Sunday, February 2, 2014
Pork Belly Pad Thai With Naked Heat From Naked Lunch's Chao Mien Pop-up
To begin with, "Chao Mien" is not busted pinyin for Chao Mian (or Chow Mein). It's the name of a Lao/Thai popup inside the fancy sandwich restaurant on Broadway known as Naked Lunch in the space that will always evoke Enrico's for me. A sous chef at the restaurant, Sarn Saechao (whence the "Chao") is from Laos and is of the Mien minority nationality, a subgroup of the Chinese Yao nationality, also found in significant numbers in Thailand and Vietnam. The popup happens every Sunday night, and features Chef Saecho's take on his homeland cuisine ("Mien inspired, locally driven" reads the header on his menus). After Champa Garden and Maneelap Srimongkoun, Chao Mien is the third Lao/Thai restaurant (such as it is) to arrive in SF in the past year (after a long period of no Lao culinary presence). Chao Mien, in fact, might be called a Lao/Thai/Mien establishment, though the current featured noodle dish I was there to try -- Pad Thai -- can obviously only be pigeonholed under the middle category.
The Pork Belly Pad Thai is described on the menu as "Tofu, Fried Egg, Bean Sprouts, Chives, Peanut" and, of course Pork Belly. I was asked if I wanted it spicy, and I requested "Thai hot," the house's spiciest category (anything to justify a pint of crisp Trumer Pils). I am not particularly well-grounded in Pad Thai, since I tend to favor soup noodles over "dry" noodles (and Pad Thai is as dry as dry noodles come), but I enjoyed this as much as any Pad Thai I have had. Although the pork belly component was meager, accounting for little more than a garnish, it was a meal of substance, thanks to the firm toothsomeness of the fat rice noodles and the protein contribution of the tofu and crushed peanuts. It wasn't the spiciest Asian dish I have ever had (that would be a Lao papaya salad) but it lived up to its "Thai hot" label and more than justified my beer order (not to mention a second one) and sent me away with stinging lips and a Niacin rush-like heat on.
I regret having failed to make it to the Chao Mien popup last month when their menu featured a beef noodle soup, but I'll be tracking menu changes and be back for future noodley offerings and most likely other goodies.
Where noshed: Chao Mien Popup (Sunday nights only), inside Naked Lunch, 504 Broadway, San Francisco.