Friday, September 27, 2013
House of Xian Dumpling's menu, at least as printed (and I say that advisedly) looks like a culinary map of China, especially Northern China, with Xi'an, Sichuan, Beijing, Shanghai and Shandong specialties that I could immediately spot, and even a few Cantonese Golden Oldies for completeness' (and tourism's) sake. I say "advisedly," because some portions of the menu have yet to be implemented. I asked specifically about the xiao long bao, shengjian bao, and xian doujiang from the "Dim Sum" portion of the menu, and they weren't ready with any of them, nor with skewers from the "Hot Appetizers" menu. It may be a case of "first design a menu then find the talent" (which certainly has been done before), and since they went to the expense of printing the menu in full-color, I'm assuming they are committed to it. In any event, they were ready with the noodles and dumplings, and noodles were what I was there for.
My noodles came to my table with an aromatic blast which reminded me more of a Taiwanese beef noodle soup than anything from Xi'an. Tasting the broth, I found the slightly medicinal spicing sharp and nicely balanced, and a default chili heat that didn't beg for augmentation. The beef tendon, accompanied by a few stalks of bok choy, was tender, by and large, though a couple of the larger chunks were on the chewy side. As for the noodles, they were cooked just right, retaining a slight chewiness from start to finish, and as pleasing to the palate as only freshly-made wheat noodles can be. At $6.95 for a bowl the size of a "large" pho serving, it was an ample lunch on its own, and something I will happily return for.
Now about that apostrophe.....
Where slurped: House of Xian Dumpling, 925 Kearny St., San Francisco.
*西安手拉麵饺子館 ("Xi'an hand-pulled noodle and dumpling shop")
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
On my recent foray to Oakland to vet the signature offering of the new Guilin Classic Rice Noodles restaurant, I was intrigued by another specialty on the menu, Liuzhou Spicy Snails Rice Noodle soup. At the same time I was a bit wary of this dish, because I didn't know if it had whole snails in it and I didn't relish the prospect of inexpertly sucking the meat out of snail shells in front of an audience of not my peers. Thanks to a Chowhound.com post by "Dave MP" and a little additional research, I learned that there are no snails at all in Spicy Snails Rice Noodle Soup, just a broth that is snail-based.
Liuzhou Spicy Snail Rice Noodles, or Liuzhou luosifen, is the most famous noodle dish of Liuzhou, a city to the south of Guilin in Guangxi province. So intimately associated with the city is this soup that Liuzhou uses it to promote itself, and at the 2012 Liuzhou Water Festival an event called "10,000 people eat luosifen together" was held, as reported by veteran blogger Liuzhou Laowai. The blogger also has the best description of "Liuzhou spicy snail soup" I have been able to find, so I will quote him (from the same blog post) here:
It is a dish of rice noodles served in a very spicy stock made from the local river snails and pig bones which are stewed for hours with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Various pickled vegetables, dried tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts and loads of chilli are then usually added.
Blogger Liuzhou Laowai goees on to add that restaurants' specific recipes are generally kept secret, so what he is reporting is an approximation. I certainly can't confirm the spice mix in the stock of the version I had at Guilin Classic Rice Noodles, except that it was deep and rich. As for the add-ins in my bowl, they were as reported in Liuzhou Laowai's paradigm, and also included wood-ear mushrooms. The pickled vegetables included Liuzhou's famous sour bamboo (suansun) which, along with the chili oil (and apparent black pepper in the stock) were dominant characteristics of the broth. As there are no snails present in luosifen, what there was of protein came from the boiled peanuts, tofu skin and what appeared to me cubes of fried tofu. The rice noodles in the soup were thinner than the spaghetti-sized noodles in Guilin rice noodles, more "vermicelli"-like, like Vietnamese bun. Not my favorite type of noodle generally, but it hardly mattered here, so satisfying was the "soup" part of the dish, at once sour, spicy, rich, deep and sharp.
Taking a cue from Chowhound Dave MP in the post cited above, I ordered a youtiao (fried dough stick) for crumbling and adding the my soup once the solids were eaten. The youtiao at Guilin Classic Rice Noodle are house made, and smaller, darker and crispier than typical doughy Chinatown youtiao. Adding pieces of youtiao to a broth already slick from chili oil may not be exactly what the doctor ordered, but heck, it tasted good and I'll remember to do the same when I next drop in for some less-oily Guilin rice noodle soup. Which will be soon.
Where Slurped: Guilin Classic Rice Noodles, 261A 10th Street, Oakland
Thursday, September 12, 2013
|Salty beef and crispy pork noodles, broth on the side|
Thanks to BART, I can get from home to Oakland's Chinatown faster than I can to the Richmond or Sunset Districts in San Francisco. Nonetheless, it takes a major inducement to get me to venture to the Mysterious East Bay, and today it was the promise of Guilin mi fen (rice noodles) at a new Oakland noodle shop, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.
I developed a fondness of for Guilin rice noodles in Shanghai (where they're much more easily found than Vietnamese pho), mostly at a "Guilin Mi fen" shop on Wuyi Rd. near Tianshan Tea City, a frequent destination. Until now, there has been no venue specializing in this regional noodle style in the immediate Bay Area; Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, in a corner of the old Good Luck Supermarket building on 10th St. in Oakland's Chinatown, changed all that when it opened at the beginning of September.
When I arrived around 1:30 PM, the front room of CGRN was nearly full, but I managed to find a seat at a two-top by the window (I later discovered there is a spacious rear room as well, which was empty at the time). After perusing the colorful menu, I settled on a combination of salty beef and crispy pork for my toppings, although I had no idea what "crispy pork" was and my server's command of English was hopelessly inadequate to clarify it. (It turned out to be thin, bacon-like slices of pork belly.)
Classic Guilin Rice Noodle's menu consists of a "classic series" composed of five different topping choices (barbecued pork, salty beef, beef brisket, beef tripe, and crispy pork) as well as all possible combinations of two of these items for a total of 15 choices. Noodles with a single topping are $5.50, and $6.50 for combinations. In addition, there is a "Special Rice Noodle Series" composed of just two entries: Spicy Snails Rice Noodle ($6.50), and "Special Small Bowls Rice Noodle" ($8.50). This latter is a service of five small bowls with different toppings, akin to the way Thai boat noodles are sometimes offered.
Also on the menu are a handful of medicinal soups/stews in clay pot ($7.25 each) , and three lotus leaf steamed rice and meat entrees, served with soup and vegetable for $6.50.
|Unseasoned broth on the side|
Overall, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles is a fun place to slurp some fen, and, even after factoring in my Senior citizen BART fare, probably as cheap a bowl of tasty noodles as I'll eat anywhere in the area.
Where slurped: Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, 261 A 10th Street, Oakland Chinatown
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
|Khao Piak Sien ("Lao's Noodle Soup - Kaow Paik" on menu)|
Some research pointed me to a dish called "Kaow Paik" (more fully rendered as "Khao Piak Sien" elsewhere) on the Champa Garden menu for my first Lao noodle adventure. Not only is this soup adjudged characteristically Lao and longed for by overseas Laotians, but the version offered by Champa Garden promised home-made noodles. Sold!
Overall, it was a solid bowl of comfort-giving noodles, in a chicken noodle soup kind of way. It's probably not a noodle dish I would seek out again, unless I had a killer head cold and there was no matzoh ball soup in sight, but I'll be back to Champa Garden. Next time I'll ask them to hit me up with the fermented bean soup.
Where slurped: Champa Garden, 613 Faxon Ave. (at Ocean Avenue), San Francisco
Friday, September 6, 2013
|Saozi Mian at Xi'an Gourmet|
I think it's fair to say the origins of the dish's name, as well as of the dish itself, are lost in antiquity. According to People's Daily Online,
Qishan* Saozi Mian (Qishan-style noodles with minced meat) has a long history. It began as early as in the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC). It is a kind of noodles poured with pork soups (Saozi means diced meat) plus tofu, dried lily flowers, agaric,kelp, carrots and Chinese chives or garlic sprouts and tastes sour and hot, leaving people delicious aftertastes.
Where slurped: Xi'an Gourmet, 3741 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco
*Qishan is a district in Shaanxi reputed to be a cradle of saozi mian, and the dish is sometimes called Qishan mian (perhaps to avoid the "sao" connotations) or Qishan saozi mian.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Thanks to a chowhound.com post by ramen chaser Melanie Wong, I discovered that noodles were being repped in the food vendor area at America's Cup Village (the Marina Green viewing area for America's Cup 2013) by Noodle Me, and swung by to check out their offerings on the last day of preliminary events.
Noodle Me's website), the first of these is apparently the pair's take on a pho ga, the second a miso ramen (see Melanie's review), and the Coco Bang Bang a variant on the Burmese Ohn No Khao Swè, but using pork instead of the customary chicken. It was the Burmese noodles that interested me most, and that's what I ordered.
Although the bowl was smallish, there was a generous amount of protein in the form of fried tofu and ground pork, though the texture of the ground pork didn't seem right for this dish. Slivers or chunks of pulled pork might have worked better. I'd also note that though the Coco(nut) component of the broth was well developed, there wasn't much "Bang" in the form of spice heat which, of course, would be easily remediable in Noodle Me's intended DIY environment.
I look forward to meeting up with the Noodle Me folks again in a more noodle-friendly setting.
Where slurped: Noodle Me stall, America's Cup Village, Marina Green (near the end of Fillmore St.)
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Having had my fill, for the moment, of the robust hand-made wheat noodles I love so much, thanks to near neighbors Xi'an Gourmet and To Hyang at Geary & 2nd, I resumed my Tenderloin quest for outliers in the Vietnamese rice noodle firmament. This took me back to Mong Thu Cafe, which I found closed on a previous visit, for my quarry, bún mam.
Bún mam, sometimes referred to as Vietnamese gumbo, is a specialty of the Mekong Delta. Bun, of course, refers to the thin rice noodles, and according to this article in the Chicago Reader, "mam, as in mam ca loc (fermented fish paste)... provides the elusive element of deep rounded flavor that puts the mam in umami." Noted Vietnam blogger "Noodle Pie," currently writing a book about Vietnamese street food, once dubbed bun mam as the best noodle soup in Vietnam.
The woman who took my order, in a routine already documented on Yelp, asked me if I'd had it before, and advised me that it was a little bit "strong" in flavor, intimating that I might not like it. I assured her I knew what I was getting into, and loved a good fish flavor.
When my bowl came, it was heavenly fragrant. The deep rich broth held thin rice noodles (which were a little on the soft side), six prawns, and a melange of bits of fish, fish cake, BBQ pork, beef and whatnot. A friend says that he gets the impression that Mong Thu cleans out their refrigerator with this dish, but it might be that the pungent aroma just reminds him of the inside of his own refrigerator. It's possible the protein add-ins might make use of leftovers, but the real star of this dish is the broth. It's fishy, in the best possible way.
Where slurped: Mong Thu Cafe, 248 Hyde Street, San Francisco