Thursday, August 17, 2017

Kunming Classic Small Pot Rice Noodles At Chongqing Xiao Mian

I waited patiently with my Portsmouth Square homies for the weather to heat up enough to fully appreciate a cold noodle dish I've been dying to try, "Sichuan Soba" which is on the menu at Pot & Noodle, but no dice. So I went around the corner to sister restaurant Chongqing Xiao Mian again, for another research project.

In the upper right-hand corner of CQXM's picture menu is shown another dish I've been curious about, "Single Cooked Noodle Soup." Would this be a soup featuring a single very long wheat flour noodle such as can be found in Shanxi restaurants? Hardly -- the noodles were rice noodles, and had been cut into what appeared to be 4" pieces. This made me uneasy intially, but I figured that if there was at least one noodle for each year I have lived plus a few extra, I'd be okay, and so it appeared.

The Chinese name for Chonqing Xiao Mian's "Single Cooked Noodle Soup" is 小锅米线 (xiao guo mi xian) or Small Pot Rice Noodle.  A little research revealed that this dish is a Yunnan dish, and a specialty of Kunming. CQXM's "Single Cooked" probably refers to the fact that this is a one-pot dish, wirh noodles and toppings cooked in the same broth in a single pot. The pot is tradionally a small copper pot, and if the picture at the left from a Shanghai Yunnan restaurant is a guide, the dish is sometimes served in the same pot. (No such luck at CQXM, though.

My bowl of small pot rice noodles was spicy (ma la) enough to earn its chili pepper symbol on the menu, and the one-pot cooking process rewarded it with a richness and depth of flavor that the spiciness couldn't mask.  It wasn't a particularly meaty broth, though some shreds of beef  lurked in its depths, along with bell pepper tomatoes (possibly), cabbage, peapod (or edamame) tips, leeks and spring onion. Atop the broth and noodles swam a couple of large chunks of winter melon, a novel touch. Beyond visible ingredients, the broth was infused with plenty of chili, garlic and probably other spices, and overall was the star of the show, as I found the rice noodles a little too soft.

Where slurped: Chong Qing Xiao Mian, 915 Kearny St., San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not-So-Classic Guilin Rice Noodles At Chong Qing Xiao Mian

I headed out to Pot & Noodle for Round 2 (Vetting of the Sichuan Soba) but found them closed for some sort of maintenance (installation of the noodle machines, perhaps). A hand-written sign outside (in Chinese, but I knew what it said) directed me to sister restaurant Chong Qing Xiao Mian around  the corner, where I was lucky to find a seat at the communal table at 6:30 in the evening.

CQXM doesn't have Sichuan Soba on the menu, so I opted for the Guilin Rice Noodle Soup.  I hadn't had Guilen mifen since my last trip to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles in Oakland; in fact I hadn't even ventured out to my favorite Guilin mifen guan on my recent trip to Shanghai.  There was also a mystery to be solved, too.  The Wu-Du chain (see me last post) tends to cut and paste the picture menus between their stores, and the depiction of Guilin Rice Noodle Soup specifies that it is served with beef, peanuts and quail eggs. However, a fellow noodle maven had just tried the version at Pot & Noodle and reported it had pork and a tea egg instead of beef and quail eggs.  What would I be getting?

My Guilin Rice Noodle Soup  arrived, with (voila!) beef an quail eggs.  The beef was, I believe, beef plate (the cut with the white membrane you'll usually find in what the Cantonese call "beef stew" noodle soup). The beef was tender, even the membrane, which can sometimes be too chewy. The (2) quail eggs were masterfully cooked, as good as any ramen joint onsen egg, with fully-cooked but silky whites and runny yolks inside. (I found myself trying to picture a tiny egg timer).  The rice noodles, unfortunately, were a little on the soft side, and the soup, while a nice meaty broth, was not as interesting as the milder but more complex, slightly medicinal traditional broth served at Classic Guilin Rice Noodles across the bridge in Oakland.

With my noodles, I ordered a  cucumber salad appetizer.  The cucumber chunks in a slightly spicy "vinaigrette" coated with sesame seeds made for a less complex version of this dish than found at other Northern Chinese restaurants in town, but was very refreshing and one I will order again.

Where slurped: Chong Qing Xiao Mian, 915 Kearny St., San Francisco

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wu-Du Team's Pot & Noodle Brings Another Noodle Option To Chinatown

Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles at Pot & Noodle

Pot & Noodle, which just opened in the Jackson St. space vacated by ABC Bakery and Cafe, is the eighth Sichuan-styled restaurant venture (including the now-closed Pot Sticker) by Jiayi (Jenny) Wu and Ziwen (Truman) Du, who met when she was a server and he a chef at Z&Y Restaurant across the street.

Although the noodle-centric menu is similar to their other restaurants, including two in Chinatown (Spicy King and Chong Qing Xiao Mian), Pot & Noodle provides additional benefits both on the retail side and the chain's operational side.  For its potential customers, Pot & Noodle hooks into a couple of recent fads, offering $16.95 "Mini Hot Pot" options (hence the name) as well as a fresh juice bar.  From the operations standpoint, the new facility offered up a spacious basement. Wu and Du will use this space to install state-of-the-art noodle making machines which they ordered from China. Pot & Noodle will, thereupon, become a central noodle-making kitchen for the whole chain. It's likely too that Pot & Noodle will capture overflow patronage from its sister restaurant Chong Qing Xiao Mian around the corner on Kearny St., which is usually slammed at meal time.

The Chinese name of Pot & Noodle is Chong Qing Xiao Mian, identical to the Kearny St. facility's name, but since I had already reviewed the namesake noodle dish at the latter, I decided to try the "Wuhan Hot Dry Noodle" (reganmian).  It was the first Stateside version of this dish I have had, and the first since before I began blogging, so I have nothing within memory to compare it with.

Time Out Beijing has provided a pragmatic description of reganmian, which can have many variants in toppings:
As far as Chinese food-lore is concerned, regan mian (热干面) is relatively straightforward, avoiding the customary historical quagmire that usually accompanies iconic dishes of Chinese cuisine. Regan mian, or 'hot dry noodles', unequivocally hails from Hubei's capital Wuhan... There is some local variation, of course, but all regan mian can be divided into three parts: freshly cooked wheaten noodles, pickled carrot and occasionally minced pork, and a thick sesame paste-based sauce. The sauce can either be drizzled over and tossed with the noodles or allowed to pool in the bowl for the diner to mix.
My meatless reganmian came with a minimum of carrots (which was fine with me) and a plenitude of scallions (ditto); and, as a local variation, apparently, whole peanuts. the sesame paste was very viscous, perhaps too viscous, as the noodles, though properly cooked, tended to clump together even after a very vigorous mixing, courtesy my server.  It was a huge portion (an attribute Wu-Du restaurants are known for) for $7.95 and tasty, if not particularly spicy (nor was it expected to be, not being a Sichuan dish).

I chose Couple's Delight (fu qi fei pian) as an appetizer. Though not as elegantly thinly sliced as the version at Z & Y across the street, it seemed meatier, with a higher ratio of beef (flank?) to offal.  It was nicely balanced between ma (numbing) and la (spicy) and also saucier than other versions I've had.  This proved to be a side benefit, as I doled some of the excess sauce into my noodles which helped separate them while adding some zing.  Like the noodles, it was an absolute steal at $4.95.

Keep it up, Wu & Du!

Where slurped: Pot & Noodle, 650 Jackson St., San Francisco Chinatown,