Number 26: Soy Sauce Chicken from Happy Bakery & Deli

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Jonathan Kauffman
Happy Bakery's soy sauce chicken plate, $6.
SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition

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With the exception of a good egg, Western cooks seem to have lost the art of poaching. Sometime in the 1970s, restaurants supplanted their pike quenelles, suprèmes de volaille (chicken tenders), and poached salmon with herbed mayonnaise -- which once represented the height of fine dining -- with grilled pork chop, pan-roasted wahu filets, and long-braised meats.

At Happy Bakery and Deli on Ocean -- a de facto canteen for SF State students -- there are roast ducks hanging in the window and rice plates piled high with BBQ pork. But the soy sauce chicken is the restaurant's best dish, delicately poached in a master broth deepened with soy, sweetened up with sugar and wine, and inflected with ginger and star anise.

When the meat is pulled off the heat at just the right time and left to marinate in the poaching liquid, it never clenches up and dries out like it does all too easily when roasted. The skin takes on the color of cola, absorbing the broth's salt and spice, but the meat underneath stays pale and plush. Escoffier might even have approved.

The chicken tastes barely more substantial than the stir-fried cabbage it's laid on top of until you dab a bit of the salted ginger-scallion relish served on the side. Then -- wham! That gingery bite, paradoxically, only emphasizes something you might not usually think capable of being emphasized: that chicken's delicacy.

Happy Bakery & Deli: 1548 Ocean (at Miramar), 337-8198.

Other favorites in this series:
27: Locanda's Jewish-style artichoke
28: Local: Mission Eatery's asparagus-egg sandwich
29: Memphis Minnie's 18-hour brisket
30: Custard buns from City View
31: Mission Chinese Food's kung pao pastrami
32: Panisse frites from Frances
33: Izakaya Yuzuki's chawanmushi
34: Fatted Calf's chorizo
35: Silvanas from House of Silvanas
36: Linden Street Brewery's black lager
37: Aged oolongs from Red Blossom Tea Company
38: Broken Record's crawfish grits
39: Cebiche mixto from La Mar 
40: Nutella-hazelnut hand pie from Black Jet Baking Co.
41: Fifth Floor's burger
42: Perbacco's agnolotti dal plin
43: Iced coffee from Sightglass
44: Cypress Grove's Purple Haze Chevre
45: Lechon from Tastebuds Cuisine
46: Duck with beets from AQ
47: Tai nigiri at ICHI Sushi
48: Fish with explosive chiles from Spices! 
49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Happy Bakery and Deli

1548 Ocean Ave., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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