Chow: Reviews

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Cheese Lasagna; Grilled Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, and Cranberry Compote; Ginger Spice Cake with Pumpkin Ice Cream

DarronName: Darron
Occupation: IT Program Manager
Location: Oakland
Favorite Restaurant: Chow
Reviewed Chow: Friday, January 6, 2006

Chow is a bustling neighborhood restaurant nestled in a small row of local stores at the beginning of the Castro district in San Francisco. As soon as you enter into the restaurant, you have a feeling of belonging. The host or hostess greets you with a warm smile. The wait time for a table is no more than 15 – 20 minutes and the host or hostess is more than happy to allow you to shop at the stores next door and will come and get you when your table is ready. Two large window tables in the front of the restaurant entice walking traffic to enter and enjoy a well-prepared meal with friends from the neighborhood. Once seated, you can peruse the eclectic artwork on the walls from local artists while listening to 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s era music. The atmosphere is warm, cozy, relaxing, and definitely not pretentious. The servers are prompt in getting drink orders and allow you enough time to review the menu’s wide range of American, Italian, and Asian dishes that include: daily sandwiches, starters, salads, pastas, noodles, wood-baked entrees, and grilled and roasted meats. The wine and beer lists are large enough to feature local wineries and breweries without overwhelming you.

I came with friends and family, and we ordered the nacho platter and dumplings to start. The dumplings were perfectly tender and the flavor of the pork stuffing was not overdone. The soy sauce dressing nicely complemented the dumplings and brought out the flavor of the pork stuffing. The nachos were unique in that the chips were dipped in a red enchilada-like sauce and then topped with black beans, sour cream, guacamole, cilantro, tomatoes, lettuce, and red onions. I felt the sauce made the nachos a little soggy and the lettuce was a less flavorful iceberg variety. I ordered the chicken and mashed potatoes entrée. The chicken was grilled to perfection. The skin was perfectly crisp, yet the meat was tender and juicy. The thighbone was removed which made it easier to eat with a knife. The mashed potatoes were buttery and captured the chicken juices perfectly. The green beans were well cooked and maintained their crunch. The cranberry compote complemented the chicken nicely. For dessert, I had Chow’s famous ginger spice cake with pumpkin ice cream. This is a little taste of heaven! The cake is warmed in the oven and drizzled with a very light caramel sauce. The cake is very most and the spices and ginger are perfectly matched. The pumpkin ice cream brings out the flavor of the spice cake and is an amazing complement. This dessert is definitely one that you will have a hard time sharing with others. And don’t be surprised if you catch yourself licking the plate!


Overall, Chow is a great place to have as a staple restaurant for your daily dining pleasure and to catch up with friends and family. The prices are amazingly reasonable for the quality of food you get. All of my guests to the Bay Area begin their stay with a good meal at Chow. It definitely sets them up for an enjoyable time in the Bay Area.

MimiName: Mimi
Occupation: Real Estate Agent
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Firefly
Reviewed Chow: Thursday, December 29, 2005

We arrived at the restaurant at about 7:00pm and were seated immediately. We could have sat at the entrance, which is a long and narrow area with tables, or at the wood paneled bar on bar stools on the opposite side. We chose a small table in the back of the restaurant in the main dining room in a corner where it was warm and felt cozier. The weather was miserable, cold, and rainy.

The interior had warm wood floors, square and round wood tables, cafe chairs, a large bar area with a counter and bar stools, and wainscoting throughout the restaurant. The walls were painted a medium shade of green, giving it an easy surface for the contemporary art that was vibrant and fun. The paintings were in the figurative style with scenes of everyday life. They were fun to look at and added to the energy of the restaurant. The restaurant was bustling with the sounds of the patrons and the dull thumping of the disco music echoing out of their sound system. It seems that 80s music is back in vogue.

Water was brought to our table immediately with rolled silverware and napkin that was placed in a tin can by a bus person. Our waiter came by shortly thereafter, asking us if we wanted to order some wine. We decided to pick something from their wine-by-the-glass menu. After a brief conversation with the waiter we decided on two glasses of white wine. The Hitaire, a French Sauvignon Blanc, was crisp and dry. I think it had a bit of a peppery flavor. The Marasanne/Viognier, a medium-bodied Chardonnay-style wine, had a rounded and citrusy quality to it. They were tasty wines and complemented our food.

We ordered a salad of red beets, arugula, and orange that was lightly dressed and had a very mild peppery taste. The salad came with toast with a goat cheese spread. Altogether a great combination, the richness of the goat cheese with the clean taste of the salad. The Brussels sprouts soup made in a cream sauce with a hint of lemon was yummy.

The main course was the special of grilled ono, mashed potatoes, and a Brussels sprouts-apple confit of sorts. The fish was just a tad over-cooked, but still moist and flaky. Mashed potatoes were creamy, and the confit crispy and crunchy. The fish was a substantial piece that I couldn’t finish and opted to take home. The cheese lasagna was excellent but not what I expected. The noodles tasted like homemade pasta. They were large folded sheets filled with cheese and topped with a light and tasty tomato sauce. Not the usual heavy lasagna. Light and somewhat delicate.

We shared a warm chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. The cake was light and fluffy. A great dessert to complete our meal.

I had a great overall experience at Chow. The staff was friendly and attentive, the food had a homemade quality with the freshest ingredients, and the atmosphere was lively and buzzing with excitement. The noise level was high and made it difficult to talk later in the evening when the restaurant was packed. That wouldn’t stop me from going back or recommending it to my friends. When life gets boring better get going to Chow….

RonName: Ron
Occupation: Episcopal Priest
Location: Dublin
Favorite Restaurant: Cha Cha Cha
Reviewed Chow: Saturday, January 7, 2006

I believe that Chow is the kind of restaurant that has that Cheers kind of feeling. You know, “Everybody knows your name!” If I were a local, I imagine that I could feel right at home as the atmosphere is very relaxed and the bill of fare is hearty! But the fact is, I’m not a local and while this restaurant is good, East Bay residents may only want to venture to it because they're in the area -- they should not go out of their way to venture to this San Francisco eating establishment. Chow serves up an eclectic assortment of food at reasonable prices considering the portions. Everything from pizza, salad, sandwiches, and a variety of noodles seems to set Chow apart from your run-of-the-mill, moderately-priced eatery.

However, the verdict is still out on Chow, at least for me. While my eight-year-old, Joshua, loved the experience (how often do you get to ride with Dad on the BART and go to a restaurant you’ve never been to and eat food very appealing to you?), my meal was good but not very memorable. I enjoyed the fact that I saw a wide variety of people at Chow. Twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty-something people sat at the tables and engaged in heavy conversation along with the meal. This made for a loud atmosphere…so loud in fact, that I couldn’t tell if the television which sits atop the bar area was even on! Add to that the uncomfortable seating, and the mediocre service I received and I’m left with very mixed feelings.


Truth is I want to like Chow. And I’m convinced that if I lived closer I probably would grow to love this establishment. But this is a place I would not go out of the way to eat at. That alone doesn’t make Chow a bad place, just not an outstanding place. And I must admit that being able to purchase a meal under ten dollars (just barely) and walk away feeling content is worth the price of admission. There are one too many places where you pay for a meal and wonder what you paid for. That’s not the Chow experience. The next time I’m in the area I’ll need to give it the acid test: my wife’s opinion! We enjoy going to the city and should she give it the green light for a try, then I’m sure we’ll be back…and not alone, but with an army of hungry East Bay folks who we call friends!