I was in San Francisco one of the weekends towards the end of January. The day had been eventful and full of activities, but that is the extent of my recollection (it’s been months since then). I just recall being quite tired out, but not in a daze of unpleasant-fatigue but in an almost pleasurable ache of the limbs and the stiff neck from just a long and fun day. A friend and I decided to find something in Chinatown to refuel before we headed out of the city and back to our respective not-in-the-city homes, to prep emotionally for the onslaught of the week ahead.
Armed with an SF veteran dinner companion, I turned off the GPS defiantly and decided to navigate in Chinatown with old school “turn left, right here, no no no, right here, but a left turn” instructions. As I entered the vicinity, I braced myself for the nightmare that parking was going to be … and lo and behold, a spot right in front, wide open, *and* unchallenging to park even for a parking newbie of the likes of myself. In a couple of dexterious (I choose to believe) wrist flicks, the car was nicely parked and we were out on the sidewalk, contemplating which direction to head off in, in quest for our dinner.
I resisted the urge to yelp for an option. We could do this unaided, without the benefit of ratings and averages and an analysis of the spread of ratings. We could do this based on past experiences and memories. Well, not based on my past experiences and memories since there are but a few entries: you know the drill of excuses – relatively new to the area, unadventurous about trying out new places to dine out at, and intimidated by city driving/parking. So much to work on – but I digress.
Chinatown, end of January. We walked through the streets, looking at restaurants along the way. We ambled along, with an ongoing narration of the changes that had happened in the past decade both through personal anecdotes and snippets of memories shared. We landed up at Silver Palace – with promises of a fast and solidly good Chinese dinner.
Silver Palace did not disappoint. Not much in the way of an ambiance: you can tell they invest their energies in providing you with a hearty meal without the frills of the dimmed dining lights and chairs that noiselessly glide across the floor. At that late-ish hour on a Sunday evening, the restaurant was mostly empty except for one or two tables where patrons, seemingly regulars, huddled over their steaming bowls of soup and other delicacies and regarded you with a mix of curiosity muted with respectful indifference.
The menu was a book. Tri-fold in a bold hue of orange-ish red, with splashes of color in the vivid imagery of what you may be about to order, with each entrée written out in tiny writhing letters. Unapologetic in its authenticity, its far reaching grip languishing idly across regional influences and culinary styles.
I’m not good with decision making. And here I was, faced with a host of choices, all seemingly mouth watering and indulgently decadent. After much consternation and near-panic-attacks, we settled down on a couple of options – one of which was a special preparation not even on the menu.
I have a confession to make. I don’t remember exactly what I had ordered. I remember there being chicken slivers, and lots of rather delectable veggies cooked just right – tender yet with a hint of a bite back, a hint of a spirit. I seem to recall some cashew nuts as well, but I’m now treading the thin line of remembering and just wishful thinking. I do remember that the salt and the sauce and the texture of the chicken and vegetables really hit the spot at that time. I hadn’t even realized how hungry I was, until I sat across from the amazing chicken.
A lot of times, I end up liking others’ food or orders more than I like my own. It is not a common occurrence – I also do enjoy what I order. Sometimes I outdo myself and have the entire table oohing and aahing in faintly masked envy as I dig into what transpired to be the best order at the table. But that night was an exception – I liked my friend’s dish much better. It was a curry stew of beef with vegetables, and what set it apart was the fall apart tenderness and slow cooked amazement that was the slightly gristly meat. The flavors had melded extraordinarily great and each bite and mouthful had a silken smoothness to it that characterizes a really good East Asian curry.
We didn’t end up lounging around after dinner much. It had been a late start to begin with, we each had over an hour to go before we were home, and it seemed wise to hit the road relatively early in deference to the mellowness of Sunday night.
Silver Palace was about the shared experience – of the recent past history of our personal experiences and paths, the changing face of SF over time and the gems that clutch onto a semblance of constancy and comfort of the familiar amid that revolving door of change and newness of an ever rapidly growing cityscape of dynamism.