Reality Check

Everyone can find something to like at Sydney's Home

My tastes in food have always been adventurous. I'm interested in trying every ingredient that man has ever enjoyed eating, as well as every cuisine. This is such a given, professionally -- restaurants and purveyors are always ferreting out the next new thing (which oftentimes turns out to be the next old thing: the traditional ingredient prepared in time-honored fashion) -- that I forget that there are many, many eaters out there who don't yearn for the shock of the new. And who indeed enjoy food, but in a more circumscribed way, bound not only by prejudices, but also by that inarguable fact of personal taste.

I was reminded of this recently when I helped entertain old friends from England who hadn't visited the Bay Area for many years. Our first restaurant meal was at a wonderful Hong Kong-style Cantonese spot called DAIMO, in the Pacific East Mall in Richmond (3288A Pierce, 510/527-3888), whose huge menu covers so many bases (fresh seafood, noodle dishes, barbecued meats) that I never envisioned any problems. But two of our three English guests began by asking for pineapple juice -- apparently a menu staple among Chinese restaurants in Britain -- and, when that proved unavailable, orange juice. "No juice," our server said. Their faces fell, even if only a little, and I felt like I'd failed them, even if only a little.

There were eight of us, and we ordered a lot. Food came flying out from the kitchen in no particular order, and I watched as dish after dish was rejected by two out of the three visitors. They didn't like most shellfish, so there went the sautéed crab with ginger and garlic and a special of steamed lobster on sticky rice full of chunks of smoky ham and earthy mushrooms (a lucky pick, which was the best choice of the evening). They ate the beef out of the beef with gai lan, and left the vegetables. I thought Peking duck would be surefire -- with its crunchy lacquered skin, puffy little buns, seductive slivered scallions, and plum sauce -- but duck, it turned out, was too exotic for them.

Welcome Home: The chandeliers made of 
teacups are typical at the witty Sydney's 
Home.
Anthony Pidgeon
Welcome Home: The chandeliers made of teacups are typical at the witty Sydney's Home.

Location Info

Map

DAIMO

3288A Pierce
Richmond, CA 94804

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Richmond and North

Details

Macaroni and cheese $5.95

Fish and chips $13.95

Meatloaf $10.95

Flatiron steak $14.95

Ice cream sandwiches $6.95

Banana cream pie $6.95

Cosmopolitan $6.95

409-0400

Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: $3 validated after 5:30 p.m. in the Jewish Community Center parking garage; otherwise difficult

Muni: 1, 3, 4, 43

Noise level: moderate to high

415 Presidio (at California)

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This is what they ate; this is what they liked: Shanghai steamed soup dumplings, soup with barbecued pork (though they looked askance at the long springy yellow noodles; they expected pale fat chow fun noodles), barbecued spareribs (though I could sense that they were slightly puzzled by the lack of a sticky sweet-and-sour sauce), and an off-menu dish of stir-fried chicken with cashews that I asked the kitchen to concoct when I was really afraid that my friends wouldn't get enough to eat. (And these dishes, I note, were all delicious. I liked them, too.)

They went off on the train to Yosemite, and I went back to seeking out Albanian hot pots dusted with fennel pollen and crowned with foam. But I looked at the menus I was handed, for a few days, through my friends' eyes, wondering just what they'd find to enjoy on them. Until the day that Joyce and I had lunch at Sydney's Home, and I read a menu on which not only did I want to eat everything, but I also thought that my friends would, too.

It helped that I recognized the food philosophy of John Hurley, who'd recently sold his restaurant Home, over on Market Street, before opening this place: respectful renditions of American home cooking made with honest ingredients, and, in a nod to the eatery's own home in the Jewish Community Center, tweaked to include Jewish dishes such as latkes, chicken soup, and brisket. (I thought that adding a possessive "Sydney" to "Home" was a kind of tiny Jewish joke, but no, it turns out that Sydney is the name of Hurley's daughter.) It was hard for me to choose what I wanted to eat: cabernet-braised beef brisket with Yukon Gold potato and vegetable hash, short ribs with sage and porcini papardelle, or lemon garlic roasted chicken with gingered shiitake Blue Lake beans (as at his other restaurants, Hurley thinks the sides are as important as the meat they accompany). Joyce had no such problem: She went straight for Monday's special, fish and chips. (If it had been Tuesday, liver and onions, or Wednesday, fried chicken, my choice would have been easier, too.) A glance at the well-filled plate of my closest neighbor made up my mind -- meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

We started with the latkes -- thin ones, not as crisp or as oniony as I'd like -- which came with sour cream and, once we asked, a little bowl of oddly smooth apple sauce, more like an apple purée. (It seems that at night the latkes come plated on top of the apple sauce and sour cream, which sounds like a bad, soggy idea to me, but that was our server's explanation for why he'd forgotten the lunchtime garnish.) But we could find no flaw with our entrees: The fish was especially good, perfectly fried, flaky and moist under its crackling light batter, a textbook version in generous portion, with a lovely tartar sauce full of fresh dill. The individual meatloaf was punchily seasoned, as was the pearly gravy that covered the mashed potatoes. The fresh steamed broccoli we ordered as a side was fine, though I missed the wonderful version napped in cheddar sauce that I'd enjoyed at Home. This was food that was easy to eat. As was our shared dessert -- two fat ice cream sandwiches, oozing chocolate chip ice cream between homemade cookies. Yum.

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