Friday, February 22, 2013

Savory Lamb Hand-pulled Noodles at the Unintentional House of Pancakes

You'd be forgiven if you walked into a neighborhood restaurant that boldly identifies itself as "House of Pancakes" on its sign and expected to get a short stack with maple syrup, but you'd be wrong, if the said establishment was the three-week old "House of Pancakes" on Taraval Street. Yes, "House of Pancakes" is a literal translation of its Chinese name,  Guo Bing Zi Jia (鍋餅子家) and yes, it has 11 different kinds of pancakes. These pancakes, or "guobings," however, are the crispy, meat-filled savories you probably know from northern Chinese restaurants. In addition to the cultural head-fake of the restaurant's name (which is why I'm lovingly calling it the Unintentional House of Pancakes, or UHOP), it's also guilty on a couple of counts of hiding its light under a bushel: although it does feature the (very welcome) meat pies, it also can boast of freshly house-made dumplings and, of most importance to me, hand-pulled noodles made to order. It was the latter that was the lure for my maiden trip to UHOP.

House of Pancakes' menu lists seven hand-pulled noodle soups (plus zha jiang mian) and, as might be predicted, they had me at lamb. The cheerful owner was startled when I ordered my yangrou lamian in Chinese, so much so that he started talking to me in Mandarin, and I had to sheepishly explain I only know food Chinese.  I don't know if UHOP is a husband-wife operation, but the equally pleasant (if less English- proficient) woman who made my noodles at a station at the back also served me steaming bowl of goodness. (It was after 2:00 PM, an apparently slack period for this restaurant in its infancy.)

Since House of Pancakes is a mere block from Shandong Deluxe (see earlier posts) with its similar proletarian prices for hand-made noodles and dumplings, comparisons are unavoidable. Most importantly, in the case of both houses, the noodles are excellent, hearty and chewy.  If anything, the noodles at UHOP were slightly less chewy, though they didn't lean toward undesired softness until I neared the bottom of the bowl. The broth at House of Pancakes was notably more savory than Shandong's "qing tang" broth (I'm guessing a pork bone and chicken stock).  The lamb, in both cases, was lean and tender (though I'd hope for slightly fattier cuts) and a generous proportion.  As far as overall serving size goes, Shandong Deluxe uses slightly larger bowls, but both restaurants' portions verge on excessive, so I can't award House of Pancakes demerits on that score. In terms of service (never really a big issue with me) I found both places efficient with UHOP slightly more cheerful, though I have yet to observe it under the hectic conditions that Shandong Deluxe's popularity has brought to it.

What's to choose? House of Pancakes and Shandong Deluxe both offer fresh, hearty well-priced noodle fare. We're lucky to have these two places emerge in recent months.  I only wish they were closer to me.

And oh, yes, I'll get to those "pancakes" -- eventually.

Where Slurped: House of Pancakes, 937 Taraval Street, San Francisco

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