Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Yan Can: M.Y. China Delivers an Exceptional Bowl of Niurou Lamian

When news started trickling down about Martin Yan's glitzy new casual dining venture under the dome at the Westfield Centre, M.Y. China, I was most heartened by the prominence to be given to the craft of noodle-making.  Yan was assembling a whole team of noodle pullers (and cutters, slicers and choppers).  When the menu came out, it promised Hand Pulled Noodles with beef, Knife Cut Noodles with tofu, and Scissor Cut Noodles with wild boar.  There would be Hong Kong Crispy Noodles, Dan Dan Noodles, and Squid Ink Snap Noodles with Seafood.   The menu holds other delights as well such as dumplings (Wild Boar Xiaolong Bao!), wok dishes, roasts, and a variety of small eats,  but duty called me to sample the noodles, beginning with the benchmark hand-pulled beef noodles.

It's listed on the menu as Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup, and described as "slow simmered rib eye, baby bok choy, star anise."  Though the M.Y. China menu provides no descriptions in Chinese, It was easy to guess that it was most likely a traditional Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup, or Niurou Lamian. I ordered the Beef Noodle Soup and (because I couldn't resist) an order of  Wild Boar "Juicy Dumplings" (xiaolong bao) to savor while I waited for my soup.

At a venue like M.Y. China, there's the tendency to expect high prices to go hand-in-hand with small portions. That wasn't the case, at least with my $14 bowl of soup.  It was a healthy, meal-sized bowl, and generous with both the succulent slow-simmered beef and the springy noodles.  The broth was rich but not particularly fatty, characteristically sweet and dominated by star anise notes. It wasn't as medicinally complex as some Taiwan-style broths, but was fully satisfying and comforting on a gray and drizzly day.  If there was one fault I cold find with the soup, it was that the noodles, which seemed optimally chewy when I began eating them,  teetered on the brink of being overcooked by the end of the bowl, even though I wan't particularly dilatory in slurping them. It should be pointed out that it was only the second day of operation for M. Y. China, and there was a lot of cheerful chaos about; the softness of the noodles may have been due to a timing issue in the cooking or the delivery.  I was seated at the opposite end of the counter (which extends the length of the open kitchen) from the noodle stations, and was unable to track my noodles' journey from puller's hands to my own eager maw. In addition, though I don't know if it was a slip-up or S.O.P., no soup spoon was delivered with my soup. I ended up drinking the soup directly from the bowl, local style.  But that's really as it should be, Westfield Centre or not.

Where slurped: M.Y. China, Westfield Centre, 845 Market St. 4th Fl., SF

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