Friday, October 20, 2017

Long Island City's Mu Ramen. Nu?


Even in noodle blogging quasi-semi-retirement, there was no way I could get through a road trip to New York City, upstate NY and Vermont without a noodle joint screaming for my attention, if not necessarily my approval. The EAT ME! in this instance came from Mu Ramen in Long Island City.

Mu Ramen, of course, is the enterprise that Pete Wells put at the top of his New York ramen list when it was but a pop-up inside a bagel shop, and it kept the plaudits coming after becoming (quite literally) a brick-and-mortar establishment. Were I a rameniac, which I am not, this would have drawn me to the place in a New York minute, but a second, more practical reason conspired to draw me there: Mu Ramen is a mere 5 minute walk from my daughter's railroad flat where I was staying.

There was a fifteen-minute wait for seats at the communal table on a Wednesday night when we arrived at 7:15.  As expected, they were out of their limited-production house ramen. Rachel ordered the tonkotsu and I the spicy miso ramen.  We also ordered a "Okonomiyaki" which was actually four slices of a conventional pancake topped with foie gras-infused maple syrup and trout. The chef worked under Thomas Keller at Per Se and likes his quotation marks.


My daughter's tonkotsu ramen (above) came with fine, straight noodles in a smooth, satisfying broth, and hog jowl instead of the more familiar melt-in-the-mouth chashu, a variant I, for one, appreciated (she gave me a sample bite).  My spicy miso came with thicker, curly noodles and pork which had hacked (but not minced).  The broth wasn't particularly spicy, but the use of red miso added to the complexity.

I liked Mu Ramen. If I were to reach for a superlative, I'd say it was probably the loudest ramen bar I have ever been in, with jazz and pop music bouncing off the brick-and-mortar walls and the joyful noise of conversation trying to rise above. No faux contemplative-ness to the noodle slurping here. Perhaps the no-reservation and cash-only policies have also served to de-hipsterfy the experience at Mu, leaving it one of simply enjoying the fare, which is as good and inventive as that of any ramen-ya I have visited.

Now, if one only could pick up some bagels on the way out. Nu?

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