Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ngoc Mai Re-Emerges As Tuyết Mai, Its Bun Bo Hue Reputation Unscathed

Those of us who mourned the apparent loss of Ngoc Mai and its superb bun bo Hue have cause to rejoice; it recently re-emerged from behind its papered-over windows as Tuyết Mai.  There's been a bit of a makeover, but it's the same owners, same staff (including kitchen staff), and basically the same menu. So why the name change?

It's quite simple, really. "'Tuyết' is my mother's name," said the young woman who seated me, when I asked her the question.  It turns out that the elders in this multi-generation family restaurant are retiring, and the younger generation who are taking over the business have renamed it to honor the matriarch.

The family that runs the restaurant hails from Hue, in Central Vietnam, and and their version of Hue's namesake noodle soup bun bo Hue is considered by many (including me) to be the best in town, or at least the best everyday version. (I've yet to catch up with Ha Nam Ninh's near-mythical Friday-only version, which may or may not still exist.) Ngoc Mai was also known for its ban xeo (Vietnamese crepes)  but it was the Tuyết Mai era bun bo hue that I was there to vet.

"With everything." I said, "including the blood." I wasn't about to get the round-eye runaround that I had the first time, when I neglected to specify. Sure enough, the traditional cubes of congealed pig's blood were present when my bowl arrived a few minutes later. It may have been a side effect of my insisting on "the real thing" but my broth was also spicer than I remembered on my first try at the dish at Ngoc Mai and required no augmentation, heat-wise. The soup with its riot of flavors held medium rice noodles, and was chock-full of lean beef slices, pork pate, and a ceremonial pig knuckle.

The Tenderloin's best bun bo Hue is baaaaaack, and thank you, Tuyết!

Where slurped: Tuyết Mai, formerly Ngoc Mai, 547 Hyde Street, San Francisco

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