Sunday, May 20, 2012

Slurp du Jour: Beef Tendon La Mian at King of Noodles

After four straight posts on Vietnamese rice noodle specialties, I figured it was time for a round of ramen, so I rode off into the Sunset (District) with a visit to Saiwaii Ramen in mind. WRONG!  My mission turned out to be a fool's errand.  It happened to be the day of the Bay to Breakers race, and the early morning exertion apparently was followed by an epidemic of major munchies.  Saiwaii Ramen was slammed. as was every other noodle joint in the vicinity. (Hey, aren't you supposed to carbo-load before your race?) Heading toward Izakaya Sozai with foolish hope, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of King of Noodles, the awareness of whose existence I had stored away in the back of my cranium.

King of Noodles on Irving Street is nothing if not a little bit of Northern Chinese soul, featuring dumplings and noodles, mostly of the wheaten variety, and little else. It's a near twin of Kingdom of Dumpling [sic] on Taraval Street, and both are spinoffs of Asian American Foods on Noriega Street, which sells handmade dumplings in both frozen and fresh form for home preparation. Although both King of Noodles and Kingdom of Dumpling feature products of their home company as well as other small plates and noodles, what sets KofN apart from KofD is that it has a resident noodle puller who make the noodles to order for your soup.

When I entered the rough-hewn hole-in-the wall that is King of Noodles, it too was packed, though with nary a presumptive Bay-to-Breaker in sight. Instead, it was filled with young single Asians, Asians on dates, and a couple of Asian families, nearly all speaking in Mandarin (seemingly all at once). Yeah, I was the sole non-Asian in  the joint, and yeah, that always makes me think I'm on to something good. Fortunately, King of Noodles has a counter, where I was able to find a seat.  From my perch I could see a man at the rear of the kitchen pulling noodles, a bowl-full at a time, not as swiftly and gracefully as you might see in a Lanzhou La Mian joint in Shanghai, but effectively nonetheless.

I ordered a bowl of beef tendon la mian (hand-pulled noodles), and a bowl was placed in the kitchen counter queue for me.  I waited patiently as the man pulled the noodles for order after order and the woman beside him converted then to large, steamy bowls of hearty noodle soup. My bowl finally came to me, full of plump, springy noodle goodness, bathed in a sweet, salty, spicy and aromatic "red" broth, supporting tender chunks of beef with chewy membranes attached, and Shanghai bok choy. As I slurped down my noodles, it occurred to me that I hadn't had a bowl of noodles like that in over a year, since my last visit to Shanghai. With ramen, which I thought I was craving, as with pho, it's always about the broth and the toppings.  This day, at the King of Noodles, it was the noodle that was king.  And all seemed right with the world.

Where slurped: King of Noodles, 1639 Irving St., San Francisco

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