Thursday, May 28, 2015

Return To Kyu3: A Strong Khao Soi With Oodles of Noodles (Ouch!)

After my foray into the wilds of the East Bay for some spicy Guilin cowmeat noodles (see above), I resumed my tour of Tenderloin Southeast Asian noodle delights with another visit to Kyu3 Noodle & BBQ.  To make sure I wasn't in a rice noodle rut, I went for the egg noodle-friendly Khao Soi, confident of getting a strong version, based on my previous noodle experiences at Kyu3.  I was not disappointed.

Kyu3's Khao Soi is listed simply as "Curry Noodles" on the menu, and described as "Egg noodles" (recommended) with chicken curry, red onions and pickled cabbage" but it was easy enough to recognize it as the  dish known in Thai as "khao soi," a fact confirmed by my server when I ordered it under that name.  It came, in typical KS fashion, with a topknot of crispy noodles for texture and cilantro as the primary color accent. The red onions and pickled cabbage, along with some dried Thai chilis and a lemon wedge came in a small dish on the side; all got added to the soup.

The curry broth in my Khao Soi came deep in flavor and nicely balanced, lacking the cloying coconutty sweetness of some versions. Its default spiciness, truth be told, barely registered on the Scoville scale, but server Tammy made a point of placing a jar of the house-made chili sauce next to usual condiment rack, and I got to assume the chefly duty of sexing  up the soup myself. Discretion, they have learned, is the greater part of avoiding bad Yelp reviews, apparently.

If Kyu3's khao soi had one distinguishing feature, it was the amount of  stuff in it, in the form of chicken and noodles (which is what we eat chicken noodles for, amiright?). There were large boneless chunks of tender, non-prefab chicken (both white and dark meat) and enough chewy, medium width egg noodles to fill two orders of soup at a stingier establishment.  I'm sure some people would complain about the noodles-to-broth ratio, but fortunately for Kyu3, there are never too many noodles for me. The sole drawback was that I had to eat about a third on the noodles before I could fully stir in the chili oil I had added. Then I had a nearly perfect bowl of chicken noodle soup.

While I was slurping my noodles, a young couple at the next table was feasting on some of the chef's crossover fare, including the delicious-looking squid ink fried ice. I made a vow to myself that on my next visit I would eschew the noodles (pun, get it?) and go for the squid ink fried rice and perhaps some takoyaki kushi for additional protein.

And I swear on a stack of Lucky Peach Magazines that I'll never write "oodles of noodles" again.

Where slurped: Kyu3 Noodle & BBQ, 337 Jones St., San Francisco Uptown Tenderloin

Monday, May 25, 2015

Spicy Beast Noodle Soup At Oakland Chinatown's Classic Guilin Rice Noodles

I've dreamt of Guilin Spicy Horsemeat Noodles since I first viewed the 1998 noodle-forward film My Rice Noodle Shop (Guilin Rong Ji).  There has been some positive regulatory movement towards acceptance of horse flesh as  food in the US, but I doubt that the societal barriers to permitting the serving of such a delicacy in the Bay Area will be overcome in my lifetime.  I've been resigned to hoping that a similar dish featuring the meat of a beast that moos instead of whinnying, at the very least, would come along.

Since my last visit, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, the restaurant that may be Oakland's main reason for existence, has expanded its menu, giving me sufficient reason for making a rare trek across the Bay. Part of the impetus for the trip was a new section on the restaurant's menu, "Special Beef Rice Noodle Series" which includes a dish designated as "Spicy Beef Noodle Soup." This section of the menu, I surmised, would include noodles in soup, as opposed to the restaurant's "Classic" series of dry noodles with broth on the side.

Whether by intuition or wild-ass guess, I was right. My large bowl of Spicy Beef Noodle Soup (which can be ordered "Hot" or "Not Hot," go figure) came with a distinct resemblance to the bowls served in Guilin at restaurants like the one owned by the grandfather of the movie's Rong Rong: slices of horsemeat beef in a spicy broth with round rice noodles of a spaghetti-like girth and minimal vegable toppings that included some pungent cilantro and a scattering of roast peanuts.  The broth was rich and meaty, and nicely spiced (perhaps "Guilin spicy," not Hunan or Sichuan spicy, but the usual chili pot was right there on the table). The meat was firm and slightly chewy (though less gamey than horsemeat would be). If the soup had one weakness it was that I found the noodles a little too soft, but overall (not to be a neigh-sayer) I was treated to a solid, satisfying meal.

The current menu for CGRN includes a few more irresistible attractions, including another snail-based soup, "Beef Brisket Snails Noodles" featuring hand-cut wheat noodles, and a "Guanxi Style" Beef/Pork Rice Noodle Soup" featuring wide noodles.

I'll be back

Where slurped: Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, 261A 10th St., Oakland Chinatown.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Khao Poun At Lanxang Kingdom Is A Sometime (And Sumptuous) Thing

The good news is that Lanxang Kingdom serves an addictive Khao Poun.  The bad news is that I may not see it again for a month of Sundays. Or Thursdays.

As you may recall from an earlier post, Lanxang Kingdom is a once a week restaurant (pop-up is too flimsy a descriptor) that materializes every Thursday at Turtle Tower (that restaurant's regular day off).  In addition to a fixed menu, they rotate other  dishes (including soups) as "weekly specials." That's fine for me, as it increases the variety of delights I get to explore, but it makes repeatability of my experiences problematic. Can one step in the same river twice?

Khao Poun was on this week's list of specialties for Lanxang Kingdom, and wild horses (or elephants) couldn't keep me away. It was my third experience with the dish per se, the other two being at Maneelap Srimongkoun and at the Isan Thai restaurant Tycoon Thai, where it took on the generic alias "Kanom Jeen." I've also had a considerable number of close (and not-so-close) cognates, such as Thai  Khao Soi, Burmese Oh No Kau Swe and even similar-seeming Penang Curry Laksa.

My Lanxang Kingdom khao poun came with perfectly al dente rice noodles (round bun style) in a spicy coconut curry broth chock full of boneless chicken, cabbage and bean sprouts, and chunks of galangal which I chewed on, (something I don't do with ginger) .  It was adorned with banana blossoms, which add at least as much beauty to the dish as flavor.  Overall, it was was similar to the one I had at Maneelap Srimongkoun, but markedly spicier. The spice level was similar to the "kanom jeen" version at Tycoon Thai, but the chicken was not on the bone and it lacked the blood cubes of the Isan version.  The flavor was as complex as it was spicy, and overall it deserves a honored place in the Pantheon of coconut-curry-chicken-noodle soups of Southeast Asia.

With my noodles I ordered another special, Lao-style mango with sticky rice.  The purplish rice was more savory than other versions I've had, and the only sweetness seemed to come from the coconut cream dressing which came on the side to pour over the rice and mango. I usually eschew dessert and sweets in general, but I have a soft spot for mango with sticky rice, and the Lao version at Lanxang Kingdom immediaately became my favorite.

I've blogged about Lanxang Kingdon just once before, when they served Mii Katii on their opening Thursday; this is a noodle blog after all.  But I've been there four times all told, and have been pleased with the the non-noodle dishes as much as with the noodle dishes from their far-ranging menu.  You may not be ready for crickets, larva or  red ant eggs, but you'll find all your familiar Lao favorites there as well, including Lao sausage, rice ball salad and. of course, larb -- plus many flavorful new foods you have yet to discover. Once a week, at least, you'll find the best in Lao food at host Turtle Tower's digs, without having to trek to The Excelsior, Oceanview or the wilds of East Oakland, or having to parse a Lao/Thai menu to figure out which cuisine is which.

Me, I'm still waiting for an appearance of the frog sausage that made an appearance on Lanxang Kingdom's first draft menu.

Where slurped: Lanxang Kingdom at Turtle Tower, 645 Larkin St., San Francisco

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Taste Of Formosa: Go For The Beef Noodle Soup, Stay For The PotStickers

After my recent round of complex Southeast Asian rice noodle soups with their exotic botanicals that spoke pleasant but unfamiliar languages to my palate, I started pining for more familiar fare with robust wheat noodles and ingredients I am already on a first-name basis with. What could be better, I thought, than to check out the beef noodle soup at the neglected (by me) Taste of Formosa on outer Clement St., especially since I could also try their "Taiwanese Potstickers." Potstickers were chosen as the "Dish of The Month" on, which got me hankering hopefully for some open-ended "Zhonghua Road" style potstickers, which I became enamored of at a Taiwanese fast-food chain in Shanghai.  Were they awaiting me at Taste of Formosa?

The external face and signage at Taste of Formosa speaks neatness and orderliness, and so it is with the interior, I discovered. The small seating area on the ground floor was packed wen I arrived just after 1:30 PM on a Saturday, and the server led me to a larger upstairs dining room which was about half filled.  I ordered "Taiwanese Pot Stickers" and the "Braised Beef With Noodle Soup"

After what seemed an interminable time, my potstickers arrived, followed not long after by my noodle soup in an ornate bowl with two old friends, Shanghai bok choy and cilantro, floating on top. The bok choy had been sliced vertically (a nice touch, since it avoided the necessity for having to chew through a pulpy stalk). It appeared to be fresh, and the cilantro leaves and stalks were particularly pungent.

These two brother garnishes, unfortunately, may have been the best feature of the soup.  The broth was fine, if not exciting: beefy, faintly spicy and vaguely aromatic but a little on the lukewarm side. The braised beef (brisket?) was mushy, and appeared to have given its all to the broth.  Worst of all were the noodles, which were unconscionably soft; this may have been partly due to a unusually hectic demand on the kitchen, but to me there is no excuse for overcooking noodles.

On the brighter side, I found the potstickers to be excellent. They weren't the open-ended style I was hoping for, but were thin-skinned, elongated and flat, with plenty of surface area browned. They were crispy without greasiness on the bottoms and soft on the tops, encasing a sharply savory pork filling.

Despite the beef noodle failure, I found the place very inviting, with many things to explore on the menu for a Taiwanese food novice like me.   I'll have to get back to try the xian doujiang, a dish which I do know well and hanker for, and which looks good in the photos on Yelp that I have seen. They also have stinky tofu on the menu (another gimme). And I'll gladly reprise the potstickers.

Where slurped: Taste of Formosa, 2428 Clement St. (25th/26th) San Francisco