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,

Friday, May 26, 2017

Slurping Shanghai: The 25th Anniversary Noodle Tour

I've just returned from my eleventh trip in Shanghai in 25 years, this one overlapping the 25th anniversary of my first visit in April and May of 1992.  They weren't all noodle-focused trips, to be sure, though noodles were always lurking in the background, but this time I had little else on my mind. My strategy was not to chase down noodle destination in this city of 50,000 restaurants, but to wander and let the noodles find me.  Slurp randomly found noodles I did, from fine bean thread noodles to bedsheet-sized biang biang noodles, topped with pork, beef, lamb, clams, tofu and even donkey meat, mostly in the Zhabei neighborhood where I was staying.  Without further ado, here are some tour highlights, in chronological order:

Lamb with hand-pulled noodles (Yang Rou La Mian) at Xi Bei Niu Rou Mian - classic Hui Muslim style noodles at the first mian guan I came across wandering down Pingxingguan Lu toward Zhabei Park. Thin slices of meat (in this case lamb) garnished robust hand-pulled to order in a subtle clear broth.  I was home, I felt.

Saozi Mian at Yu Shan Fang (dry version) - Yu Shan Fang was my big find of the trip, a spare and cheerful Xi'an food outpost just two bus stops from my apartment, good enough to make me forget Xi'an Famous Foods. Vegetables, tofu and a bit of ground pork sauced with a now-familiar sour Silk Road flavor which is as much Mediterranean as Chinese topped linguini-like noodles in an exemplary Qishan saozi mian.. 

You Po Che Mian at Yu Shan Fang - I couldn't, and wouldn't wait to return to Yu Shan Fang for what is perhaps my favorite of Xi'an noodle dishes, spicy you po che mian. This dish, like the one above, is presented as a thing of art, but must be stirred vigorously to coat the noodles with the toppings (and some underlying chili oil) before consuming.

Biang Biang Mian "4 Ways" at Yu Shan Fang - Xi'an restaurants typically have house special combinations of 3, 4, or even 5 toppings  YSF's, if I recall correctly, were pork, tofu, bean sauce and tomato & egg. Like the two dishes above, the topping were meant to be stirred into the bedsheet-sized biang biang noodles (some heavy lifting there!).

Hong Shao ("Red-cooked") beef hand-pulled noodles at Hong Shao La Mian - tearing myself away from new best friend Yu Shan Fang, I found this gem of a hole-in-the-wall on Yanchang Lu, opposite the entrance to Shanghai University's Yanchang campus. More of a Taiwanese style than a Lanzhou style, it featured high-quality beef in a very beefy broth.

Clam Ban Mian from Gourmet Noodle House (Raffles City branch) - Gourmet Noodle House (家有好面 in Chinese) is a popular Shanghai chain that may or may not be related to the San Francisco noodlery of the same name. Although parts of the menu are similar, I couldn't resist this "tossed" noodle dish featuring a small mountain of shelled clams, not found in San Francisco. Even in the tacky Raffles City mall venue, GNH lived up to its reputation for good noodles with this dish.

Qishan Saozi Mian (wet version) at Yu Shan Fang - having initiated my romance with Yu Shan Fang with the sauced version of saozi mian, I of course had to try the soup version and was not disappointed.

Lamb Noodles at Muslim Boutique Beef Noodles (Luochuan Lu) - sparkling clean and, yes, a bit boutique-y in appearance, this place had the lowest prices and possibly the biggest menu of any mian guan I encountered. The lamb here was of much higher quality than the standard Hui brotherhood places.

Curry Beef and Bean Thread Soup at Hutu Shengjian - A bean thread soup with either beef or tofu is a traditional accompaniment to an order of Shengjian bao, and the version at Hutu was by far the best of three I tried. Not only did it have the desired beefy flavor, its garnish even included a couple of hard-boiled quail eggs.

Donkey Noodles at Donkey Daddy (Lu Ba Ba Lu Rou Huo Shao) - It took a bit of research to find donkey noodles in my neigborhood. Donkey Daddy didn't have the Henan hui mian version I was looking for, but I was able to pair it with my first donkey sandwich (lu rou huo shao) of Beijing fame. I found the donkey meat blander and a bit sweeter than beef, and distressingly soft in texture.  

Liang Pi at Yu Shan Fang - A 100° day sent me back to Yu Shan Fang for a cooling liang pi accompanied by a large bottle of pineapple fruit beer (lurking in the background). I can recommend the former much more heartily than I can the latter.

Ji Dan Hui Ma Shi ("Cat's Ear" Noodles with Tomato and Egg) at Yu Shan Fang - my last go at Yu Shan Fang.  The combination of cat's ear noodles (elegantly translated by my Waygo application as "Orecchiette") and the tomato-based silk road flavors of this dish gave it a particularly Mediterranean character, almost like a minestrone.

Niu Rou La Mian at Muslim Boutique Beef Noodles - Back to the "boutique" for one last classic Lanzhou style soup with clear broth an better than usual beef -- all for 9 yuan ($1.35).

Yellowfish Wontons at Gourmet Noodle House - Wontons may not technically be noodles, but I have to pass along a recommendation for this one.  It's a spectacular dish, and one that I hope the San Francisco Gourmet Noodle House copies.