SAN FRANCISCO: Oriental Pearl

During a visit to San Francisco to celebrate our birthdays, my wife and I got a taste for Chinese food. The concierge at our hotel recommended the Oriental Pearl.

After a $9 cab ride from our hotel on Union Square, we alighted in front of the entrance to this nondescript restaurant on Clay Street and immediately spied the visage of Rachael Ray who, we learned, had featured the establishment on $40 a Day. It's also Zagat-rated, has earned a AAA Diamond rating, and is mentioned in the Michelin guide in addition to a plethora of local publications.

A climb up stairs to the second floor and we learned for ourselves why it's so highly recommended.

The service was excellent. We were greeted and seated immediately (our concierge had booked a reservation for us); menus were provided and drink orders were taken promptly.

We opted for the set menu consisting of a house special dim sum combination appetizer, hot & sour soup, almond chicken with cashews, sweet & sour pork, and
Oriental Pearl fried rice. All items were freshly prepared and presented as proper courses: first the dim sum snacks, followed by the hot & sour soup, then the main dishes.

Each item was very tasty. However, I requested more rice wine vinegar to add a bit of additional "sour" to the soup and our waitperson was more than happy to oblige. The fried rice was a departure from the traditional: it contained small, tender shrimp in addition to the bits of pork and egg, but no detectable soy sauce. I have to confess I missed it.

The pace was leisurely; we spent easily an hour and a half enjoying ourselves before being presented with the fortune cookies and the bill.

The Oriental Pearl is not cheap (but few things are in San Francisco). Our combination plate dinner was $19.75 per person; others were pricier. But it was an experience I'm pleased to recommend and will be well worth repeating next time we're in the City by the Bay.

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