, owned by Peter and Wendy Hua – two longtime bay area restaurateurs.
The Golden Flower, located in the outer Richmond District, is the second restaurant the Huas own. They also operate Golden Flower Number One on Jackson Street in the famed Chinatown District (Number One opened 15 years ago, and has consistently garnered high marks from food critics across the city). Golden Flower Number Two is much larger however (built in a converted Victorian, Number Two is a spacious and well-lit place, with a wonderfully intimate upstairs dining area where you can look out onto the street while you eat ).
However, the comfort level you have here is only half of what you’ll get in the Golden Flower Number Two. The other half of the “experience” is packed into the food — and what an experience it is. The Huas’ menu is bulging and huge, with over 130 dishes to pick from (from soups to seafood, noodles to spring rolls, there’s literally something for every taste here).
“What we’ve tried to do is have something for everybody,” says owner Peter Hua. “We have a lot of things to choose from and it’s all authentic Vietnamese. This is different food than Chinese or Thai, because we use less oil. It’s lighter, and there’s a lot of flavor in the food.”
The chef at the Golden Flower Number Two is none other that Hua’s younger sister, Nga, and she manages to create tasty and simple dishes that rely heavily on vegetables and sauces: the food light and airy, made to accentuate its myriad flavors rather than overwhelm the palate. On multiple visits to the Golden Flower, we were never disappointed: the food always arrived to the table quickly and was nice and warm — rather than make you wait, the Huas believe in feeding you fast so you can linger over your meal.
And so this is Golden Flower Number Two: a half hidden jewel in a city built on the strength of its restaurants.
FOOD: Big menu, with many things to recommend. The imperial rolls are delicious — deep fried rolls stuffed with diced pork and vegetables; served quickly with fresh basil and lettuce, they’re meant to be wrapped up and dipped into a vinegary fish sauce. Another original appetizer comes in the form of “Crepe Cakes”: these crispy and delicate crepe sandwiches are filled with pork , shrimp and green beans and can also be wrapped in lettuce and dipped like the imperial rolls. The lemon grass pork is spicy and filling –served with bamboo shoots and onion and spread over rice. Also many standout seafood dishes: try the prawns and snow peas for something light; also the whole roasted crab is delectable, and goes nicely with a bowl of Vietnamese sweet and sour fish soup. The crab soup is also notable: prepared French style with yellow asparagus and shredded crab meat. Simply too much to mention here — all we can say is that we’ve eaten here no less than 8 times over a span of 3 months and haven’t had a bad meal yet. Yes, everything was good — and some things were off the charts.
BAR: Beer and wine only.
DESSERT: For such a big menu the desserts are a bit limited. However, the creme caramel is very good — richer and more “meaty” than most versions, with a not-too-sweet sauce. Adventurous diners might give the “fried ice cream” a try: this selection is created when a scoop of coconut ice cream is wrapped in a slice of sandwich bread and deep fired in oil for 10 seconds. This Vietnamese treat is about authentic as it comes.
STAFF: Manned by the Huas and related family, the service is fast and comes with a sincere smile.
ATMOSPHERE: Very clean. Well-lit. With sturdy chairs and tables. Only draw back is you’re sometimes a bit close to other diners when the place is packed. Very much an old fashioned “homey” atmosphere.
OVER-ALL: Highly recommended as an alternative to the plethora of Chinese and Thai establishments in the neighborhood.
COST: Inexpensive. Two can dine with drinks and tip for around $25.00.