House of Xian Dumpling
925 Kearny St., 398-1626.
Sometimes, a "soft opening" means "please don't bad-mouth us on Yelp while we figure out what's not working here," and sometimes it means, "we don't have half the menu yet." For House of Xian Dumpling, just across Kearny Street from Café Zoetrope where Chinatown meets North Beach, it's the latter.
The overly vegetal boiled chive and pork dumplings — and the underwhelming, empanada-like green onion pancake — augured poorly for the meal to come, considering that "dumpling" is in the restaurant's name and all. But this lunch was one of those experiences where each dish is better than the one before, sometimes by a wide margin.
Either you're a fan of offal or you're not, but so often baroque is the right direction. A plate of cold shredded pig ear, fatty and studded with cilantro, could have been the fountain from which Mission Chinese sprang, while the pork knuckle noodle soup showcased the work of the in-house noodle-maker positioned in the dining room. Springy and delightful, the noodles curled around those knobby, nutritious bits of tendon in a perfect bowl of comfort food. As a final offering, the salt-and-pepper chicken wings were easily among the best in the city, crispy and perfectly seasoned — and at 10 for $5.95, you might never look to Wing Wings again.
Alas, the service was iffy. Water was not offered, condiments weren't on every table, and the pot of complimentary tea disappeared barely 15 minutes on. Plus, while you can order online for pick-up, House of Xian doesn't deliver. But if you can tolerate some (inexpensive) misses in exchange for a couple bull's-eyes, lunch here could be a true adventure.