Friday, June 20, 2014
It was Friday and that Pavlovian bell rang, but I recalled again that the reputedly peerless "only on Friday" bun bo Hue at Ha Nam Ninh may be becoming a dim memory, so I went to my bucket list and picked off Tin Vietnamese restaurant on Howard Street. Tin's location (and suspected gentrification role) as well as its menu descriptors suggested that this was a "gateway" restaurant, but it had ended up on my bucket list based on the recommendations of two people whose knowledge of Vietnamese food I highly trust. I only had to jump on the #30 Bus and I would be right there, and they had bun bo Hue on the menu.
When the soup arrived I inventoried the contents. It seemed a classic broth, red with chili and containing chopped cilantro and spring onions, onion slices and Vietnamese flora that I am not on a first name basis with. It tasted meaty with lemon-grassy undertones, and a little shy of spicy (though addition of the jalapeno slices brought it to the nasal drip-inducing stage). As I expected, there were no blood cubes adorning the bowl (hard to come by, even in the Tenderloin). As advertised, there was both rare, thinly sliced beef, and equally thinly sliced beef shank. Instead of a pig's knuckle, however, there were slices of pork pate (pork "bologna" on the menu). No blood nor bones were to be found in my bun bo Hue.
Overall, there were generous portions of the proteins, and everything (both meat and veggies) appeared to be fresh. the only thing that marred a strong, if slightly eccentric, bun bu Hue were the noodles. They were the right size, and in the right proportion to the broth, but on this occasion overcooked and too soft for my taste -- a fault easily avoided with due diligence.
Where slurped: Tin Vietnamese, 937 Howard St. nr. 6th St., San Francisco
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Case in point: today's bowl of "Spicy Beef Soup Nooodles" (in Chinese on Xi An Gourmet's Hand-Pulled Noodles menu as Chuan wei niu rou mian). The bowl was large, the noodles muscular and chewy, the broth dark and beefy with a meal's worth of tender braised beef brisket. and enough cilantro and Chinese mustard to let me know I was getting my vegetables. What more could I want for $6.99? Also available in lamb.
Where slurped: Xi An Gourmet, 3741 Geary Blvd. at 2nd Avenenue, San Francisco
Thursday, June 12, 2014
When Chowhound.com ramen guru Melanie Wong spotted the "Shalala" sign going up at the storefront on the Buchanan St. mall vacated by Sushi Aka Tombo, she wondered if it was related to the highly regarded Ramen Shalala in Mountain View. The paper trail she followed indicated it was indeed under the same ownership, and that gave me a reason for checking it out at the earliest opportunity. I had a second reason, or so I thought, in the word "Kuro" which I spotted on the posted menu when I buzzed by the previous Saturday on my way to the Northern California Tofu Festival (hey, I'm an omnivore, you know?)
It turned out "Kuro" ("dark") in this case did not refer to the Exxon Valdez-grade blackened garlic oil ramen I became enamored of at New York's Hide-chan a while back, but to one of the two broth styles offered by Ramen Shalala's new venture, described as "Deep and Thick Tonkotsu (Pork Bones) Broth with Soy Sauce Base flavor;" in other words, a tonkotsu-shoyu broth. Shalala's other Japantown offering is "Shiro" ("light"), a tonkotsu-shio (sea salt base flavor) ramen. Nicknames aside, these constitute two-thirds of the basic offerings at Ramen Shalala in Mountain View, where a miso option is also available. At both locations variations are available, such as negi (spring onion), moyashi (bean sprout), vegetarian and kitchen sink options. The appetizer and side dish offerings at Shalala Ramen are pretty much a subset of those at Ramen Shalala as well.
Disappointed though I was upon learning no blackened garlic oil was involved, I ordered the $8.95 dark "Kuro" ramen with eyes open anyway; no extra toppings save the $1 spice bomb. I also went for an order of gyoza, after determining they were house made (good move that; they were well-browned garlicky ingots that went down well). My ramen came piping hot; hot enough to burn my tongue while tasting the broth even after pausing to pose my bowl for a couple of Obnoxious Foodie pictures. The tawny potion was a deep rich wonder, and the added spice neutered any cloying quality it may have had (as tonkotsu broths sometimes do) The three razor-thin chashu slices were tender if a little dry, and the whole half-cooked egg was suitably runny at the yolk. The thick, curly noodles were nicely chewy, and the negi, kikurage, nori and sesame seeds complemented the main players nicely (if this was theater, I'd say there was great chemistry, but that doesn't work for soup, huh).
It's the same old Shalala, ownership-wise, and two-thirds of the same old Shalala menu-wise; is it the same old Shalala quality-wise? Not having tried the fare at the mother ship, this ramen novice noodle nudnik can't say. But I found myself thinking that perhaps I was finally beginning to get ramen, so maybe there's something of Ramen Shalala's reputation that came through in the translation to Shalala Ramen in San Francisco.
Where slurped: Shalala Ramen, 1737 Buchanan St. (on the pedestrian mall), San Francico
|The "Shalala" name is hidden by the tree; it's not a.k.a. Tombo|
Friday, June 6, 2014
It's been eight months (thanks, Foursquare!) since I've been sucked through the Transbay Tube to Oakland for a bowl of noodles. The last time it was for Liuzhou spicy snail noodles at Guilin Classic Rice Noodles; today it was for Taiwanese beef noodle soup at Dragon Gate, a new cocktail lounge/karaoke bar that happens to have excellent food, as reported by the always reliable Luke Tsai in the East Bay Express.
When my beef noodle soup arrived, the first thing I did was cancel the tofu order. My bowl of noodles was so flippin' huge, I couldn't imagine having room for the tofu; in retrospect, I think that was a wise assessment.
Not having been to Taiwan, I haven't had a lot of opportunities to enjoy real Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup, and therefore can't really comment on authenticity. I'll take Luke Tsai's word for that. But if I were writing down my top ten Bay Area noodle experiences right now, Dragon Gate's beef noodle soup would be on it.
Where slurped: 300 Broadway, Oakland CA (entrance on 3rd St.)