Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shandong Deluxe Opens Sister Restaurant On Geary; Will It Be Bested By San Dong Best?

I walked in through the open door past the tiki-ish entryway to the newly remodeled San Dong Best restaurant that was formerly Xi An Gourmet (nee San Dong House). "We're not really open yet," said the young male server who greeted me. "But you can order something anyway." There were a couple of other tables with eaters at 2:00 in the afternoon, and I realized I had stumbled into a "friends and family" soft opening.

From the outset of the restaurant's "Closed For Vacation" remodel I had assumed it was the same owners jettisoning the "Xi'an" aspects of the menu and going back to their Shandong basics (which they covered well) but I was wrong, as I would have realized if I had paid more attention to the Chinese name on the new awning. When the waiter returned with a menu, it was a paper menu from Shandong Deluxe, the three-year old restaurant on Taraval St. which I had made several visits to in the past. Indeed, as I discovered when I walked outside and peered at the signage, the two have the same name in Chinese as well as the same color scheme on the awning.

"Opening day is Monday," said the server, "we'll have new menus then." The menu at San Dong Best will include all, or nearly all of the dishes on the Taraval St. menu (including the Xinjiang dishes, he said) and more. My guess is that at this inner Richmond location, a couple of doors from the fusion-ish new Fajitas Restaurant, they'll be aiming for a slightly more up-market dinner crowd, and I'm eager to see what they come up with for new Shandong-style entrees.

As for my eats today, I ended up ordering the same dish I inaugurated Shandong Deluxe with, the "plain broth" lamb noodles, though I requested wider noodles this time around.  It  turned out to be nearly identical to the dish I had had in 2012, a subtle, meat-infused broth (possibly born of pork bones) that was neither particularly medicinal nor spicy, just comfortingly unctuous, as lamb soups are wont to be. The noodles were excellent, wabe and chewy (and not skimped on).  A couple of the tender lamb chunks had collars of fat on them, but nearly as much as I would like. There were quite a few mushroom slices in the broth, and the obligatory pair of Shanghai bok choi stalks atop.  Ob balance, this was definitely an A-team bowl of noodles.

I accompanied my soup with an order of marinated pigs ears.  These were a disappointment compared to versions I have had elsewhere. They appeared to be a work in progress, pounded but only partially shredded and too chewy. The "marinade" had little character, and I ended up using a healthy dab of chili paste to get me halfway through the dish, at which time I gave up.

One mystery remains: why do they spell it "Shandong" in the Sunset and "San Dong" in the Richmond?

Where slurped: San Dong Best, 3741 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Odang Udon Truck Now Currying Favor At San Francisco's SoMa StrEat Food Park

Curry Udon at Odang Udon

Back in January I blogged about the joy of house-made, er, truck-made noodles from Odang Udon,  a food trailer at an obscure small food truck venue, the Duboce Truck Stop. At the time I lamented the relative inaccessibility (to me, at least) of the spot; it's not on a major transit line nor in the vicinity of any of my customary destinations.

Fast forward to Summer, and my prospects for getting to know this noodle venue better suddenly improve.  As of the first of June, Odang Udon has become a regular fixture at SoMa StrEat Food Park, a location where it can get the business it deserves, and that includes mine. It's not only served by the Muni #12 line, which will take me there directly from Chinatown and the #9 line, direct from Market St. but is also across the street from Costco, a frequent destination of mine. Others will find convenient access via the Muni #47 line.

I made my first visit to Odang at its new location on June 1, and was drawn to the Curry Udon ("Fresh-made noodles, sweet Japanese curry sauce, tempura flakes, mushrooms, green onions, seasonal vegetable tempura") pictured above.  The noodles were thicker than the ones I had with the "Classic" udon in January but equally chewy and fresh, and the Japanese curry was characteristically thick and mildly spicy. The tempura was served on the side, as it was with the Classic curry on my first visit, but fresher and crispier than my first encounter, when I found it a little on the limp side  According to Odang Udon's signage, this dish can be made vegan. and I couldn't be sure that what I was served was not vegan or vegetarian.  The curry and its side of tempura is an order that should please vegetarian and carni-bore Japanese curry buffs alike.

"City Odang" at Odang Udon
I returned today (thanks to a Costco run) to try Odang Udon's most popular item, the City Odang ("Fresh-made noodles, chopped marinated skirt steak, cucumber, egg, kimcheee, special city sauce"). This is a "dry" noodle dish (sauced, but not in sou) and served without a complimentary tempura side. It is a protein bomb, with a very generous portion of marinated beef (which appears to have been grilled) as well as a fried egg. The skirt steak was tasty, the fried egg was, well, a fried egg, and the kimchi a mild version..  The noodles were the star, even chewier and thicker than those in Odang's curry udon, and the "City Sauce" they were doused with had a vaguely Italian cast  to it. Fuel it is, and high-powered fuel at that.

Where slurped: Odang Udon Truck, SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428-11th St., San Francisco.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lanxang Kingdom's Khao Piak: Lao Chicken Noodle Soup Served In A Temple Of Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

If you've been paying attention, you know that Lanxang Kingdom is the once a week Lao-or-bust pop-up hosted by Turtle Tower Restaurant on Thursdays, TT's closed day.  As a food-aware San Franciscan, you'll also know that Turtle Tower is our city's most notable North Vietnamese soup kitchen, and almost synonymous with pho ga, a chicken noodle soup which almost every visitor to Turtle Tower has tried.  It's only fitting, therefore, that Lanxang Kingdom should serve khao piak, Laos' counterpart to pho ga. Though not on the regular menu, it has been in LK's weekly specials rotation, most recently showing up this past Thursday when I caught up with it, my third shot at this Lao specialty following the versions I had tried at Champa Garden and Maneelap Srimongkoun.

(Lanxang Kingdom photo)
Pho ga and khao piak have some things in common, including rice noodles (or rice and tapioca, in the Lao case) which are heartier that the usual vermicelli (bun) or pho noodles, and  rich broths whose schmalzy chicken-ness trumps Asian spicing for dominance; comfort over exoticism, because chicken soup will always be chicken soup.  With khao piak (like Ohio Amish chicken noodles) it's almost de rigeur for the noodles to be joyously house-made for the occasion and Lanxang Kingdom is no exception, as witnessed by the photo at the right of LK's noodle-making party.

In comparison with the previous two versions of Khao Piak I've tried, I found a remarkable familiarity and similarity among the broths, with Lanxang Kingdom's a trifle less muddy than Champa Garden's but not as thin as Maneelap's.  In the chicken department,  LK's offering, like Champa's, had boneless shreds, while Maneelap's used bone-in chicken.  Lanxang Kingdom's was the only version that included cubes of pork blood (optional at the point of sale).  All three versions would be equally valiant flu fighters.

With my soup, I had an appetizer-sized  order of "Mekong Riverweed" (khay paen cheow bong) a broad seaweed-like leaf that grows in the Mekong River near Luang Prabang.  The weeds are fried crispy, seasoned and served with cheow bong, the delightfully spicy, smoky, savory chili paste. Kale, go away!

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Spicy Queen's Demure "Chongqing Hot Numbing Spicy Noodles" Versus My White T-shirt

If had I told you I was headed out this noon to slurp noodles in a chili oil-based broth, you'd have thought me a liar, because I was wearing a white T-shirt, and as an accomplished noodle-slurper I am very punctilious about such niceties.  But I allow a certain amount of randomness in my life, and I did in fact end up Jackson Pollock-ing one of my favorite tees at Spicy Queen in the Inner Richmond.

My conscious mission was to check up on the progress of the cuisine reassignment procedure being performed on Xi'an Gourmet (nee Shandong House).  It had undergone a Xi'anectomy and is to re-emerge into society as Shandong Best.  If the wraps were off I planned to catch up with the Qingdao dumpling lady's latest creations and check up on what was new on the menu;  if not (as turned out to be the case) I knew there were plenty of other options nearby.

A short block to the west of Shandong Best-to-be, the garish facade of Spicy Queen (a. k. a. Spicy Hotpot) caught my eye.  Spicy Queen is a sister of Chinatown's Spicy King, founded by a former Z&Y chef. I had eaten at neither, but the picture in the window of "Chongqing Hot Numbing Spicy Noodles" drew me into the place like a magnet, white T-shirt and all.

I started by ordering the Chongqing Numbing Spicy (ma la) Noodles and later added an order of pot stickers for additional protein.  The best attributes of my bowl were the in the noodles themselves, and the (temperature) heat of the dish.  The noodles, said to be hand-made (but not hand-pulled, judging from their uniformity of thickness) were sinewy wonders, a clot of them jammed into the bowl in a pool of sizzling hot red ma la (numbing and spicy) sauce made from a mixture of chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, spices, and what appeared to be ground peanuts.  The noodles are then stirred to coat them with the sauce.

While "hot" was an accurate description of the temperature my dish was served at, it did not really  apply to the spiciness.  I had not asked about the degree of spiciness nor requested one, and the dish was far from being either as numbing or as spicy as I would have liked, though the "ma" and the "la" seemed nicely balanced (which. ironically, kept me from tossing in some chili oil, which might have upset the balance). I should have requested it spicy in the first place; this can be done successfully, I learned from a Yelp review which I read after my meal.

The pot stickers were a decent version, meaty inside and not too doughy, but not browned as crisp as I like. This may have been the fault of my timing; I ordered them just before the kitchen staff's meal break, and they may have been rushed.

Spicy Queen also has Guilin Rice Noodles,  Crossing the Bridge Noodles and even Wuhan Hot Dry (regan) noodles on the menu, so I have plenty of inducement to return.

As for my T-shirt? It's in the laundry. If Spray 'N Wash doesn't do its job, it's about to become an undershirt.

Where slurped: Spicy King, 3809 Geary Blvd., San Francisco