Chinatown: R & G Lounge

A week ago, I went to the California Academy of Sciences. Actually...First, I found myself in traffic on the corner of 9th Ave and Lincoln Way.

Basically, there was some bad traffic. Really, really, really bad traffic.

It was March 3rd, and it was one of only two days out of the whole year that Academy admission is free for everyone. And, clearly, I miscalculated the time that I'd actually need to leave my house. It took over an hour to move from that 9th Ave intersection to the parking garage...about 500 yards. Then, after navigating the twists and turns and "This level FULL" signs of the garage, we finally found parking. Luckily, it was a spot right next to the staircase to the Music Concourse. I thought to myself, "Okay. The worst part is over."

Then I saw the line.

Note to self: It may be free, but that doesn't mean it'll be easy. (If it weren't for the fact that it was my nephew's birthday, I might've turned around and gone home...) The end of the line already reached the trees at JFK Dr. But, thankfully, this massive pilgrimage moved at a quick and steady pace. Once inside, it took a few hours for my family and I to go around and see what we wanted. By the end of it all, I just wanted to sit down and enjoy a nice, hot meal. See that picture of the crab? If you're wondering where the heck it fits in to this story and when am I finally going to get to it, well that time has come. Because that feeling of longing and wondering about food is exactly what I was experiencing by the time we drove over to Chinatown. After the chaos/entertainment, I was exhausted and starving. I was ready for dinner at R & G Lounge.

Don't get me wrong, though, I love visiting the California Academy of Sciences. It's in a beautiful area, and there are so many exhibits to see and different places to explore. We spent most of our time in the aquarium. The Philippine Coral Reef was my favorite part, with it's huge viewing tank and the lagoon jelly fish.

Halfway through, when we were ready to take a break from all of the walking around, the Academy Cafe was right there. Dishes on their multi-cultural menu are made with local, organic, and seasonal ingredients. I had the Fish & Chips (there's a joke in there somewhere...) and tried some of the Vietnamese pho and the cheese quesadilla, as well.

After spending our morning and most of the afternoon at the Academy, we were homeward bound and going our separate ways...or, at least, that's what I thought. But I got hungry. So, a couple of us made a stop in Chinatown for dinner, at R & G Lounge. It can get pretty busy on the weekends, but luckily,  we were seated right away. The restaurant has 3 levels, including a bar on the main level. (For parking, use the Portsmouth Square Garage. It's perfectly located across the street from the restaurant, and a validation stamp gets you 2 free hours.)

My parents were the first ones to bring me to this restaurant, after going to a Christmas dinner with friends a few years ago. Now, whenever I'm anywhere near Chinatown or just craving Chinese food, R & G Lounge is the first place that I think of. While it's a bit of a splurge to dine here, they serve traditional Cantonese dishes, and this place is worth it if you know what to order.

Anyone who has ever had the full dining experience at R & G Lounge will tell you one thing: get the crab. (It's listed as "Market Price", but it's always been about $40 per order.) The one dish that I could order every single time would be this Live Crab with Salt & Pepper, also known just as Salt & Pepper Crab.

A live Dungeness crab is picked out of the restaurant's tank, chopped into sections (with just the right ratio of body to leg), lightly battered, seasoned with the signature salt & pepper blend, and fried until golden-brown and crisp. This is, hands down, one of the best crab dishes that I've ever had. The salty crust highlights the natural sweetness of the Dungeness crab so well. Plus, the table is given enough shell crackers, forks, and moist towelettes for everyone. It's just one of those dig-in-and-enjoy experiences!

My second-favorite dish happens to be another of R & G's signature items. The Three Treasures in Black Bean Sauce has soft bean curd, eggplant, and hot peppers stuffed with shrimp meat. It's such a great balance of textures and flavors.

We also ordered half of a roast duck. The duck is well-seasoned, so rich, and juicy. The skin is crispy, and the juices at the bottom of the platter are ideal for spooning over the meat or dipping pieces right in.

If you'd like to try something other than steamed rice or the typical fried rice, give the Salted Fish with Chicken Fried Rice a try. This happens to be my mom's favorite dish and she recommends/orders it all the time. It's not overly salty or fishy at all, but it has a hint of smokiness.

Once you've finished your meal, your vest-and-bow-tie-clad waiter will gladly pack up any leftovers and put it all in a nice to-go bag. Not only is the food amazing, but the service is at an equally high quality. It's this combination of the two that keeps me coming back for more and more. If you're looking for a place to wind down and want a great meal to end your day, whether you're already in Chinatown or coming from across the city, get a table at R & G Lounge. And remember, get the crab!