Saturday, December 26, 2015
San Francisco has been blessed with decent Shanghainese resturants over the years and noodle-centric establishments featuring house-made Chinese noodles of varied provenance, but until now the two have never really overlapped. Gourmet Noodle House, which opened two weeks ago at Geary and 2nd, is either an outpost of the Shanghai mian guan (noodle shop) chain of the same name or a brazen knock-off. The fledgling local eatery and the Shanghai chain have identical signage, identifying themselves as "Jia You Hao Mian (roughly "Good home-style noodles") in large Chinese characters and "Hu Wei Chuan Mian Guan" (Traditional Shanghai Flavor Noodle Shop) in smaller characters, in addition to the English name.
The fried tofu side dish was pleasing as well, adding protein and textures to the meal. A heap of crispy, non-greasy cubes of tofu were intertwined with slices of raw onions and jalapenos. It was a bargain, at $3.95.
Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
Saturday, December 12, 2015
When Matt Cohen, co-founder of Off the Grid and food truck mogul, quit the hotel management business, all he wanted to do was to sell ramen from a truck. But he found the permitting process in San Francisco so opaque and arbitrary and the prospect of success so unpredictable that he turned his efforts to decoding the process, steering others through it, and lobbying (successfully) for a more transparent, faster and fairer permitting system. In the process he began building an empire of food truck venues for himself, and eased the way for for individual entrepreneurs to launch food trucks. Like Torraku Ramen.
Torraku Ramen uses a ticketing system popular in Japan and some stateside venues where the user marks and hands in a ticket indicating their choice of broths and toppings and any add-ins they desire. (You can, of course, verbally order and make the cashier do the work) The truck offers tonkotsu, shoyu, miso and curry broths with choice of chashu (pork shoulder) or kikuni (pork belly) toppings for $12, or seafood ramen for $13. There's also a veggie option with a choice of three toppings for $12. The price may seem a little steep, though a double digit price is becoming more the rule than the exception at new ramen joints. There are also various add-ins available for $1-$3, and a surcharge for black garlic and "Extra Spicy" options. Gyoza and other typical ramen shop sides are also available.
Where slurped: Torraku Ramen at SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428-11th St., San Francisco
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
We've had a run of good fortune lately in augmenting San Francisco's wealth of Vietnamese, Thai and Burmese food with new Southeast Asian options. First, there was Vinya Sysamuth's Lanxang Kingdom, the uncompromising Lao pop-up (red ant egg salad, anyone?) which will hopefully morph into a brick & mortar somewhere; more recently, Nite Yun's Nyum Bai started popping up in accessible locations with tasty Cambodian fare, and Tracy G. has been opening her home for Nyonya-side Malaysian sit-downs via Feastly. Now appears a new feature in our very spare Indonesian cuisine landscape, Suka Restaurant on Balboa St. near 6th Avenue.
The two Indonesian soups on Suka's menu are Soto Ayam and Bakso (listed as Meat Ball Soup on the menu). Soto Ayam, my choice for the meal (accompanied by chicken satay for additional protein) is Indonesia's star in the constellation of SE Asan chicken soups. It features a turmeric-laced spicy yellow broth (sans curry or coconut), noodles, half a boiled egg, and chicken. Other than (or in addition to) noodles, it may also include flat rice cakes or dumplings.
Where slurped: Suka Restaurant, 445 Balboa St. near 6th Avnue, San Francisco
Friday, November 13, 2015
My last two posts were reports on pop-ups (by Nyum Bai), so for a change of pace, here is a report on a pop-in by EatWithTracy in the Outer Sunset District. What I'm calling a pop-in here is what Hong Kongers like to call "private kitchens;" it is not a restaurant that occasionally pops up in unexpected places, it is a fixed location (usually a residence) where a talented chef hosts meals on a regular or irregular basis. You, the eater, can "pop in."
"EatWithTracy" is hosted by Malaysian expat Tracy G who painstakingly taught herself to cook the food she grew up with after moving away from Kuala Lumpur (presumably because the alternative was much worse). There's nothing surreptitious or clandestine about her "pop-in." You don't need a sponsor or say "Joe sent me" to get in; just make a reservation via the Feastly website.
|Rojak by Tracy G.|
Pop in for some Malaysian food and some Malaysian food education.
Where slurped: Somewhere in the Outer Sunset (see eatfeastly.com)
Monday, October 26, 2015
A mere eight days after I had a chance to enjoy Nyum Bai's Cambodian fare at its Mission Pie debut, it popped up again, like a pesky mole in a whack-a-mole game, three blocks down the road at Wise Son's Deli. My noodle hammer was at the ready, this time to hit on the chicken noodle soup called Banh Ghan on the menu.
I have to admit I'm winging it here with my post portem on this chicken soup experience; I didn't get a chance to pick Nyum Bai owner Nite Yun's brain about the origins of this dish, and Googling "Banh Ghan" yields practically nothing with the same or similar spelling related to Cambodian food. My sole "hit," interestingly enough, was for a dish at a fascinating diner-like restaurant in Stockton CA (where MS. Yun grew up) called Lucky Star Grill. This place, which now tops my list should I ever hit Fat City again, serves a dish called "Thick noodle banh ghan" along with other Cambodian and Vietnamese- and Thai-tinged dishes (plus Mongolian beef, for good measure). My best guess is that "banh ghan" is related to the Vietnamese term banh canh, which denotes a wide, thick rice noodle (which may or may not include tapioca flour) and can refer to a wide variety of soups using such noodles.
As I've noted elsewhere about khao pian sien, Nyum Bai's banh ghan relies primarily on the soul of chicken soup for its appeal. It's pure comfort, and almost as familiar and un-exotic as something your Caucasian grandmother (if you have one) night make. Feels right in a Jewish deli, too.
With my soup I had a texture-rich Camodian tamarind salad, which was as tasty as it was photogenic.
Sometime, somewhere, Nite Yun''s Nyum Bai will pop up again.
I'd hit that.
Where slurped: Nyum Bai at Wise Son's Deli, 3150 24th St., San Francisco
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Ever since enjoying Ha Nam Ninh's vaunted #25 Hu Tieu Nam Vang in both "dry" and soup versions, I've been wanting to try the Cambodian dish that inspired it, Kuy Tio Phnom Penh. Last night I finally had the opportunity, thanks to a pop-restaurant in the heart of the Mission district, Nyum Bai, hosted by Mission Pie. "Nyum Bai at Mission Pie" has a nice ring to it, especially considering I love noodles as much as some people apparently love pie.
this Saveur profile, is on a mission to bring the foods she learned to cook from her mother to us fortunate Californians. She's also on a mission to bring us her father's passion for 1960s Khmer Rock and Roll; unfortunately Mission Pie's sound system (or management) wasn't quite up for it last night.
Nite's traditional interpretation of Kuy Tio, which has many variants, as described in a Wikipedia entry, consists of pho-style rice noodles in an exquisitely savory pork and shellfish broth, topped by slices of fresh pork and ground pork. The noodles were cooked just right, remaining firm to the end, and with no "clumping." The broth is nicely described in the Saveur article: "The pork broth is brightened by kroeung, a pounded paste of lemongrass, Makrut lime leaf and zest, galangal, shallots, garlic and fresh turmeric....[and] garnished with crispy garlic, sprouted mung beans and a splash of her mother’s hot sauces."
Cambodian Chinese refer to it as "chopstick cake.) These I also reserved until there was only broth left; adding the youtiao along with the chili oils made a "second course" of the soup, so to speak.
It was a very satisfying beginning to my traditional Cambodian street food learning experience, and I will be following Nite's pop-up as devoutly as a 60s Cambodian teenager might follow Khmer rock and roll. Next time please play it LOUDER.
Where Slurped: Nyum Bai pop-up at Mission Pie, 2901 Mission St., SF
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
I've been spinning my wheels on getting my new blog going, and today is National Noodle Day, so I feel I owe the cosmos a noodle report before another day goes by. The subject was easy enough to come by; I was just reminded, by a discussion in the essential new foodie forum, hungryonion.org, that a soup featuring yi gen mian, a noodle form I had yet to experience on this side of the Pacific, was on the menu at Martin Yan's M.Y. China. I'd forgotten that I knew this already, probably because the dish in question had "Vegetarian" in its name: Vegetarian Longevity Noodle Soup. It's described on M.Y. China's menu as having "wild seasonal mushrooms, braised tofu" and the tipoff is in its Chinese name, sù yī gēn tāng miàn.
Yi gen mian translates roughly "single strand noodle" and refers to a very long noodle made by continuously pulling from a thicker noodle "rope" until it yields a single noodle long enough to fill a bowl (of whatever size) of soup. There's a description and a short video of the process at a Singapore noodle shop in the excellent but sadly no longer active blog La Mian World.
I ordered my Vegetarian Longevity Noodle Soup along with a side of pork and cabbage pot stickers (probably because I didn't want to me mistaken for a vegetarian) and a pot of pu'er tea. My noodles, or noodle, when they/it came were of a pale green color, for reasons not specified on the menu (the dreaded spinach, no doubt). It did appear to be one noodle; I found one end, but not the other. It was udon-like in girth, but lacking in firmness, like the dish described in the Singapore blog. The broth was mild and of course vegetal, inhabited as it was by a menagerie of wild fungi, thin tiles of aged tofu, and a bit of carrot for color.
The Vegetarian Longevity Noodle Soup was the least satisfying of the noodle dishes I have had at M.Y. China to date, in the consistency of the noodles as well as in the broth and toppings. It's their least expensive dish, however, and perhaps something a vegetarian would write home about.
Where slurped: M.Y. China, Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market Street
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Note: I'm working on a new blog of broader interest (but still food-centric), "The Hungry Psychogeographer," so you can expect the posts here to be less frequent and/or less long-winded. Rest assured, though, I'll still be chasing down my beloved noodles and reporting here on anything of interest.
Back in my beatnik days, I had a friend named Joey Zygai who grew up boasting that his family was the last listing in the White Pages of the San Francisco phone book (when phone books were still important). Obviously, Zzan Korean Cuisine wasn't around then; in fact, it opened just a week ago in the space that used to hold a Thai restaurant (whose name, incidentally, began with an "A").
According to Wikipedia, the noodles are made from wheat flour and wheat starch (a common ingredient in noodles served chilled). A tangle of noodles heavily coated with gochujang (Korean Chili sauce), vinegar, sugar and minced garlic sits in a stainless steel bowl topped with a thicket of shredded cabbage, another of julienned cucumbers and half a boiled egg as the sole significant protein source. It was a tasty, refreshing dish, but would have been even more so had I had it on opening day, when the temperature hovered in the 80s.
My cold Korean noodles were accompanied by only three banchan side dishes (including an exceptional kimchi) but refills were freely offered. Service was cheerful, prompt and efficient (though I must point out the room was nearly empty at 1:30 PM on a cool, drizzly Wednesday). The venue has a casual "soju bar" atmosphere and is a welcome addition to the Upper Tenderloin/Lower Nob Hill area and a place I'll return to.
Where slurped: Zzan Korean Cuisine, 643 Post St., San Francisco
Monday, August 24, 2015
|Suzhou-style "red soup noodles" with braised pork belly "across the bridge"|
Suzhou-style noodles, or simply Su noodles are sometimes referred to as the "ramen of China" for the emphasis on the broth and the use of thin, long noodles, but I take exception to that. For one thing, in Su noodle houses the noodles are usually fresh-made in house (cranked out by machine, if not hand pulled), not outsourced to an industrial noodle specialist as is often the case with ramen-yas. And though the broths are similar, made from pork bones and possibly chicken, Su noodle broths tend to be subtler, with less reliance on salt and fat in their flavor profiles.
An excellent tutorial on the lore of Suzhou noodles is contained in this article, Noodling Up Suzhou Soup, including tips on how to order like a pro if you happen to be in Suzhou.
I found my Suzhou-style noodle soup in San Francisco at Taste of Jiangnan, which recently opened on Clement Street in what used to be known as "New Chinatown" (we have several newer ones now). It's a full service restaurant, not a noodle shop, but the staff are from the Wuxi-Changzhou area and the cuisine is heavily focused on Wuxi area food. Wuxi is a mere 25 miles west of Suzhou, and I knew that if they had noodle soup on the menu, it would be Suzhou style. I was right.
I found only one noodle soup on Taste of Jiangnan's menu (they also have an excellent Wuxi-style wonton soup). Simply called "red soup noodles" (awkwardly "noodles with soy sauce" in English). As mentioned in the tutorial mentioned above, Su noodles generally come as "red" or "white" soup noodles; otherwise choices are limited to toppings and relative proportions (toppings to noodles to broth, etc.) I chose braised pork belly as a topping for my "red" soup and left the rest to the chef.
My noodle soup and the braised pork belly toppings came from the kitchen separately, with the latter on a dish "across the bridge" (on the side ) from the former, underscoring the dish's Jiangsu pedigree:
"The authentic serving way is called guoqiao, which means crossing the bridge. The toppings are placed on a separate dish. When serving, pick the topping from the dish to the noodle bowl. The process is similar to crossing the bridge between two containers, which is where the name comes from." -- Noodling up Suzhou SoupThe noodles were long and thin, similar to straight ramen noodles, and the broth was not unlike a shoyu ramen broth, but markedly less salty and with a touch of Jiangsu sweetness and complexity, a familiar flavor from my Shanghai days. The red-cooked pork, once I had carried it over the bridge to my soup, was tender and fragrant.
If anything, the noodles were too plentiful for the soup. There's a word for that:
"Jintang, literally means tight soup, refers to less soup and more noodles. ."Remind me to order it Kuantang ("literally loose soup, but refers to more soup and less noodles") next time.
Where slurped: Taste of Jiangnan, 332 Clement St., San Francisco
Thursday, August 20, 2015
April Calf Cafe Restuarant, which opened about a week ago on Balboa St. in the Outer Richmond, describes its offerings on its awning as "Fusion Food, Dessert, Drinks." It's basically a latter-day Cha Chaan Teng with a touch of modernist cuisine, as much kawaii as can be realized in a shoebox-sized Balboa St. storefront -- and a good-looking seafood laksa onthe menu.
Yelp.) The kawaii qualities manifest themselves in the simple colorful swatches on the place mats, the cow and milk carton salt and pepper shakers, and the effervescent young Hong Kong women who make up the FOH staff.
But I, noodle guy, was there for the laksa, there is a section of the menu labeled "Southeast Asian Flavors."
Having never been to Malaysia or Singapore, and with little access to Malaysian restaurants in the Bay Area, I don't really have a benchmark for curry laksa, other than Azalina Eusope's spectacular and sometimes eccentric creations. Laksas are among the most photogenic of noodle soups, and I suppose my real benchmark is "does it taste as good as it looks?" April Calf's seafood laksa came close; six very large tail-on shrimps shared the both with fried tofu, fish balls and fresh bean sprouts. The shrimps were obviously fresh, and not overcooked, and the fried tofu cubes added a bit of crunchinesss despite being on the hot soup. The noodles were perfectly al dente. My one complaint was about the lack of spiciness; the whole affair was a little bland for my tastes. According to my server (after the fact, alas) it can be made spicy on request (something I should have learned by now). But I do have an excuse to return to this charming boîte. Next time I'll tll them to crank up the heat, and I'll wash my noodles down with xiaolong bao at Shanghai House across the street.
As for the name? "It''s a calf born in April," said my server. "Why not March or May?" I said. "Calves born in April are special," she said. I guess there are things she learned in Hong Kong that I didn't learn from my dairy farm ancestors.
Where slurped: April Calf Cafe Restaurant, 3528 Balboa St. San Francisco.
|My sister Marge, 1950. Calf's birth month unknown.|
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
According to some accounts Naren, the name for the Xinjiang Uyghur dish that was my soup du jour today, means "meat eaten with the hands" (the Chinese characters 纳仁 used to render the name are apparently mere phonetics). Roughly chopped mutton, tomato, carrots, and onions were traditionally mixed with handmade flat, wide noodles and eaten with the hands (sounds messy but fun, doesn't it?). The broth the mutton and vegetables were cooked in was served in a dish on the side.
As for my naren, one of the fragments of folkish wisdom I garnered from various sources was this proclamation: "It is the faverite dish of old people." This septuagenarian wouldn't argue with that sentiment.
Where slurped: Uyghur Taamliri at Chug Pub, 1849 Lincoln Way, San Francisco
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Coincidence Or Cosmic Synchronicity? My Summer Mutton Noodles At Shandong Deluxe On The Eve Of "Da Shu"
|Infografic courtesy ECNS.com|
The Chinese Agricultural (Solar) Calendar is divided into 24 half-month periods, with the hottest, Da Shu ("Major Heat") beginning this year on July 23. There are different eating practices in different parts of China for this period, as shown in the above infografic: "People in Shandong drink mutton soup on Major Heat, which is called 'Summer Mutton Soup.' " Fitting, therefore, that I was sitting in a resaturant called Shandong Deluxe slurping mutton soup on July 22, the eve of "Major Heat" (actually already the 23rd in China). I'd like to think this demonstrates an intricate knowledge of Chinese customs, but in truth my visit was completely random, and I was unaware of the mutton-eating custom until I was doing some post-mortem research.
I had started out headed for the Uighur restaurant on Lincoln Way, but Muni and I were both running late, and I would have arrived at about 1:55 for the 11:00-2:00 lunch service. Not wanting to cut into the staff's chill time, I stayed on the #28 all the way to Taraval St. after deciding to make House of Pancakes Plan B. House of Pancakes, alas, is closed on Wednesdays as I had once discovered before (fool me twice, shame on me). Plan C was a no-brainer: Shandong Deluxe and its hand-pulled noodles, a block away.
Where slurped: Shandong Deluxe, 1042 Taraval St., San Francisco
Friday, July 17, 2015
I don't think there's really any need to feel afraid strolling through the Tenderloin, but the surroundings can be a little grim at times. Instead of whistling a happy tune, look for a cheerful antidote of your choice from the panoply of inexpensive and delicious ethnic fare to be found in the 'hood. One such dish is the one Thais would call kuay teow moo toon, known as "Pork Spare Ribs Noodle Soup" at Tycoon Thai, the welcoming O'Farrell St. Thai/Lao bistro with the excellent draft beer and dratted Mason jars. It's what I had today when I paid Tycoon Thai an overdue visit.
"Moo toon" is't something hummed by a cow, or even a cartoon of a cow. "Moo" (or something that sounds like it) means pork in Thai, and "toon" means steamed or stewed, and the two together usually refer to pork spare ribs. Kuay teow (however it's spelled) means rice noodles.
If I had a complaint, it would be about too many noodles. That's a complaint I rarely make (and would never make about hand-pulled wheat noodles) but there was such a mass of rice noodles it was difficult to stir in my choice of flavor enhancers from the condiment caddy. But soldier on I did, and put the finishing touches on a hearty and satisfying bowl of happy moo toon noodle soup.
Where slurped: Tycoon Thai, 620 O'Farrell St., San Francisco
Saturday, July 11, 2015
After discovering the new Uyghur-only restaurant in our town and checking out the laghman, I was only too eager to return Uyghur Taamliri and try the only noodle soup on the menu (and incidentally scarf down a couple of samsas).
The soup in question, with the nearly impenetrable name of Süiqaş, is described on the menu as "lamb, onion, potatoes, pepper with lamb soup pulling dough." It's listed in Chinese as tang fan (汤饭), literally "soup rice," which didn't seem to make sense, because the noodles would surely be made of wheat.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Getting wind that a new dedicated Uyghur restaurant -- San Francisco's only such establishment --- was up and running in the Sunset, I hightailed it to 20th and Lincoln Way for lunch today to check it out.
The restaurant is Uyghur Taamliri -- Central Asian Uyghur Food but don't strain your eyes looking for a sign, as there is none as of yet, even though it's been open for few days.* It's inside a tidy but inconspicuous pub called Chug Pub, and even once in the door the only signs you are in a restaurant is a stack of menus and a warm greeting from Carl.
|Chug Pub, 20th & LIncoln|
I went there hell-bent on vetting the laghman, but Carl was so keen on recommending the Şorpa (a Kazakh lamb soup) I ended up ordering both. (Fortunately, the plate dishes come in two sizes, so I was able to avoid over-stuffing myself by ordering the smaller-size laghman plate.)
|Şorpa, Kazakh mutton soup|
|Laghman hand-pulled noodles|
Where slurped: Uyghur Taamliri, inside Chug Pub, 1849 Lincoln Way, San Francisco
*A chowhound.com poster informed me that there IS a sign on the 20th Ave. side of the building which I missed.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
There's something jarring about the Thai noodle soup dish Yen Ta Fo, and I think it has to with the way the unnatural pink color of the broth seems to magnify its dominant sweetness. Having gotten to know it, it's not one of my favorite soups, but curiosity and my blog demand that I experience this eccentric soup from the hands of the best Thai noodle soup mongers I know of; noodlesse oblige, one might say. And who knows, I might experience a revelation.
Having previously sampled the yen ta fo from Lers Ros Thai and House of Thai, I made it an excuse for returning to Kyu 3 Noodles & BBQ today, where it's listed on the menu as Yen Ta Pho (which it certainly is not).
This hot pink bath was home to jumbo shrimp, fish balls, calamari rings, sliced fish cakes, cuttlefish and what appeared to be shredded jellyfish (but may not have been). It was like Hello Kitty meets cioppino, the famous San Francisco mixed-seafood chowder. Topping it off (and providing some color contrast) were dark green water spinach and cilantro, and yellowish fried wonton skins.
Where slurped: Kyu3 Noodle & BBQ, 337 Jones St., San Frncisco.