Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ten Memorable Noodle Experiences From 2014

I'm no fan of "best" lists, because they are inevitably subjective comparisons of unlike things. This pho dac biet is not better than that tonkotsu ramen, just different. I'd be blowing smoke if I came up with a "ten best noodle dishes of the year" post, but in the spirit of reviewing the past year I've ginned up a list of  10 "Memorable Noodle Experiences." Not even 10 most memorable, because then I'd have to name a couple of the restaurants twice (and I'm not talking).  Here, with links to the full reports, are 10 good ones, in chronological order.

Khao Poon, Maneelap Srimongkoun

The year began propitiously with the discovery of a new family-run Lao restaurant in The Excelsior. The Khao Poon, a.k.a. "Lao laksa"  I found less rich but cleaner than a curry laksa, with shredded carrrots and cabbage adding to an uncommon textural medley for a chicken noodle soup.

Wild Boar Scissor-cut Noodles, M. Y. China

Yes, Martin Yan's M. Y. China is an upscale "gateway" restaurant, but it's a gateway to some of the best bespoke noodles around. The scissor-cut noodles created before your eyes are no exception, and if the premium you pay for them brings wild boar instead of conventional pork to the stir-fry, so much the better.

Qishan Saozi Mian, Terra Cotta Warrior

March brought what was to me the best new restaurant of 2014 in San Francisco, Terra Cotta Warrior and its array of characteristic Shaanxi noodles. It was hard to choose from among several offerings, but the Qishan Saozi Mian wins Best of Show honors  for its eccentric and complex broth, not to mention its photogenic qualities.

Thain Thuk, Tashi Delek 

The promise of an unusual Tibetan noodle treat took me all the way to El Cerrito to Tashi Delek in March, where my own Sherpa guide, Ms. Pasang Lama served me up a tasty bowl of hand-torn rectangular noodles known as Thain Thuk. Meant to keep the nomads warm during the long Tibetan winters, it was still tasty enough on a 65° F El Cerrito day. 

Shenyang Da Leng Mian, Made in China

In April I visited another new kid in town, Made in China, which offers a peculiar mix of Manchurian and Hunan cuisine. I was there for an icy cold buckwheat vermicelli dish named after a street in Shenyang's Koreatown. It's actually a Chinese take the Korean dish naengmyeon, though considerably tarter.  

Tom Yum, Zen Yai Thai

In mid-May I had a hankering for a hard-core version of Thailand's well-known tom yum, and where better to look than Zen Yai Thai of boat noodle fame. It was a boatload of protein and a symphony of flavors and textures and, yes, tom-yummy. 

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, Dragon Gate

Why did I go an Oakland cocktail bar that has waitresses in slinky cut-off qipaos and private karaoke rooms in the back in June? For noodles, of course.  A reliable native Taiwanese food reviewer raved about the food, including the spciy Taiwanese beef noodle soup, and he was spot on. 

Kuaytiaw Sukhothai, Amphawa Thai Noodles

The grapevine had it that Amphawa had a good Khao Soi (true, it turned out) but the menu grabbed me first with a dish that my research revealed was available nowhere else in town, kuaytiaw Sukhothai. It was a sour, slightly sweet and very spicy soup with rice stick noodles and a pho-like medley of proteins. It's no longer "The best Thai dish you've never heard of;" I've heard of it, had it, and will never forget it.

Bun Bo Hue, Tuyet Mai

In Autumn, Tenderloin favorite Ngoc Mai, which appeared to have shuttered, re-opened as Tuyet Mai (renamed by the young 'uns in honor of the cooking mom who is semi-retiring). I christened the re-opening with a bowl of their best-in-town bun bo Hue, making a point of insisting on the whole enchilada (as it were), including the pigs blood. Ecstatic to have it back!

Lao You Fen, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles

In November, Oakland's peerless Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, which had previously wowed me with its Guilin mifen and its Liuzhou Snail Noodles, lured me back through the tube for a new item on its menu, lao you fen ("old friend noodles"). A specialty of Nanning, it's know for its restorative properties. With its deep rich broth, markedly sour (from sour bamboo) and spicy.  and its veggie-dominated toppings, Old Firend Noodles made a new friend in me.

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