Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Sam Wo, 813 Washington, San Francisco
The inauspicious entrance
Customers pass by the kitchen on their way to the dining room upstairs
A dumbwaiter from the kitchen to the 2nd floor
I don’t see how this restaurant has survived. There’s nothing unique about the inexpensive Cantonese menu of noodles, soup, and assorted rice plates. Maybe it is true that all you have to do is live long enough, and people will think you're special.
The cramped 2nd floor dining room
Sam Wo reputedly pre-dates the 1906 earthquake. It became a regular hangout for GI’s after the war. Before the Golden Dragon massacre (the Golden Dragon restaurant is directly across the street) of 1977, Chinatown stores and restaurants, not to mention purveyors of various forms of illicit activities, opened well past midnight. At Sam Wo you could get a good, cheap bowl of jook (rice porridge) at 2 a.m. The sights, sounds, smells, and sins of San Francisco gave the young small-town inductees an “eyeful tour” [it’s my blog, okay?]
My first and only visit (before yesterday) to Sam Wo was during the 1970’s with a relative from the World War II generation. Our disappointment at his inability to recapture the excitement of his youth was somewhat ameliorated by the delight of being served by the “world's rudest waiter”, one Edsel Ford Fong. Edsel performed his usual act of loudly criticizing our menu choices, slamming, not placing, the dishes, and sneering at our 15% tip. Although he has since gone on to the great scrap heap in the sky, Edsel Ford Fong was immortalized by the late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, and a restaurant at Candlestick Park bears his name.
I ordered the special won ton soup. For $4.75 I counted a half-dozen won ton, a couple of shrimp and pieces of pork, and some bok choy and water chestnuts. The liquid volume exceeded that of the solids, not a good sign of value. The food’s mediocre, the so-bad-it’s-good ambience has been replaced by no ambience. If Sam Wo is here 20 years from now, I'll be very surprised. [Free advice to the owners: capitalize on 100 years of franchise value. Start selling keychains and T-shirts with Edsel Ford Fong's visage. Appeal to the now-affluent boomers who are nostalgic for the Summer of Love.]
© 2003 Stephen Yuen