Saturday, March 23, 2013


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Betel Nut has gained a fine reputation in San Francisco and for good reason. The main theme is Asian Street food served family style, but it is not limited to a particular Asian culture, incorporating both Chinese and Korean preparations with other Southeastern Asian specialties.

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Entering the restaurant through the bar makes it easy to order a drink, even if you were not inclined to beforehand. Their drink menu is exotic, inventive and proprietary. Since you will not find these drinks elsewhere, you might as well try one while you can. It’s not certain that I ordered the Betel Juice cocktail because I liked the film of the same name, or because the ingredients sounded good. It was thoroughly enjoyable, although, after rereading the drink menu, it might have been a better idea to try something very different like the Firecracker Margarita with the Schezuan peppercorn rim.

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We started with the Korean BBQ flank steak with Shisito peppers, white onion and mustard sprouts. While I did not notice a distinctive Korean flavor profile, it was delicious and I only regretted one thing, that I had to share the plate. Ziao long bao or Shanghai soup dumplings were next on our list of starters. Although I have eaten many since, this was my first experience with a liquid filled dumpling and it was memorable.


Next was a selection from the “Classic” section of the menu called Cecilia’s minced chicken lettuce cups. The friend who was dining with us insisted that we not miss this dish and his call was spot on. I believe this must be the restaurant’s signature dish. Again, I’ve eaten similar lettuce wrapped chicken dishes, but never with this much depth of flavor. I was mystified by the addition of pine nuts, even though I am aware that many pine nuts imported into this country are from China, but they worked beautifully with the other ingredients.

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Who can resist another dumpling? The textural contrast of the fried shallot and and minced green onion gave this chicken filled dumpling a wonderful mouth feel as well as the necessary flavor enhancement we expect from condiments.

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Everything we had tried to this point had been exceptional, but the shrimp fried rice seemed bland and I really missed the addition of soy sauce. Adding some after the fact did not improve the flavor. The large plate of salmon was woefully undercooked and the bean and cabbage accompaniment was not picking up the slack in terms of wow factor. The cooked chioggia beet added an earthiness that, to my taste ,does not Pair well with a fish dish, but worst of all, it’s lovely stripes get muddled and its visual appeal disappears. Still this experience would never keep me away from Betelnut. I do not generally order fish entrees in the first place.

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The dessert menu was interesting, though limited as most are. The rice pudding seemed like a good choice, the plating was nice, but the azuki beans were an unwelcome surprise, since their texture did not enhance the dish. Peach ice cream, again good but not outstanding. they needed a really outstanding taste of freshness to work for my palate. Ah, there we go, the fried banana and coconut ice cream was a keeper.

Betelnut Website

2030 Union St  
San Francisco CA 94123  
1 415 929-8855