Made in China’s amusing menu leads to dining adventure 

click to enlarge The Hunan Spicy Chicken is juicy and flavorful at Made in China. - GABRIELLE LURIE, SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • The Hunan Spicy Chicken is juicy and flavorful at Made in China.
“There is no cauliflower in the Shenyang cauliflower,” our server mysteriously warned us. When we pressed for more detail, little was offered. Yet we rolled the dice and came up sevens with a cold salad-like dish of chewy tofu skins, bean sprouts and cucumbers in a sweet and sour vinegar-chile oil hybrid. It was a refreshing way to start our adventure at Made in China, the newish Outer Sunset restaurant with an enormous, bizarrely translated menu covering many regions.

Luckily, the saliva chicken didn’t contain any saliva. Rather, this was another bracing appetizer with perfectly poached morsels of cold chicken doused in that same sweet and sour sauce, which I ladled onto some rice to take home as an impromptu lunch the next day.

Main dishes, equal in their colorful monikers, tended to be spiced aggressively, but none left us begging for water. Acid Droplet Beans pork turned out to be a hash of crunchy pickled long beans extra finely diced and dotted with bits of pork shrapnel. The texture of this dish alone was thrilling and a few bites in, the heat from the minuscule bits of red chile kicked in to balance out the brine.

I don't know that I've ever seen a dish as intimidating upon arrival as the Mama Shredded Lamb Chop, its craggy hunks of ribs bedded in a lining of aluminum foil that illuminated a mound of already fierce smelling peppers. Yet after all that brashness, the gaminess of the meat was the dominant flavor, seconded by the grand funk of fermented black beans.

Unlike the gloppy sauced, generic versions served at many a Chinese restaurant on the east side of the city, Hunan chicken out here is the real deal. Flash fried chunks of bone in dark meat were adorned with an army of peppercorns and chile peppers, leaving a long lasting numbing sensation on our tongues. Though some of the pieces were all bone and no flesh, the moist juicy pieces were reward enough.

Is this the place to take a Chinese food novice? Probably not, but there are a few exceptions. My daughters received a dramatic eye roll from me upon requesting the house chow mein. However, their desire was justified by a platter of toothsome, doughy fresh noodles tossed with shreds of egg and pork. A mild XO sauce wouldn’t offend most picky eaters.

And though pork belly may sound exotic to some, the Chairman Mao version here proved to be the dullest of dishes. Not that everything needed to be fiery, but some extra spice, or at least an extra hit of sugar, would have livened the otherwise melty pork belly cubes up a bit.

That same pork belly, thinly sliced this time, was put to better use in a dish titled Fried Bacon Carrot. Though carrot-less (maybe they meant red peppers?,) the meat on its own was so powerfully smoky that it needed little garnishment.

After multiple visits, I yearn to return not just for the food, but also to get a reply to many questions I asked with no answer: What time does the “tasty bbq” section become available? Why were multiple variations of “Chinese Idol” playing on all four tvs at once? And what exactly is “griddled little yellow croaker?” I can’t wait to find out.

Made in China

Location: 1033 Taraval St. (at 21st Avenue), S.F.

Contact: (415) 664-9888

Hours: Noon to 2:30 p.m. (lunch) and 5:30 p.m. to midnight (dinner) Wednesdays-Mondays

Price range: $1.98 to $38.98

Recommended dishes: Shenyang Cauliflower ($6.98), Acid Droplet Beans Pork ($9.98), Hunan Spicy Chicken ($9.98), Mama Shredded Lamb Chops ($12.98), Fried Bacon Carrot ($12.98)

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted

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Alex Hochman

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