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Friday, July 29, 2011

Broadway Cafe Believes in Bulk Sales

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Broadway Cafe's green beans with XO sauce, $6.50. - W. BLAKE GRAY
  • W. Blake Gray
  • Broadway Cafe's green beans with XO sauce, $6.50.

Rice Plate Journal

is a yearlong project to canvas Chinatown, block by block, discovering

the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price:

$10.

How many menus should a restaurant give you? At Broadway Cafe, the waitress delivered four: one listing the restaurant's Hong Kong specialties (baked rice or spaghetti, noodles, grilled cheese sandwiches), a slightly slimmer one listing its three-for-$19.95 specials (all simple Cantonese fare), a third one that seemed to duplicate the others, and a single sheet, tucked in a plastic sleeve, displaying pictures of the daily specials.

Oh, wait, make that five menus. As we were puzzling through the first four, another waitress brought over an album with photos of all the three-for-$19.95 dishes, presumably for English speakers. Needless to say, it took a while to figure out what to order. After the server made several passes, we were ready to snag her:

"We'd like the boiled chicken with special salt," SFoodie said.

"No more chicken," she shot back.

"You don't have any of this dish, or no chicken at all?" we clarified.

"No chicken at all today," she replied, visibly straining at the effort to stand still. The room -- pale yellow and blue walls, a big-screen TV showing Cantonese cooking shows, no flourishes -- was abuzz with people, and we had been watching her zip from table to table with the urgency of a hummingbird desperate for nectar.

Broadway Cafe's exterior. - W. BLAKE GRAY
  • W. Blake Gray
  • Broadway Cafe's exterior.

A quick plan B: substitute in the bitter melon with fish, which the three old women sitting in the booth behind us were eating, as well as green beans with XO sauce. (When the check came, we learned that if we ordered less than three dishes, we had to pay an extra $1.25 a person for white rice, making us wish we would have spent a few dollars more for a third meal.) Next to the cashier was a shipping carton that had been half-emptied of watermelons, so we ordered a couple of watermelon juices, too.

The watermelon juice never arrived, and when our food came, it had been quickly sautéed and slopped on the plate. While the fish filets were tender, the bitter melon proved extraworthy of its name. The chefs seemed to substitute fermented black beans for the dried scallops, ham, and garlic in the XO sauce on the green beans. Ordering food at a restaurant that specialized in cheap didn't seem worth it.

Broadway Cafe's Thursday lunch special, $4.75. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Broadway Cafe's Thursday lunch special, $4.75.

Paradoxically, SFoodie had been to the restaurant a few days before, when the $4.75 daily special, beef with bok choy, rice, and milk tea made for a perfectly solid lunch -- the bok choy, glossy with oil and soy sauce, scalded our lips when we bit in, so it hadn't been sitting in a steam table. And while the beef was clearly not USDA Prime, it wasn't a knot of gristle, either. Perhaps the lesson at Broadway Cafe is that it doesn't pay to splurge.

Broadway Cafe: 670 Broadway (at Stockton), 788-2822.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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