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Wang Can Cook

Chef Wang's has amassed a splendid repertoire of Chinese cuisine, at bargain prices

By Andrew X. Pham

NOSTALGIA OFTEN descends on me in the morning. Why, I don't know. Recently, the sounds of morning--trolley bells, sputtering cold auto engines and yawns of sleepy workers--reminded me of the streets of Taipei, its sidewalks suits-crowded and kiosks banners-bright, its air redolent with steamy, fortifying dawn food.

I sometimes indulge my Taipei sentimentality at Chef Wang's, a narrow, foreign-looking place. The place buzzes with activity at all hours: Chinese waitresses zipping down the tight aisles with steaming platters, Chinese patrons pointing at the specials calligraphied in Chinese on neon paper taped to the walls. Here, brusqueness pairs with just a touch of hospitality to authenticate the ambiance.

The kitchen serves Mandarin-style dim sum. The one major item missing from its menu of 13 choices (nine on weekdays) is the stinky tofu (the name is self-evident), a favorite in Taipei. Unlike Cantonese-style dim sum (most often served as brunch or afternoon snacks), which are well-known and available throughout the Bay Area, these are the true breakfast foods of the Taiwanese.

From "Chinese doughnuts" to "Chinese tamale" to "big scallion cake," the prices are always under $2.50 per serving, averaging closer to $1.50. These are not the little dim sum that are ordered by the dozen: Here, one can get fairly stuffed for about $4.

For those who are curious about the Taiwanese equivalent of hot cereal, try this combination: one Chinese doughnut (95 cents for an 18-inch-long piece of deep-fried dough), one sesame panroll (95 cents for a rectangle of deep-fried dough encrusted with sesame) and a bowl of seasoned soy milk ($1.50, enough for two). The soy milk has a light, salty, buttery taste layered with bits of radishes and a pinch of finely shredded pork. Fold the doughnut in half and insert it into the panroll. Hold this "sandwich" in one hand and a soup spoon in the other. Dip the fried dough in the soy milk and eat. Warning: This is a very greasy breakfast--definitely an acquired taste.

The Chinese chive pastry boxes ($3.95, serves two) appeal with a generous stuffing incorporating lots of vegetables, onions, bits of mushrooms, pork and tiny shrimps. The "Chinese tamale" ($1.95) features meat or sweet red bean fillings surrounded by glutinous rice steamed in bamboo leaves. Both are great with tea. Also, the tofu (or Szechwan beef) with bean thread soup ($3.95, serves two) can round out breakfast for those not in the mood for soy milk.

Chef Wang's is located at 212 Castro St., Mountain View, 415/969-4574. Open Sunday­Wednesday, 11am­9:30pm; and Thursday­Saturday, 11am­midnight.

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro

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