Thursday, January 24, 2013

Prepare Your (Instant) Ramen Like a Man!

Korean instant noodle maker Paldo shows you how!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yan Can Cut It with Knife Cut Noodles at M.Y. China

My quest for noodles in the rain today took me a few notches (and four floors) up from my last slurp in the Westfield San Francico Centre, this time to Martin Yan's M.Y. China once again. One trip to M.Y. China wiser, I had myself seated at the counter nearest the noodle crew in order to watch the fun. My mission was to check out the knife cut noodles.  As the only knife-cut noodle offering on the menu ("Beijing Knife Cut Noodles with Bean Sprouts, Pressed Tofu, and Warm Hoisin Vinaigrette") is vegetarian, I supplemented it with an order of something called "Pan Fried Savory Pork Bao."

M.Y. China's knife cut noodles (also known as dao xiao mian) are served as a ban mian (tossed noodle) dish, with a sauce and toppings served decoratively atop the noodles, but meant to be stirred in just before eating. The toppings here included diced pressed tofu, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, and greens,  The sauce was, as described on the menu, "warm hoisin vinaigrette."   My noodles arrived after what seemed an inordinate amount of time (the hand-pulled noodles appear to be the biggest sellers), giving me time to first devour my three pork baos (more on them later). When I finally got to them, the noodles were perfect, wide strips that were at once silky in texture and just slightly al dente, and the toppings fresh and crispy. There was a surprisingly meager amount of the dry tofu, (given the prominence of its mention on the menu) but it seemed comfortable in its role as a garnish rather than as a main ingredient.  Where the dish came up short, in my opinion. was with the sauce.  It's entirely a personal thing, but I am not a fan of hai xian (hoisin sauce). Though described as a "hoisin vinaigrette" on the menu, it came on like hoisin gangbusters, and as an overly sweet version at that. What could have been a marvelous dish with a more subtle "hoisin" touch or (better yet) with a spicy, peanutty sate touch, ended up with a cloyingly sweet aftertaste. Next time I'll go  for the Dan Dan noodles, in hopes they will blow away the memory of that sweetness!

As for the pork bao, I selected them out of curiosity, given the inscrutability of the English-only menu.  What would "Pan Fried Savory Pork Bao" turn out to be?  Given that xiao long bao, cha shao bao and potstickers were already accounted for by other items on the menu, would they turn out to be sheng jian bao (as I hoped against hope)? I asked the server, but she had no clue as to what I was talking about. When their mysteries were unveiled to me, the baozi did appear to be both steamed and pan-browned, but were nothing like sheng jian bao; they were more like the ubitiquous larger rou bao of Shanghai ot the gou bu li of Tianjin: steamed and spongy with a knot of savory ground pork but no "juice" inside. )I've never seen rou bao or gou bu li pan-browned, however, as these were.) The pork baos were a tasty enough stomach filler, but nowhere near as enticing as the "juicy" dumplings on M.Y. China's menu. 

Where slurped: M.Y. China, Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market Street, 4th Floor "Under the Dome."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Slurp Du Jour: Basic Beef Noodle Soup from Sorabol Hits the Spot

I started my search for lunch today with a loftier aim than food court noodles, heading to faraway Parkside to chase down a rare noodle specimen, Xinjiang Ding Ding Chao Mian by the Xinjiang-trained chef at Shandong Deluxe. Alas, as I discovered, Shandong Deluxe is open for dinner only on Mondays.  I quickly improvised a Plan B: I would return to my latest discovery. 21 Taste House to try another Yunnan rice noodle specialty, and while there determine if  "Crossing the Bridge Noodles" are on the menu, or available off-the menu. After backtracking to West Portal station and grabbing a K Car to Ocean and Lee, I was met with disappointment again: 21 Taste House was closed for MLK Holiday (d'oh). Devoid of further inspiration, I jumped on a downtown-bound K Car, debarking  at the stop for Westfield San Francisco Centre, with its convenient bathrooms and multiple food courts. Since it was now 2:30 in  the afternoon, I vowed to get my noodle fix before leaving the mall and headed for Sorabol.

Sorabol, for those not familiar with Northern California, is a local Korean restaurant chain which dates back to 1979 and claims to be the first restaurant to introduce authentic Korean cuisine to Northern California.  There is no doubt some exaggeration to this, but its "Sorabol Korean BBQ and Asian Noodles" mall outlets, which the firm started propagating in the 1980s, are definitely pioneers in the area of quick service Korean food and Asian noodle restaurants. They tend to be extremely popular for their large portions and low prices, and the outlet in the eastern basement food court of the Westfield San Francisco Centre is no exception.

The way my day was going, I couldn't even order a bowl of noodles at a shopping mall food court without a hitch. When I placed my order,  I thought I was ordering "Spicy Beef Soup (Yuk-kae Jang)" on the menu. Since I miss-spoke my order as "Spicy Beef Noodle Soup" I ended up with the more generic "Beef Noodle Soup" on the menu. (Yuk-kae Jang also has noodles in it, albeit "cellophane" or "glass" noodles.)  Sorabol cooks noodle dishes to order (an endearing feature) and by the time mine were ready and I discovered the mixup, I was too hungry to backtrack.

The "Beef Noodle Soup" (not the "Spicy Beef Soup") on the Sorabol menu resembled a Taiwanese or Chinese niu rou lamian with "la" style wheat noodles and dry, thin slices of beef similar to what one might find in a "Lanzhou lamian" in Shanghai.  The noodles were toothsome, if anything slightly undercooked, though I definitely prefer them that way to being overcooked.  There was an ample quantity of beef which, though dry, was not tough.  The savory (though not at all spicy, despite its red color) broth was enhanced with a copious amount of mushrooms and (sob) some broccoli florettes, which do not belong in any dish in any cuisine. (I'm 71 years old and don't have to eat my broccoli). It may not have been the exotic specimen of noodle culture I set out looking for, but my large $7.95 bowl of noodles at Sorabol was noodle fix-aplenty, once I got down with it.

Where slurped: Sorabol, Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market St., San Francisco

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Noodle Discovery: Yunnan Mixian at 21 Taste House

21 Taste House House ("Grill & Noodle Cuisine," it says on the awning) has been open barely a week on Ocean Avenue in the vicinity of City College. Some early Yelp notices, which were more evocative than informative, piqued my curiosity, so I set out to check it out without fully knowing what to expect.

I found 21 Taste House jam-packed with (mostly Asian) students from nearby City College at 1:00 PM. I was given a seat at a shared table, and a colorful, multi-page menu to peruse. Therein I found appetizers, including kimchi and gyoza, grilled meats (both on and off skewers), various rice plates and, most importantly to me, Yunnan Rice Noodles, as proclaimed in the largest section of the menu. There seemed to be a dizzying array of choices for toppings for both noodles in soup and "dry" noodles, but they got me immediately at lamb. I ordered a bowl of rice noodles in soup with sliced lamb shoulder. For good measure, I also ordered a kimchi appetizer, which proved to be fortuitous.

My mixian noodles (as rice noodles are known in Yunnan) arrived in a heavy stoneware bowl (a nice touch) and was the size of a "large" order in the two-tier scheme popular in Vietnamese restaurants.  The slices of lamb shared space atop the noodles with cabbage,  cilantro and some other unidentifiable greens, shredded carrots, and a few boiled peanuts, a characteristic Yunnan mixian apparently shares with its cousin Guilin mifen.  The soup-to-noodles ratio seemed higher than I am used to;  when I had finished eating most of the solids, the bowl appeared nearly as full as when I started. I don't know it this is typical of  how Yunnan mi xian is served, but given the overall size of my order I didn't feel slighted.  The lamb slices were tender, and the portion adequate if not overly generous.

Kimchi served to spice up my soup
If I could find one fault with the soup, it would be that the noodles appeared to be overcooked, and were soft, tending toward mushy. Since it was the restaurant's first week and the kitchen staff was probably as harried as the servers seemed to be by 21 Taste House's instant popularity with the students, I'll give them a mulligan this time around. Another failing, more of service than of cooking, was the lack of chili oil or chili paste in the condiment caddy.  I found my soup's broth a little bland for my tastes, and wanting to jazz it up a bit.  Fortunately, my side order of kimchi was decently spicy, and I ended up dumping most of it in the soup, which ended up being a genius move.

I'll definitely return to explore more rice noodle soup options on the menu. To tell the truth, once the lamb (always my first choice) grabbed me, I didn't even think to check to see if "Cross the Bridge" noodles were offered.

Where slurped: 21 Taste House, 1109 Ocean Ave. at Lee St., San Francisco

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dandy Sichuan Noodles at Z&Y Restaurant

From the outset of its current regime, Z&Y Restaurant has been a favorite place to go; indeed, if pressed, I'd probably name it the best Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, given my predilection for more northern and western Chinese cuisines.  Z&Y produces even the most demanding classic Sichuan dishes with such savor and elegance that it's hard to think of it as a place for just a simple bowl of noodles like dan dan mian (dan dan noodles).  However, when a food-crazed friend posted a picture on Facebook of a bowl of dan dan noodles from Z&Y's sister restaurant Chili House, I found myself thinking about them all weekend, and resolved to hit Z&Y for a spicy noodle fix at Monday lunch. 

Z&Y was slammed at high noon on a Monday (what recession?) so I killed some time in Chinatown until well after 1:00 before returning. "Do you mind sharing a table?" asked the hostess. "Not at all," I said, and found myself seated at a table for 10 all by myself. (Not until I had finished my meal and was digesting it with tea did another solo diner show up at my table.)  I ordered dan dan noodles and, for good measure, an order of hong you long chao shou, wontons in chili oil. I'd had these before, and figured if the noodles alone couldn't blow out the congestion from the cold I was suffering, the wontons could. 

It was a mild-mannered appearing dish I was presented with, with mostly a tangle of fresh, yellowish alkaline noodles topped with crushed peanuts and mustard tops visible at first glance. They sat, however, in a fiery puddle of chili oil and ground pork, just enough to coat all the noodles upon stirring  Once stirred, the dan dan mian looked uncannily like a plate of spaghetti, but oh, what a sauce!  Springy, al dente noodles bathed in a ma and la sauce with bits of ground pork, crushed peanuts and crushed garlic clinging to them -- what could be better? Well, it's possible, just slightly, that the wontons were even better.

Unlike the peek-a-boo presentation of the dan dan noodles, the eight plump, savory Sichuan wontons appeared in all their ferocious glory, glowering up from their pool of red chili oil.  True to form, they were both searing and numbing in the best Sichuan tradition. I'd say Z&Y's hong you long chao shou are the best I've had anywhere; not that the dan dan noodles aren't something to sneeze at.

Where slurped: Z&Y Restaurant, 655 Jackson St., San Francisco

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ohn No Khao Swè, Oh Yes! Coconut Chicken Noodles at Burmese Kitchen

To be sure, I'm not a big fan of coconut; it calls to mind overly-sweet pastries and candies, the bad Thai food of days gone buy, and atherosclerosis (though coconut's bad rap for the latter sees to be undergoing some rehabilitation lately). But with a cold front settling in, I experienced a craving for something thick, rich, savory and warming. On top of that, I was getting envious of Andy Ricker and his boys chasing khao soi around Thailand and tweeting about it. I hadn't been to Burmese Kitchen for a while, and I knew they served what one could reasonably expect to be a good version of ohn no khao swè, the granddaddy of khao soi.

Ohn no khao swè is chicken cooked in a mixture of coconut milk, turmeric, and chicken broth served over  egg noodles and garnished with crunchy fried noodles, lemon or lime, onions and cilantro.  At Burmese Kitchen the onions, cilantro and a wedge of lime were served on  the side, and the toppings in the bowl appeared to include crunchy pieces of samusa shells. I also ordered the traditional Burmese options of a sliced boiled egg and fried split peas (50 cents each), as well as a roti for sopping up the remnants of the liquid. (When the basic soup without options is $5.95, it's easy to be a big spender.) 

Blogger/food writer Meemalee has a recipe for Ohn No Khao Swe and also a nice description of the end product which I'll quote, rather than plagiarize, because it fits Burmese Kitchen's version to a T.
"This is a wonderfully subtle, lightly curried dish, vaguely like laksa but comforting and flavoursome without whacking you in the face. Of course, you can also adjust the seasoning to taste - adding more fish sauce, squeezing more lime or sprinkling more chilli at the table."
I did, in fact, add some crushed red chili to add a little spice heat, but other than that left well enough alone, since the thick broth seemed so perfectly balanced.  The wheat noodles were also cooked just right, pleasantly springy though soft enough to absorb the goodness of the broth. The roti, which I ordered on whim, also served a yeoman's role in soaking up the last remnants of the broth.  In sum, the Coconut Noodle Soup (as it appears on the menu) at Burmese Kitchen is a dish I will go for again, coconut or no.

Where slurped: Burmese Kitchen, 452 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Friday, January 4, 2013

Tea Garden Reunion Continued -- Clear Broth Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

My first blog post of 2013 is an addendum to my last post of 2012 (continuity matters, right?) -- a followup visit to the long- neglected (by mwe) Tea Garden on Mission Street.  My mission on Mission Street today  was to check out the second beef noodle soup on the menu, the "boiled beef without soy sauce" option. It became clear it was to be a "clear" broth version of a Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup when the cashier/mama used the word "qing" in relaying my order to the chef/papa of the establishment. . 

What came to me was a bowl of what seems to be a Taiwanese take on a Lanzhou-style beef noodle soup. The round "la" style noodles. basic clear broth, thin slices of chewy  beef  brisket and profusion of cilantro were all reminiscent of the many bowls of "Lanzhou Zheng Zong Niu Rou La Mian" I've has in Shanghai.  Whats different was the inclusion of large chunks of luobo (a. k. a. daikon), said to be a Taiwanese touch, and the use of black pepper as the most prominent seasoning, so much so that it could be justly called "black pepper beef" noodle soup. It's worth noting that the broth seemed mild and characterless at the outset, but by the time I got the the bottom of the bowl I was getting serious black pepper heat from it; I realized that I had once again forgotten the advice of a wise noodle mentor: "Always remember to stir the noodles; there may be a depth charge of flavor lurking."

Overall, it was an ample and tummy-pleasing cold weather lunch, but the clear broth lacked the brightness I associate with Lanzhou-style soups, and on a return visit my preference will be for the "with soy sauce" (red-cooked) version I previously reported on.

Where slurped: Tea Garden, 515 Mission St., San Francisco