Nothing soothes and restores like a bowl of congee, silken Chinese porridge made only with rice and water. Porridge King, a cheerfully efficient congee house in a happening Asian shopping center, makes an excellent one with preserved pork and salted egg ($5.50). The salty pork and egg give the porridge richness and depth. And if you throw in hunks of a long, unsweetened Chinese doughnut ($1.50), warm from the fryer, you have the ultimate satisfaction of chewiness and crispness with a creamy hot soup.
What ingenious cook came up with the idea of putting doughnuts in rice porridge? Maybe the same cook who thought of putting soda crackers in clam chowder. At Porridge King, a little saucer of fried wonton bits and cilantro leaves totally transforms preserved vegetable and clam porridge ($5.50) — a Cantonese version of clam chowder.
But it turns out that Porridge King prepares much more than rice porridge.
Start at the top of the 200-plus item menu with a selection from Barbecue & Braised dishes, a hearty bowl of braised beef brisket ($3.50/$6). Any self-respecting home cook would be proud to serve a stew of this quality, with buttery meat, rich broth, hunks of daikon that melt in your mouth and whole baby bok choy. This dish alone is worth a trip to this busy shopping center in Daly City. Before you move on to other sections of the menu, consider roasted duck ($3.50/$6) with bronze skin and moist dark flesh, and a platter of steamed gai lan ($3.50/$6), vibrant green, al dente Chinese broccoli with elegantly peeled stems. Just looking at this vegetable makes me feel healthy.
Under the Clay Pot heading, order braised fresh frog with ginger and green onion ($9), a house specialty that lives up to its billing. The frogs’ legs, on the bone, are juicy and sweet, perfumed with tons of fresh ginger and scallion. They are some of the best I’ve tasted.
From the comprehensive Egg Noodle section, go straight for braised e-fu noodles with straw mushrooms and Chinese chives ($7.50), a glorious plate of flat, slippery, noodles in smoky brown sauce. The long skinny mushrooms and the long flat Chinese chives blend into the noodles so you taste them in each bite. E-fu noodles, fried crisp and cooled before they’re boiled and braised, end up extra satiny, yet tenaciously hold onto sauce.
I also found it hard to pass up another special: fried rice with taro, preserved pork and Chinese sausage ($7). This is one of those wok-flavored dishes I could eat all day, bowl after bowl. Obviously Porridge King customers don’t come just for porridge.
Some dishes on the menu I would not re-order: pan-fried noodles that aren’t crisp enough; a clay pot of oxtails in red wine sauce ($9) that reminded me my of grandmother’s sweet and sour oxtails in tomato sauce. (She was the grandmother who didn’t know how to cook.)
Still, by any standard, Porridge King is a great fast food restaurant. You can eat there or take out. The tables turn quickly. Service, by a cadre of young men with fantastic hair cuts, is no nonsense, and the food comes out of the kitchen onto the colorful Formica tables fast.
If I were king of the world, we’d have twice as many Porridge Kings and many fewer Burger Kings.
Location: 55 Skyline Plaza, Daly City
Contact: (650) 994-4538
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $3.50 to $9
Recommended dishes: Preserved pork and salted egg congee; fried rice with taro, preserved pork and Chinese sausage; braised beef brisket; e-fu noodles with chives and straw mushrooms
Credit cards: Not accepted
Reservations: Not taken
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