You know when it’s your friend’s birthday and you all go out to dinner and everyone splits the bill and you’re stuck paying for all the extra drinks of that girl you actually can’t stand and the food wasn’t even that good and you’re out $130? Yeah, that sucks.
If you are the slightest bit adventurous, and don’t want to take all your friends’ money, you should try booking a Chinese banquet dinner. Imagine a couple large round tables packed with your pals—lazy Susans in effect—dining on a parade of dishes, with reasonable corkage (if at all), and a bill that comes out to about $30 a head? Yeah, that’s much better.
A few tips: after your reservation is made, ask the restaurant when you should come in to decide on a menu. Be sure to visit at least a few days before your event to look over the menu so you can request any special dishes that require advance preparation. Be clear you don’t want any shark fin soup—sadly it’s still being served in the city. And ask your friends to bring a range of versatile wines.
This is where I had one of my favorite banquet meals ever (thanks to Patty Unterman for the tip!). Be sure to speak with the kind Bill Yang, and request a Shanghaiese banquet dinner. Dishes can include delicious cold appetizers (like drunken chicken and Shanghai vegetarian tofu roll), some extraordinary Peking duck, triple delight (a trio of shrimp dishes), red pork shank, and many more star items. This place rules—you’re in such good hands here. 4142 Geary Blvd. at 6th Ave., 415-387-1234.
Most people know this Cantonese spot for their fantastic dim sum, but the nighttime banquet scene here is major. You can go to town on their well-priced salt-and-pepper crab, and don’t miss the Peking duck. A famed dish is the coffee-rubbed pork ribs that come with whipped cream—don’t ask, just do it. They have all kinds of pre-set menus, so you can go that route, or make up your own if you’re a control freak like me (ask for Annie—she can help walk you through the menu). 5322 Geary Blvd. at 17th Ave., 415-668-8836.
Okay, we didn’t really do a pre-set banquet meal here, but man, every time I bring a group here, we do it up! I’ve had three large group dinners here, and each time the bill was wicked cheap (and they stay open late). Can’t-miss dishes are the Beijing spicy chicken wings, the “Chinese burger,” cumin lamb (best in town, I’d say), at least one of the pancakes, and some of the dumplings, like the West Lake lamb dumplings (fennel is good too). If you can handle heat, you gotta take on the chili delights. Boom. Nice staff, even if you don’t understand each other most of the time—they didn’t even charge us corkage once, and I am sure they have never heard of cake-age. Just tip big. It’s a bit out in the boonies, but the bonus is that you can easily head to Broken Record for a nightcap afterward. 1801 Alemany Blvd. at Ocean, 415-333-8182.