Like most people, we overindulged during the holidays with plenty of food, drinks and general merriment. We tried to be mindful by eating more seafood than usual to help offset some of the damage, and sometimes fooling ourselves into thinking that fried ocean food is still “healthy.” One evening we had a major hankering for some crab: a messy great, eat with your fingers and cracking the shell with your teeth whole crustacean kind of craving. We’re lucky that in San Francisco, there are a few places offering that kind of experience, but tops on our list is the salt, garlic and hot pepper deep fried crab at the excellent Cantonese restaurant R & G Lounge in Chinatown.
Since it was a last-minute decision, we didn’t have time to make a reservation (which is highly recommended), but we decided to take a chance to see if they had room for us. As usual, they had a large crowd of people waiting for seats and they told us that the wait for two shouldn’t be more than 30-45 minutes. We noticed that the nine-seat bar was wide open, so as experienced BarFlys we opted to park ourselves on a couple of stools there. The hostesses seemed a little bit surprised (this must not happen often), but once we took seats at the bar, all of the other stools filled up fast with other diners and drinkers.
From our perch we took note that they actually have a pretty decent alcohol selection for a Chinese restaurant. Don’t expect artisanal cocktails here, but they can do simple drinks such as vodka/gin and tonics/soda, which seemed to be the choice of many of the diners waiting for seats:
The liquor selection was a little heavy on the vodkas for our taste, but they did have enough cognac and bourbon whiskey choices to pair with our meal. We opted for neat shots of Wild Turkey 101 with Tsing Tao beer backs to accompany our fried crab:
R & G Lounge’s bill of fare is comprised of an extensive selection of Cantonese dishes, and the house specials such as the Fried Crab, Clams in Custard and Peking Duck are all helpfully pictured on the large format menu. With the exception of the live seafood items such as crab and lobster, most of the items are priced from $14-$20, with many dishes priced at $15. Some might consider this pricey for Chinese food, but all of the dishes are quite large and feature very fresh ingredients.
We decided to start with the Chicken Salad, which is a real bargain for $7. Shredded roasted chicken breast meat and peanuts are mixed in with shredded iceberg lettuce and dressed with a lightly sweet dressing. The fried vermicelli noodles add a nice textural crunch to the refreshing large salad:
The real reason we frequent R & G Lounge is for the deep-fried live Dungeness crab, which also happens to be their signature dish. Even with the price going up a couple of dollars to $40 for the whole crab, it is a relative bargain considering that it is easily shareable by two or more people. The live crab (contained in tanks on the lower level) can actually be ordered eight different ways, including steamed with garlic, with black bean sauce or salted egg yolk. Despite the options, just about everyone orders it fried with the garlic and hot pepper:
It’s definitely a messy affair requiring fingers and nut crackers to eat the entire crustacean, but the staff helpfully clears out the plates with used shells and provide a moist towelette for the post-crab finger cleaning. The entire crab comes with every order — they even fry up the tasty crab butter inside the shell:
Since their dishes are fairly large and there were only two of us dining, we knew we could only order one more dish. We debated getting a vegetable dish, but it is customary to accompany crab with garlic noodles. So we decided to get the Combination Seafood Stir Fried Garlic Noodle which came with prawns, scallops, clams and tomatoes in a light garlicky sauce. We noticed that their vegetable dishes include braised mushrooms, bok choy and tofu items are all priced at $15. With apologies to vegetarians, it seemed to us that the noodle dish, containing the shellfish at the same price, was the better option:
R & G Lounge has three levels for dining, offering the same menu throughout. Prior to this visit, we have only ever eaten on the lower level which has a more casual atmosphere sans tablecloths and the live seafood tanks. We have never been seated upstairs, where larger groups tend to be seated in their more elegant table-clothed banquet room. The street level contains the bar and a few tables behind it for groups of two to four people. This was the first time we decided to eat at the bar, and now that we know the secret is to sit there, it definitely won’t be our last.