Saturday, December 28, 2013
The new Little Szechuan Restaurant is anything but little, and its (also not so little) menu isn't exactly dominated by Sichuan cuisine. Little Szechuan occupies the all-but-cavernous two-level former premises of the Impala Lounge at the corner of Kearny St. and Broadway (abreast of the topless joints), complete with the first-floor bar bar and sidewalk seating. It does have a chef from Chengdu, but its 250+ item menu is a mashup of echt Sichuanese, Dongbei, Shanghainese, Hong Kong-Cantonese and Early American-Chinese cuisines. You can have your egg foo young, for example, with a big bowl of spicy duck blood and tripe soup and sides of beef pancake and xiao long bao, and wash it all down with a glass of Hong Kong-style milk tea. But I'm a noodle guy and I was there to vet the dan dan noodles.
Service was prompt (not surprisingly, as I was the only customer at 1:30) and began with a complimentary dish of kimchi and a glass of cold water accompanying the menus. "You speak Chinese!" exclaimed Nicki, the pleasant server when I ordered both the dan dan noodles and a side of wontons in chili oil by their Chinese names. "Not exactly," I said. "I eat a lot" (as if that made any sense).
A lot of work has obviously gone into bringing Little Szechuan to fruition and I'd love to see it succeed. It will be a daunting task to fill the seats in a place of this size in a slightly iffy area on the strength of its food alone. Perhaps it will become a "scene," attracting graduates of the Irving & 21st boba joints with its varied fare and its liquor license.
Maybe the best case scenario is that it will bring a better class of drunks to my neighborhood.
Where slurped: Little Szechuan [sic], 501 Broadway, San Francisco
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
It was Christmas day and of course I could think of nothing more festive for lunch than a good bowl of noodles, so I headed for Chinatown. According to the grapevine, Oolong Noodles had finally opened and featured a woman making noodles in the big picture window facing the street. When I got there, Oolong was open but looked deserted and the red bagnio drapes in the window were drawn shut. I decided to defer my vetting of Oolong Nooodles until such time I could watch the goods being made, and headed around the corner to Joy Hing B.B.Q. Noodle House on Kearny St.
Heaven and Nature did not sing about my pho ga long. When it arrived at my table (a little too quickly, I felt), the broth was salty and oily. It was chicken-y enough, but had little character otherwise, as if it had been made from canned chicken stock or bouillon. There were large shreds of mostly white chicken meat, and little evidence of giblets. Worst of all were the wide rice noodles, which had been seriously overcooked and had no chew to them at all. If there was anything outstanding apout my pho, it was the two slices of fresh jalapeno pepper that came in the little condiment dish. They packed serious heat, and by themselves added a little depth to the broth. Even so, for once I didn't empty my bowl of broth once the noodles were gone; that's how phogettable my noodle soup was.
To be fair to Joy Hing, pho is just a small part of its many offerings and, in fact, was historically buried deep in the restaurant's menu. It may not be Joy Hing's best asset. Something has been keeping this vintage restaurant afloat for a long time; I'll find out what it is, and report back.
Where slurped: Joy Hing B.B.Q. Noodle House, 710 Kearny St, San Francisco
Thursday, December 19, 2013
I hadn't done ramen in quite a while, and word of a new ramen-ya opening up in Japantown triggered my last Last In First Out alarm so I set out to vet it. However, it turned out that the new joint's opening had been pushed back a couple of days, so I reached into my bucket and pulled out a ramen hack I had been wanting to try, Habanero Ramen from Ramen Underground.
In contrast to the Kearny St. hole-in-the-wall, Ramen Underground in the Miyako Mall was all but deserted when I arrived just after 1:30, though other holiday priorities undoubtedly had their effect on patronage, and a couple of other parties drifted in while I was eating. "It'll be spicy," warned my server when I ordered the habanero ramen, along with a side order of gyoza. It had better be, I muttered under my breath. Anyone who could even pronounce "habanero" surely would know what was in store for them.
(I have a friend who is married to a Japanese chef and has lived in Japan who complains that ramen in the U.S. in general comes with too little broth because Americans won't drink all the broth; I may be the exception that proves the rule. After all, isn't the broth what ramen is supposed to be all about?)
If I have a main complaint about Ramen Underground's habanero ramen, it would be that it is unduly pricey, at $10.95 with no extras, relatively skimpy toppings and not enough broth for the noodles.
Where slurped: Ramen Underground, 22 Peace Plaza, Suite 530 (upstairs in the East Mall), Japantown, San Francisco
Thursday, December 12, 2013
An earlier attempt to score a bowl of pho featuring bull pizzle, um, fizzled when I ordered the Pho Bo Ngau Pin Dac Biet at Quan Bac in the inner Richmond and was told "We don't have that today" by the server. I suspected at the time they were holding it back from a presumably clueless guilao, avoiding the need to delicately explain what those chewy thingies in the soup were. Not wanting to be a dick about it by accusing them of culturally profiling, I meekly accepted the alternative suggested by the server, Pho Bo Dac Biet -- combination of well-done, rare beef and beef ball noodle soup
Fast forward to today, when, thanks to a Yelp advance scout, I got wind of the newly opened Quan Pho Viet Restaurant on Ocean Avenue. It was also reputed to have a bull pizzle pho and I jumped on the K car to check it out for lunch. The decor and the menu both had a familiar look to them, and the server confirmed that they indeed were related to Quan Bac on Geary. Here, though, in the more hardnosed Ingleside, they took my order for No. 32 "Pho Bo Ngau Pin Dac Biet - combination beef noodle soup with bull pudendum" without batting an eyelash.
What about the ngau pin a.k.a. bull pudendum? The end to my quest was anticlimactic, you might say. I found a couple of two-inch longitudinally-sliced dense cartilaginous strips lurking at the bottom of my bowl; they were difficult to maneuver with chopsticks, even more difficult to chew, and had no taste of their own at all. At least I got to cross an exotic ingredient off my list.
Bully for me.
Where slurped Quan Pho Viet 1031 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
A chowhound.com thread on beef sate noodles lit a fire under me on this cold day and I hightailed it to San Sun Restaurant in Chinatown, for the first time in a long while. (Foursquare rudely informed me that it had been more than two years -- so much for eating locally.) In fact it was my first trip to San Sun since they moved to their smartly if coldly appointed new digs on Washington St. after being ousted from Stockton St. by Muni's Chinatown Subway project.
San Sun, which I dubbed "The House of 5,000 Noodles" because of all the possible DIY combinations on the menu, is especially noted for its sate noodles; there's a Malaysian spouse in the San Sun family mix, and the house-made sate sauce is so highly regarded it is bottled and sold from the restaurant.
It was the cold weather and my cold that triggered my San Sun run, and nothing seemed better for both than a spicy sate noodle soup. The menu offers eight different sate soups, and I went for the basic "Sate Bo beef saday sauce noodle" as it's listed (also known as #42) on the menu. The server asked me for my noodle choice. "What's the best noodle for it?" I asked. She read my mind and came back with "wide egg noodle." It's what I would have ordered, but it was nice that my preference had the house's approval. Did I want it spicy? "Yes, definitely," I said.
I've mentioned before that I have a habit of playing with the remaining broth at the bottom of my bowl, doctoring it with potions from the condiment caddy. No so the sate broth at San Sun, which I drank down as is; improving on it was certainly beyond my ken.
$6.75 before T&T. And did I mention free, fast Wi-Fi?
Where slurped: San Sun Restaurant, 848 Washington St., San Francisco
Thursday, December 5, 2013
I was saving Burma Superstar for the last of the mohingas (good pun, eh?) but fate, otherwise known as poor planning, interceded. Burma Superstar is both the most visible and the most controversial of Burmese restaurants in San Francisco, beloved by hipsters, but meh-ed, to put it politely, by Naomi Duguid, who knows a thing or two about Burmese food. By hitting the other seven joints first, I would be better equipped to form a fair assessment of the relative merits of BSS's mohinga.
I've previously reported on mohinga from Burmese Kitchen, Sapphire Asian Cuisine, and, in passing, the Lil Burma food truck. Upcoming will be Mandalay, Pagan, Yamo and Little Yangon.
Where slurped: Burma Superstar, 309 Clement St. at 4th Avenue, San Francisco
Thursday, November 28, 2013
I've established a personal tradition of having duck for my fowl of choice on Thanksgiving, and with the jury (of Shanghainese in-laws) still out on dinner plans, I decided to get a leg up at lunchtime with a trip to Hai Ky Mi Gia.
in an official blogger capacity for the mee pok, is a Chaozhou Chinese (by way of Vietnam) establishment in the Tenderloin that ranks up there with Chinatown's San Sun as one of the great bargain dedicated Asian noodleries of San Francisco. More than any other eating establishment in town, it is associated with duck legs. Though only three of the 31 soups on HKMG's menu feature a braised duck leg, nearly 60 percent (29) of the last 50 Yelpers to review it mention having (or having had) one of them. Hai Ky Mi Gia is a hole-in-the-wall-and-a-half is size and is always busy, so that adds up to a lot of duck legs. You can get the braised duck leg with wontons and noodles, ho fun noodles, or egg noodles (choice of thick or thin). You can also get a duck leg on the side, in case you want a two-legged bowl of noodles.
I hadn't bothered to check if HKMG was even open on Thanksgiving Day, but was guessing that they were. At it turned out, they were open for lunch but closing at 3:00, as were some others of their Larkin St. noodle neighbors. When I arrived at 1:30, the restaurant was packed, and I had a short wait before I was given a seat at a communal 6-top.
It took about 10 minutes for my bowl of noodles to arrive, accompanied by a small saucer of carrot shreds and cucumber slices. After tasting the broth, I added a little chili oil and a couple of squirts of what I think was oyster sauce from an unmarked mystery squeeze bottle. I eschewed the carrot shreds and chewed the cucumber slices, but declined to add either to the bowl, which was adorned well enough with my favorite rabbit food, cilantro.
Where slurped: Hai Ky Mi Gia, 707 Ellis St; at Larkin St., San Francisco
Thursday, November 21, 2013
The color of the Burmese noodle soup called Ohn No Khao Swe comes from turmeric, not saffron, but eating it at Sapphire Asian Cuisine today had the 1966 Donovan hit playing in my head (where it's still playing as I write). I've blogged previously about Sapphire Asian Cuisine, the Chinese food steam table joint with a separate menu of made-to-order authentic Burmese food as a seeming afterthought, and of Ohn No Khao Swe, the dish that by all measures should be ranked a close second to mohinga, the catfish chowder considered Burma's national dish.
Here's a video lesson on making Ohn No Khao Swe, taught by none other than Yadana Nat Mai, alias June Bellamy, last princess of Burma:
[Added 24 November]
Another video lesson for making Ohn No Khao Swe from the younger generation, in the person of London blogger/author MiMi (@Meemalee on Twitter) and a favorite resource for Burmese food knowledge:
Thursday, November 14, 2013
That mi tek tek is a street food above all is evidenced by its very name. While "mie" simply means noodles, referring to the yellow egg noodles always used, the "tek tek" refers to the sound of itinerant street vendors tapping their woks with their spatulas to announce their arrival. There are two types of mie tek tek: mie tek tek goreng, meaning "fried" (think chow mein) and mie tek tek kuah, meaning "in soup."
At The Lime Tree, You have the option of ordering your soup mild or spicy, though "spicy," as I ordered it, means "not very." There are no condiments on the tables, so it's advisable to put in a request when you order for "extra spicy" if that's what fuels your boat. The not-too-spicy broth came with a copious amount of yellow ramen-like egg noodles, topped with shredded chicken, tomatoes, fried shallots, pickles and crunchy cabbage that I could detect. The noodles were nicely chewy, the topping were a nice mix of textures from sost and tender to crunchy, and overall it was a comforting, belly-pleasing bowl, lack of chili assertiveness notwithstanding.
|Mi tek tek goreng from Sataysfied|
Where slurped: The Lime Tree, 450 Irving St., San Francisco
Sunday, November 10, 2013
I hadn't had a bowl of noodles, not even home-cooked, for nearly a week and so my internal GPS directed my feet toward House of Xian Dumpling, even though it wasn't lunch or dinner time. My choice this time was Braised Beef Noodle Soup, with "hand-pulled flat noodle," i.e. biang biang style, if you will.
In my first post about this restaurant, I remarked that much of the ambitious menu seemed to be under construction. The proprietress, who must have seen my blog post, made a point of telling me that most of the menu is now available. As this would include the likes of xiao long bao, shengjian bao and xian doujiang, I can see myself returning frequently (but always reserving room in my belly for hand-pulled noodles).
Where slurped: House of Xian Dumpling, 925 Kearny St., San Francisco
Monday, November 4, 2013
"The concept is quite similar to Panda Express yet the food isn't even a tenth of Panda's taste and is instead 3/2 the greasy fattiness. Again, I love greasy fattiness but I love it only when it tastes amazing! Usually greasy fattiness and delicious taste tend to go hand in hand (it's one of those culinary unfairnesses) but it was quite far off here."
Fortunately there's a benign "gotcha" here in the restaurant name's extension, "....Taste of Burma." This taste is not found in the Orange Chicken, Broccoli Beef or Thai Basil Pork from the steam table, but in an a la carte menu above the steam table, titled "Made to Order." Made to order (or at least assembled to order) they are, and include a range of Burmese classics like Mohinga (catfish chowder), coconut curry noodle soup, samusa soup, tea leaf salad, rainbow salad and Shan tofu salad, to name a few.
I chose to first test the mohinga, because a) this is a noodle blog, b) mohinga is considered Burma's National dish and therefore merits one's first attention, and c) I've been on a fishy soup kick lately in any event. I placed my order with the cashier, paid, and found a table where I waited for it to be brought to me, which happened about 10 minutes later.
Mohinga is a chowder made from shredded catfish in a lemongrass-infused broth thickened with yellow chickpea flour, served with rice vermicelli noodles. Garlic, onion, ginger and fish paste and/or fish sauce are also typically used in the broth, and the dish is served with a variety of garnishes which may be already included or served on the side.
After tasting the broth, which was complex, citrusy, and slightly fishy, I added a squeeze from the lime wedge and half the crushed dried chilis (which were joined later by the other half). Although not a lot of tangible shredded catfish was evident, and the noodles were a little too soft (as they could hardly escape being, given their thinness) it was overall a very stout bowl of mohinga, with a broth that was as good as I have had, and well worth returning to. And there wasn't a touch of greasy fattiness (of either the good or bad variety) to it.
Where slurped: Sapphire Asian Cuisine ....Taste of Burma, 475 Sacramento Street, San Francisco
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Where slurped: Lil Burma Food Truck, SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428-11th Street, San Francisco
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
|The new Turtle Tower Kitchen is four times as large as the old one.|
Thanks to an event organized by new Bay Area startup Simmr, thirty noodleheads were privileged to be given a peek into the workings of the kitchen of Turtle Tower Restaurant at its new flagship facility.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Chef/owner Steven Nghia Pham's restaurant is considered to San Francisco's premier pho restaurant, featuring Northern Vietnam-style pho and justly renowned for its pho ga (chicken pho). Earlier this year, Turtle Tower closed its cramped facilities at 631 Larkin St. in the City's Little Saigon area and moved, after an extensive renovation, to a larger facility up the street at 645 Larkin St. Turtle Tower boasts three other locations in San Francisco and one in Beijing, but Larkin Street is where Chef Steven can be found manning the stoves.
After being served drinks of our choice and appetizers of chả mực (deep fried cuttle fish patty) and gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls) we were given a "chalk talk" by Chef Steven on his background and philosophy, then led through the kitchen, table by table, to observe implements, ingredients, and procedures. At the end of our kitchen tour we were given order forms to create our DIY bowl of pho, choosing broths, primary meats, and other add-ins. Since I order chicken pho on almost every visit to Turtle Tower, I went against the grain and ordered pho tai chin, with rare and well done beef flank.
|Chef Steven regaling a rapt audience.|
|Chicken pho stock, ready to take wing.|
|Some pho ga add-ins. TT uses only free-range chickens.|
|Noodles being drained. TT goes through 500 lbs of noodles a day.|
|Chef Steven slicing rare beef (I like to think it's for my bowl)|
|My rare beef pho|
|The Food Hoe herself|
Thanks again to the energetic women from Simmr for organizing, and to the Turtle Tower family for hosting this event.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
The San Francisco Bay Area, long blessed with a richness of Burmese cuisine choices, finally has its first full-fledged, street legal Burmese food truck in Lil Burma, as reported in my other blog. Wherever there is Burmese food there are noodles, and after having sampled Lil Burma's Mohinga (the fish chowder noodle soup that is Burma's national dish) on my first visit to the truck, I returned today to vet the kyat tha khauk swe' thouk.
Kyat tha khauk swe' thouk, to use Lil Burma's choice of romanization, is literally chicken (kyat tha) noodle (khauk swe) salad (thouk). This is not your ginned up Chinese chicken salad created for Western tastes, but a hard-core Burmese staple, from a cuisine that celebrates cold salads as fervently as any in the world. The salad features shredded chicken on wheat noodles anointed with 14 ingredients (according to the posted menu) These included, as near as I could determine, crushed dried shrimp, shredded cabbage, cilantro, fish sauce, lime and peanut oil.
|Tofu salad from Lil Burma|
Where slurped: Lil Burma food truck, SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428-11th St., San Francisco
Friday, October 18, 2013
If you are a lover of Asian cuisines, you are no doubt familiar with the spicy, coconutty Malaysian delight known as curry laksa (kari laksa) or simply "laksa." Less well known away from its home is a second type of laksa, a sour, fishy version known as asam laksa. In Penang, where asam laksa is the default, the local version is so tasty that Penang asam laksa was ranked number seven on CNN Travel's list of the World's 50 Best Foods.
Penang Garden's menu offers Penang Assam Laksa, precisely the variation that wowed CNN's travel writers, and that's what I ordered, along with a side order of roti canai. My laksa arrived as pho-style rice noodles in a broth red from chili pepper. "Asam" is the Malay word for tamarind, and that is the basis for the sourness that meets the spiciness in Penang asam laksa. This "hot-sour" soup is also made fishy by sardines, chunks of which lurked in the broth. Toppings included thinly-sliced cucumber and red onions, as well as mint leaves and a healthy dollop of shrimp paste. Chunks of fresh pineapple also appeared as a garnish, augmenting the tartness. I couldn't divine what else contributed to the complex, pungent broth, but it may have included lemongrass and/or galangal, both traditional seasonings for Penang asam laksa.
I've enjoyed hot and sour soups before, and sour fishy soups, but I can't recall experiencing spiciness, sourness and fishiness each vying so determinedly for attention within the confines of a bowl of noodle soup before. I have no benchmark for Asam laksa, this having been my first taste, but the performance of the three flavor elements in unison I which experienced at Penang Garden was a revelation, and a show I hope to come across again in my wanderings.
Where slurped: Penang Garden Restaurant, 728 Washington St., San Francisco Chinatown
Friday, October 4, 2013
The temperature was pushing 75° F at lunchtime and I declared it a heat wave (not really a stretch, for San Francisco) and an excuse to revisit the newly-opened House of Xian Dumpling and try out a cold noodle offering from their menu.
wheat starch noodles used by Xi'an Gourmet, House of Xian Dumpling's are made from mung bean starch. In either case, a chilled jelly-like sheet is cut into wide strips, forming tender translucent noodles and tossed with a savory "dressing." At House of Xian Dumpling, the dressing includes julienned cucumbers and peanuts in a vinegary, peppery sauce with a hint of sweetness. The sauce seemed nicely balanced, though I added a little chili oil to bring it up to my preferred level of chili heat. Together with the cool, slithery noodles (less chewy than wheat starch noodles) and cucumber shreds, my plate of liang pi made for a nicely refreshing hot-weather treat I would gladly repeat.
If I have one misgiving about House of Xian Dumpling's "Wide Bean Noodle Salad" it would be that it seems overpriced, relatively speaking. Virtually everything on the restaurant's menu is $5.95, $6.95 or $7.95, with $6.95 being the mode. The dish (listed as an appetizer) is priced at $6.95, the same as the much larger and more substantial bowls of hand-made noodle soups with their generous protein components. (To be honest, one could also argue that the liang pi was fairly priced, and the noodle soups underpriced.)
Speaking of which, I've yet to try the dumplings at House of Xian Dumpling, in deference to my noodle-centric blogging pursuits, but will get around to that, especially since they are in the neighborhood. And though I'm enamored of Xi'an's noodle culture, I'm well aware of the city's claim to fame as the originator of the dumplings known as shui jiao, of which I've downed more than my fair share.
Where slurped: Xi'an House of Dumpling [apostrophe mine], 925 Kearny St., San Francisco