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