The twin olfactory flares of cumin and lamb smoke signal the locations of night markets all across Beijing. There, in addition to the sesame-paste noodles and pork buns, you'll find Muslim-run grill stands selling lamb skewers crusted in Central Asian spices.
These skewers are the specialty of Beijing BBQ, which opened on Monday in the Excelsior. The restaurant, a shell of a room with cream-colored walls, burgundy carpet, and psychedelically swirled pink marble tables, is an offshoot of nearby Beijing Restaurant, which SF Weekly's Meredith Brody raved about last year
While the menu at this second spot is primarily filled with
Cantonese-American dishes, the guy running the place immediately pointed out the BBQ section, with lamb, beef, and chicken skewers sold for $1 a piece and full plates of short ribs, squid, and crispy chicken legs for $6.95-$7.95.
SFoodie is not given to hyperbole, so you'll have to forgive us this small lapse: The skewers were freakin' awesome
. The scrunched-up strips of lamb and beef were covered in chile flakes and whole cumin seeds, which we smelled the moment the plate emerged from the kitchen. Teeth were barely required to pull the meat off the wood stick; the meat larded with enough fat to capture the smoke and spice but not enough to taste greasy. Even more tender was the skewer of chicken, which was dusted with fruity-resinous ground Sichuan peppers in addition to the other spices.
Below the BBQ items was a short list of northern Chinese steamed dumplings,
most of which the restaurant had sold out of. Instead, we looked over the freezer next to the register to pick out a bag of frozen dumplings. Like its sister restaurant, Beijing BBQ sells pot stickers as well as four or five different varieties of smaller, plumper jiaozi: pork with celery, pork with cabbage, pork with green beans, pork with shrimp and chives. We walked out with a bag of pork with fennel dumplings ($6.50 for two dozen) to boil up for lunch this weekend. No matter how good they are, though, it's the grilled meat we'll be returning to Beijing BBQ for.
Beijing BBQ 4683 Mission (at Persia), 333-6601; open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.