Friday, December 2, 2016

Is Ramen the Mercedes-Benz of Asian Noodle Soups?

The Ramen of Mecedes-Benz (RocketNews24 photo)

According to the online journal RocketNews24, Mercedes-Benz is selling ramen in Tokyo, at a cafe attached to their Roppongi showroom.  They feature both surf ("Umi") and turf ("Riku") versions.

$18 Tori Paitan Ramen
I stumbled across this bit of culinary knowledge shortly after a review of San Francisco ramen-ya Nojo Ramen Tavern in the Hungry Onion food discussion forum indicated that a Tori Paitan Shoyu Ramen there cost $18. Although Nojo Tavern's chicken ramen bowl contained a whole chicken leg, which is more protein than one can reasonably expect in a bowl of ramen, some forum participants (including me) found this a startling price. Steep as it is, though, this pricing is not to be totally unexpected; another forum participant found another $18 chicken ramen in town, and in another instance, a local hipster entrepreneur (who shall remain nameless) was so enamored by his own chicken ramen creation that he attempted to get $28 for it.  His business was short-lived.

$6.99 Michelin-starred Ramen
My views on ramen are well known to regular readers of this blog (in short, I consider it one of the less noble forms of Asian noodle soups), but even leaving out qualitative considerations, I consider ramen to be overpriced in general.  For a hearty bowl of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai or Korean noodle soup, a sticker price of less than $10 is still the rule rather than the exception, whereas it's nearly impossible to find a bowl of ramen in the single-digit range, and most menus start at least a couple of bucks north of an Alexander Hamilton. And when branding kicks in, people will wait in long queues fo the privilege of paying a Mercedez-Benz price for what the Japanese consider a Daihatsu food. (Tokyo ramen shop Nakiryu was recently awarded a Michelin star; the bite for a bowl of its signature Dandan noodles is US $6.99.)

So much for Mercedes-priced ramen; as far as Mercedes-Benz's own Tokyo ramen goes, that'll be US $10.60 for either the Umi (with scallops) or the Riku (with duck "ham") ramen.

Tori paitan ramen photo by Hungry Onion poster "Mr_Happy." Others by RocketNews24

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Year Of The Phở? I'm Ready Pho It!

Phở , the Vietnamese soup that is healthier, more complex, and more widespread than ramen, is about to get its due. First came a Lucky Peach special (and look what LP did for ramen). It may not be quite "all you need to know" about pho, but it'll give you a giant head start. Early 2017 will also bring a couple of notable events, the publication of what will undoubtedly be a landmark of Vietnamese cuisine, The Pho Cookbook, by Andrea Nguyen. Who better than Andrea, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Asian Tofu, Asian Dumplings and The Banh Mi Handbook to expand our knowledge of this delightful noodle soup? It's due out February 7, 2017 and you can pre-order now.

Around the same time as Andrea's book is published, hopefully, we'll see a documentary about pho by Freeman LaFleur titled, yes, Phocumentary. It's a Kickstarter-financed project which I supported and have been following since its inception, and you can keep track of by the film's website.

As you can tell from this post (d'oh), Full Noodle Frontity's hiatus has ended. I don't know if I just became un-bored with my own words, am trying to turn my back on all things political, or am just getting jazzed about The Year of Pho. Look for less ponderous posts and more noodle small talk. I've even made it easier to call up: simply type (he said modestly). Since I'm fortunate to live in the city with the most pho joints in the US other than Houston, I expect to spend more time expanding my pho consciousness.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mongolian Food In Oakland That's Not Mongolian Beef: Lamb Stew Noodles at Togi's

[Note to my fellow noodlers: with this post I have suspended Full Noodle Frontity to focus on some research projects, not all of them food related.  I will also be returning attention to my legacy blog, Geezericious, which will include coverage of foods other than noodles, cuisines other than Asian, and even topics other than food.  See you there!]   

A few weeks ago I wrote about a stealth Mongolian cafe in San Francisco named Let's Jam (which has since come out of the closet as Mongol Cafe), and today I visited a similarly situated venue in Oakland, Asian Grill, which is soon to be renamed "Togi's Mongolian Cuisine. It's located in Downtown Oaklad at 14th and Webster, and as of this writing still identified as "Asian Grill" in its signage, though its menu (in English and Cyrillic characters) offers only Mongolian Food. (Yes, Goulash is a Mongolian staple, adopted from a dated Soviet Union culinary canon.)

True to this blog, I ordered one of the two noodle dishes on the menu, Lamb Stew Noodle Soup, made with house-made traditional Mongolian steamed noodles (蒙古焖面). (The other noodle offering, "Tzu-van," is a dish I tried on my San Francisco Mongolian food excursion, though I'm eager to try Togi's version as well.) The steamed noodles (also known as stewed noodles) are cooked by placing the raw wheat flour noodles on top of the other ingredients, which may be partially pre-cooked, in a covered pot over low heat. Along with my noodles, I ordered a traditional Mongolian milk tea as a beverage.

My stew arrived in a heavy stoneware vessel.  All the noodles were on top, so at first glance it looked like just a bowl of noodles. I'm guessing the noodles were all on top because they wee cooked in the came vessel they were served in, with the soup added at the last minute.  Lurking beneath the noodles was the stew of finely slivered lamb, carrots, various greens including (ugh) broccoli, and what appeared to be ginger.  It was served piping hot, too hot to sip at first, and the heavy stoneware vessel kept it very hot, forcing me to savor the soup and its treasures slowly. Remarkably, the robust noodles kept their chew to the very end. The broth was familiar, slightly fatty from the lamb, and comforting, a bit like a Scotch broth or pepper-pot soup though less peppery. It was the perfect lunch for a chilly July day, as it happened to be.

I have to say I was  not a fan of the Mongolian milk tea. It's an approximately 50/50 mixture of tea and extra-rich milk (possibly condensed milk)  heavily salted and with a slightly medicinal flavor. It's definitely an acquired taste, one which I am in no hurry to acquire. The good news is that Togi's has applied for a beer and wine license.

Where slurped: (Soon to be named) Togi's Mongolian Cuisine, 354 14th St., Oakland

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hanlin Tea Room (II): Vetting The Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

After my first visit to Hanlin Tea Room I couldn't let more than a week go by without returning to try the Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup. TWBNS is a noodle soup genre with a cult following that I'm always looking to collect more data points on; I've never been to Taiwan (or Monterey Park, for that matter) and I would like some day to have confidence in my ability to recognize a "good" Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup when I see (and taste) one.  Since Hanlin Tea Room is a Taiwan-based chain of some note, it was reasonable to assume it might provide a clue or two.

On a quiet Sunday mid-afternoon, far from the madding crowd at the Pride Parade, I settled into a chair at a two-top in the side dining room and ordered my Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup. Eschewing an appetizer on this occasion, I instead splurged on a pot of one of the more pricey "Taiwan Scholar's Teas." My choice was a nutty Biluochun. Biluochun happens to be my second favorite tea after Dragonwell, and is generally harder to find.

When my soup arrived, I was surprised (but not disappointed) to discover that it came with the same Iron Goddess Tea-infused noodles that I went the previous week to investigate; a discussion with my then server had left me with the impression that the TWBNS came with conventional (wheat only) noodles. The noodles rested in a dark, tomato-less and beefy broth that inched toward the spicy, rather than the medicinal end of the Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup broth spectrum, but not so much as to cause discomfort for any but the most spice-averse slurpers.  The cushion of noodles supported a full meal's worth of meltingly tender chunks of beef brisket with just enough fat on them, as well as some slices of carrots and daikon radish.

If my bowl of soup had one fault, it was that the noodles were slightly over-cooked and  tended toward mushiness as I got close to the bottom of the bowl; hopefully this was a one-off thing -- I know from my previous visit that they do know how to cook these noodles. The unctuous yet slightly sassy broth, beef chunks and robust noodles put this soup squarely in the comfort food category, which, I suppose, has something to do with what classic Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup is all about. I'll gladly return for this soup; it and a small appetizer or two will do nicely as a meal, even dinner. Now just wait until they are licensed to sell beer!

Where slurped: Hanlin Tea Room, 809 Kearny St., San Francisco

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Waiter, There's An Iron Goddess In My Noodles! (At Hanlin Tea Room)

Hanlin Tea Room, a Taiwanese chain which  originated in Tainan, opened its San Francisco branch today in the commodious space at the corner of Jackson and Kearny Streets once intended for Ten Ren's Tii Restaurant and Tii Cafe. Hanlin claims to be "The first store to sell milk tea with tapioca pearls in Taiwan" but it is much more than a boba joint. It's a casually elegant eatery with a range of fine teas (available by the pot or iced), Taiwanese style "small eats" and more elaborate lunch and dinner fare.

When I arrived there around 3:00 PM on their first day of business, there was a cluster of people gathered by the door for their opening promotion of "buy one get one free" boba drinks, but also a respectable showing of sit-down diners in a main dining area).  I was led to an adjoining room (which once had a short life as the Tii Cafe but has been re-integrated with the main area. I pored over the menu, but I already had a mission for being there: prominent on Hanlin's website and featured in their elaborate in-house menu, but tucked away in a small corner of their paper takeaway menu was a novelty item, "Tea Noodles" (Cha Mian).

According to Hanlin Tea Room's promotional materials, development of their tea noodles required studying the procedure in Japan, and testing of various teas for suitability; they finally settled on an aromatic Tie Guanyin ("Iron Goddess") tea for this purpose. There are three tea noodle variants on Hanlin's menu: Pork Chop Noodles, Fried Chicken Noodles and Chicken Leg Noodles. In actuality, the meat "toppings" are side dishes, and the sole visible protein in bowl as served is a herd-boiled "tea" egg which tastes of pu'er tea.

I ordered the "pork chop" noodles and a side order of "hot & spicy tofu" which seemed the next best thing to stinky tofu, which they don't offer (discretion is the greater part of valor), and an iced jade green tea. The timing of my meal seemed both approprate and reasonable.  First came the ice tea, then the appetizer, and finally the noodles.  The tea noodles were distinctly greenish, though not quite so green as spinach noodles, thick, and quite wabe. They were obviously hand-made, whether on the premises or not, judging from their irregularity. I enjoyed the noodles' robust chewiness, but to tell the truth, I couldn't really detect the Iron Goddess flavor, not that I have a great tea palate. What came through was sort of a matcha tea bitternesss, which is not to say that there was anything unpleasant about it.  The broth my noodles were served in was deep, meaty-rich, and very onion-y. It was pork-based, according to my server (the other two options come with a chicken-based broth).

My "pork chop" was in fact a breaded and fried pork cutlet, tonkatsu-style, sliced for convenince.  It was  tender, juicy and tasty, but had little connection to the noodle soup, other than a pork-flavor "theme:" I wondered later if it weren't meant to be tossed into the soup.

An overall impression I formed of this place was that the main dishes are on the pricey side, mostly upwards of $15 but the appetizers and the tea pot prices quite reaonable.  My "Pork Chop Noodles" was $15 but my tofu appetizer (which I enjoyed very much) only $4.  Hanlin Tea Room also offers a Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup for $16 which I will have to vet out of curiosity, but in general I'll probably adopt a strategy of going to Hanlin at off-peak times and chilling out with a pot of tea and a couple of appetizers while I diddle my devices. (Which reminds me, I forgot to check if they have live wi-fi.)

Where slurped: Hanlin Tea Room, 809 Kearny St., San Francisco

Source: Hanlin Tea Room Website

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Namesake Bowl From Newly Opened Chongqing Xiao Mian Brings Quality And Quantity

Chongqing Xiao Mian is the sixth effort by the ex-Z&Y pair that began by transforming The Pot Sticker into (now defunct) "Ma La Yi Pin" and later took over the venerable Uncle's Cafe (now Spicy King) down the street on Waverly Place. They also operate Spicy Queen in the Richmond, as well as outposts in San Mateo and Newark.  Unlike the other venues, Ma La Yi Pin #6, as its menu dubs it, is from the mian guan (noodle house) mold, focused on noodles and accompanying appetizers and side dishes As such, it is a more inviting place for people like me who fly solo and are just looking for noodles and a nosh without the guilt of occupying a space at a full-service restaurant promoting more elaborate and profitable dishes. In this respect, the Chinese mian guan is really the prototype of the ramen-ya.

Chongqing Xiao Mian was empty when I arrived at 2:00 PM on its opening day, though another couple of tables were filled while I was there. I pretended to study the brief menu, though I almost knew it by heart already, and wouldn't let myself order anything but the house's namesake dish, Chongqing xiao mian, to which I added an order of potstickers for protein. Based on a previous experience at another of the Wu-Du group's properties, I was poised to insist my spicy noodles come to me spicy, but the server had it covered: "It's very spicy," she said, and I assured her that was the way I liked it.

My bowl of Chongqing Xiao Mian did not disappoint. A veritable mountain of extruded fine noodles sat in a pond of chili oil augmented with a number of ground condiments and spices including Sichuan peppercorns, and what appeared to be garlic shoots. It was honestly spicy, eye-watering, nose-running spicy but not so much as to mask a complex flavor profile. The noodles themselves were fresh and al dente, and there was such a quantity of them packed into the bowl that I felt like I had consumed a whole Mission burrito, so sated was I after my meal. This is a bowl I will return for (after vetting some of CQXM's other offering).

As for the potstickers, they were pretty generic in shape, size and flavor, but well cooked with nicely browned facets, and tasty. I'm not sure if they were made in house; I began by asking the server that question, and she initially replied she didn't think they had them today, then checked herself and consulted the chef, who assured her they did. In any event, they filled the bill, providing some needed protein (and unneeded carbohydrate!).

Like some of the group's other branches, Chongqing Xiao Mian offers a whole range of regional noodle styles, including Guilin mi fen, Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles, liang fen, etc. along with other Sichuan classics. With such a range, one tends to be skeptical,  but since this branch is a noodle-focused enterprise I'm hopeful the chef knows what he's doing.

Where Slurped: Chong Qing Xiao Mian, 915 Kearny St., San Francisco

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mohinga Mania Restarted, With A Hearty Bowl At Tender Loving Food

A couple of years go I completed (or so I thought) a mission of sampling all eight versions of mohinga, the catfish chowder considered the national dish of Burma, available in San Francisco proper. It turns out I had missed one which was hiding in plain sight on the menu at T-28, the Chinese/Hong Kongese/Macanese and, apparently, Burmese restaurant on Taraval better known for its Macau Pork Chop Sandwich.  Since then, the boom in Burmese restaurants in the Bay Area has added another four or five versions, so I decided it was high time to resume my Mohinga March.

Mohinga Mania 2.0 begins with a bowl at Tender Loving Food, Burmese restaurant impresario William Lu's contribution to the stomping ground of his salad days, the Tenderloin.  As befits its location, TLF is in rough garb, with most of its exterior signage still identifying it as Pesba's Fried Chicken, and with an interior that makes Yamo look elegant by comparison. There is a poster with food pictures in the front window that seems to identify the establishment as Burmese Gourmet, but by the posted menus inside as well as all the media, it's "Tender Loving Food," and who could improve on that?

Tender Loving Food's version of mohina is not eleganty "plated", i.e. with the respective garnishes carefully arrayed across the top, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up in heartiness. It was probably the thickest version I have encountered, and the most gingery. Part of the heartiness had to do with the quantity of rice vermicelli noodles they managed to pack into a bowl; it was perhaps too noodle-forward for my tastes (and I don't often make that criticism) but it may have been designed with the nutritional needs of the neighborhood in mind. Even Kenny Bania would admit this is a meal. The broth itself was also thick, not overly fishy, and gingery.  Among the solids lurking is its depths were actual ginger slices along with the bits of chick pea fritters and samusa skin. I'm one who likes to chew on the ginger, so I considered the slices as little gifts. Along with the soup came a little container of cracked pepper and a couple of lime wedges.  A squeeze of lime and a pinch of the pepper played nicely against the ginger and rendered the broth at once more sprightly and more complex.

In short, Tender Loving Food serves up a bowl of mohinga that may be a bit wabe but still rises above the coarseness of its environs. Be brave. Be hungry. Go there!

Where slurped: Tender Loving Food, 393 Eddy Street, the Tenderloin, San Francisco.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mongolian Food In SF That's Not Mongolian Beef: "Tsuivan" Mongolian Noodle At Let's Jam

A couple of weeks ago I didn't know that Mongolian food (other than hot pot) existed in San Francisco or within easy transit access.  Then the hyper-resourceful gastromancer with the nom de l'écran "hyperbowler" came up with, first, Asian Grill/Монгол хоол in downtown Oakland a very short walk from the 12th Steet BART station, then Let's Jam, a downtown San Francisco cafe with a split personality, the important half being a Mongolian food cafe. Being a San Francisco first person (take that, Donald Trump) I hit  up Let's Jam for lunch today for my first Mongolian meal in memory.

Let's Jam, on the fringe of the Tenderloin on Geary St, began as a run-of-the-mill bagel-and-coffee place run by a couple of Mongolian women who introduced Mongolian classics by stealth, then posted an official Mongolian food menu, complete with pictures, around a year ago. Item #1 on Let's Jam's Mongolian Food Menu is Tsuivan - Mongolian Noodle, a hallmark Mongolian stew of noodles, meat and vegetables. Since it was the only dish on the menu which uses indigenous steamed Mongolian noodles (house-made at that) it was my choice; not that I didn't also hanker for some dumplings, but I'd been forewarned by Yelp reviews of huge portion sizes. My caution was well advised. The order of tsuivan which came my was a veritable mountain of food on a square plate,, with a side (or rather a corner) of pickled beet salad.

According to the research of poster hyperbowler, there are variations among versions of tsuivan, including a version he encountered at the Oakland venue with wok-charred noodles. The version at Let's Jam (described as "home  made pasta, beef, carrot and cabbage mixed seasoned with salt and onion") had noodles that appeared to simply have been steamed and mixed in with the meat and veggies.

The noodles had been thinly cut, one could almost say julienned, and their size and coarse bland texture were reminiscent of some shredded potato dishes found in Northern China. The well-cooked beef shreds were chewy, as if to emulate mutton, and the vegetable contribution was minimal as, alas, was the seasoning.  I found the blandness of the dish somewhat surprising, but not the portion size. It could easily feed two hungry people for around $11; after eating half or less, I asked for a takeout container and donated the remainder to the street culture of the Tenderloin.

Due to the dish's blandness, I'm not likely to return for the Tsuivan at Let's Jam, but there are dumplings and lamb ribs on the menu with my name on them.

Where slurped: Let's Jam, 842 Geary St., the Tenderloin, San Francisco


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lemon Chicken Ramen At Kirimachi Ramen, Just Because.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Lemon Chicken Ramen, and I had it today at Kirimachi Ramen. No, it's not soggy chicken kara-age nuggets in a lemon gunk-infused cornstarch broth; in fact there's no chicken flesh in it. What it is, is a chicken stock based, dashi-infused shoyu broth with traditional chasshu (roast pork) as the primary protein topping, along with a half soft-boiled egg, some menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and, notably, six razor-thin lemon slices.

This lemony snippet of ramen culture is the result of a recent visit to Tokyo by Kirimachi Ramen's owner-chef Leonardi Gondoputro and wife Febry Arnold, for the purpose of Febry's participation in the 2016 Tokyo Marathon. Chef Leo and Febry are so passionate about ramen and running, respectively, that their shop's T-shirts are emblazoned with the slogan "26.2 Miles Per Bowl" -- and never has a ramen restaurant had a more fit FOH then does Kirimachi.

While in Tokyo they discovered the lemon-infused potion at one one of Tokyo's now ramen-yas and Leo reverse-engineered it, with his own touches, on return.  At Kirimachi, the house-made thin, straight noodles rest in a rich, tart chicken and soy sauce broth. The noodles are springy even after resting in the piping-hot broth, which has been made stout enough to stand up to the bold contributions of the lemon slices. As always at Kirimachi, the pork slices and egg half were also perfectly cooked.  Were the lemon slices meant to be eaten? Definitely, according to Chef Leo, who advised that they are best eating with some noodles. I managed to do this even with my non-native chopsticks skills, and found it a novel mouth-feel experience.

The Lemon Chicken Ramen is one of the latest of Kirimachi's constantly rotating (and evolving) specials list, so there's no telling how long it will be available. The citrus-y tartness of this soup enhances its appeal on especially warm days, which today happened to be, and it delivered 26.2 miles of comfort.

Where slurped: Kirimach Ramen, 3 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tori Paitan Ramen At Mensho Tokyo Ramen -- Chicken Soup For The Rameniac Soul

I came across the heraded new Mensho Toko Ramen shop five minutes before the 5:00 PM opening time and affixed myself to the quarter-block long line to see what would happen. When the door opened, the line moved slowly until I was ten feet from the entrance, then stopped dead. Just as I was about to turn tail, a hostess popped out and called for a single diner. I was in like Flynn, given a seat at a counter overooking the kitchen through a curtain of glass drip coffee-makers.

I'm not a chaser of highly-hyped ramen-yas (nor a red-hot ramen fan, as readers of this blog will know) but Mensho Tokyo had a couple of pluses in my book. For one thing, owner Tomoharu Shono seemed genuinely excited to favor San Francsco with his first shop outside Tokyo, personally overseeing its execution, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) the venue is not pimping tonkotsu broth like ever other new ramen joint in town; in fact, it's not even on the menu here yet. The house special ramen at Mensho's San Francisco branch appears to be tori paitan. Tori paitan, which means "boiling the dickens out of chickens, " according to chef/blogger Keizo Shimamoto, can be seen as a chicken-y cousin to porky tonkotsu broth, the goal of both being to be rich, thick and unctuous.

Tori paitan is the priciest ramen on Mensho Tokyo's menu at $16 (there are other options bracketed around $10) but I decided I owed it to my blog to vet the house special. By default it comes with a single thick slice of chashu (doubling it is an option) as well as a couple of thin slices of duck, a nice touch. The broth was indeed rich and fatty, and could have been cloying, were it not for a couple of well placed accents: a slight pepperiness, and some smoky overtones (which may have come from the tangle of crispy fried shallots).  With these, it was one of the most enjoyable of noodle nectars I have experienced, calories be damned. Speaking of the house-made noodles, they were great, too: curly, thick and springy.  As to the ratio of noodles to broth, it was a noodle-forward bowl, as well as it should be with noodles that nice and broth that intense.

The tori paitan ramen at Mensho Tokyo is the most memorable bowl of ramen I've had since the Hakata kuro ramen at Hide-Chan in New York more than five years ago.  It's a chicken soup that can possibly cure anything from the common cold to my aversion to highly-hyped ramen joints.  I'll be back.

Where slurped: Mensho Tokyo Ramen, 672 Geary St., San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pak Nam Thai Cuisine Brings More See-Worthy Boat Noodles To The Tenderloin

While I was in drydock I made a mental list of new venues to vet when my mobility allowed, and Pak Nam Thai Cuisine in the Tenderloin bubbled up to the top of the list. For one thing, the TL has long been a source of good, inepensive Thai food (e.g. Lers Ros, House of Thai, Zen Yai, Kyu3, etc.); for another, early reports pointed to a decent bowl of Boat Noodles provided by Pak Nam.

Pak Nam Thai Cusine is a cozy boîte ("Maximm Capacity 30") that opened in the former Pagolac space on Larkin St. about two months ago and has been getting consistently good marks on Yelp and the local food discussion boards. It's open 11-4 for lunch and 5-11 PM for dinner, and was nearly empty at 2:45 when I arrived, though two more straggler parties arrived while I was there.  The sole server at the time had difficulties with English, but another woman (a principal, perhaps) emerged to answer the few questions I had.

Pak Nam offers both pork and beef Boat Noodles with a choice of noodle types. The soup is a traditional blood-enhanced broth, though it can be made without blood on request.  I ordered the pork version, with the blood-infused broth and traditional sen lek (thin rice noodles).  I was hoping for a fish cake appetizer, but they were out of it, so I ordered crispy pork belly and was not disappointed by that choice. A good moo krob will make you forget bacon, and this was a good version.

My Boat Noodles came in a deep bowl, which I always appreciate for its ability to keep the soup hot through leisure slurping. The broth was dark and velvety, though a touch sweeter than I'd like. This could have been due to the type or quantity of blood used, as pork blood is reputedly sweeter than beef blood.  The thin rice noodles were cooked just right, and paired well with sprinkling of bean sprouts of identical girth. Onions, garlic and basil were also prominent. Three obligatory meatballs were present, and the remaining pork component was primarily thinly sliced lean loin, as far as I could tell. I noted the absence of pork liver or other offal, and most conspicuously, of pork cracklings, which are to me almost the signature of Boat Noodle soup.

Compared to two other notable Tenderloin Boat Noodle providers, Zen Yai Thai and Kyu3 Noodle and BBQ, I found the both as rich as that of Zen Yai's, though sweeter and less sharp, and less complex than Kyu3's lighter base. In terms of the variety of toppings, it trailed both other versions.

I'm not complaining, though. It was a substantial and satisfying bowl of noodles; try comparing it to what you might find for $8.50 in a ramen joint and you'll find yourself counting your blessing at Pak Nam Thai Cuisine.

Where slurped: Pak Nam Thai Cuisine, 655 Larkin St., San Francisco.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Right Where I left Off -- Eel Noodle Soup at Gourmet Noodle House

I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, cast off incipient agoraphobia, Lyfted myself up and hobbled to the Richmond for my first solo slurp since my pratfall.  I could have  drawn on the bucket list of new venues I'd begun compiling for my return to action, but opted for almost certain reward from a Shanghai classic, eel noodles, which had been added to Gourmet Noodle House since my last visit.

The eels in question are not the familiar fillet-friendly unagi of Japanese cusine, nor the fat eels my father and I used to throw back into the St. Lawrence when we caught them, until an Estonian granny in our neighborhood started begging for them for pickling. The eels that only Shanghainese seem to love are snake-like freshwater eels so slender that recipes call for shredding, rather than filleting. They are very fishy, or "eely" in flavor, and as such work well in noodle soups as well as with "tossed" noodles (ban mian), though Shanghainese perversely like to serve this eel in a pond of white pepper-laden oil as a standalone dish.

Gourmet Noodle House wisely serves Shanghai river eel in full noodle soup mode, where the diluted eeliness of the shreds/fillets elegantly inform the richness of a well developed broth.  As with GNH's other soups I've ordered, the house-made noodles were perfectly cooked,  and the soup served piping hot, especially appreciated by us Instagrammers who like the time to pose our subjects before diving in. Dive in I did, and wasn't disappointed.

I accompanied my eel noodles with an order of ma lan tou, the traditional Shanghai cold dish of minced dry tofu and the chopped stems and leaves of the flowering herb kalimeris indica (sometimes called Indian Aster, False Aster, or Boltonia). It's a favorite salad of mine, and the tart and salty taste made a good counterpoint to the slightly piscine broth of my eel noodles.  Eating the fine-grained mixture is a bit of a chore with  chopsticks, and Gourmet Noodle House wisely provides a small spoon to dip into the ma lan tou salad with.

I mentioned to one of the proprietors that my wife's niece, recently visiting from Shanghai, told me that her favorite dish at her local Gourmet Noodle House branch was the yellowfish wonton soup, a dish that hasn't made its way to San Francisco yet. She indicated that it might well find its way here, since they are slowly adding items from the Mainland chain's menu (as was the case with my eel noodles). That's definitely a dish I'll be ready for.

Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

On A Break (Quite Literally) But I've Got Some Good Ju Ju Working For Me

Ju Ju's Pork Bone Soup

If you've noticed my absence from these pages, it's not due to lack of interest on my part by any means. On Feb 1 I took a dive on some uneven sidewalk pavement and fractured my left hip. Thinking it was just bruises, I hobbled on it for nearly two weeks, finally givng up and getting the verdict from Kaiser Permante.  I underwent partial hip replacement surgery on Feb. 16 and am now a hipper person for it.

Ju Ju
My recuperation and rehab is going well, but is maddeningly slow, and I'm chomping at the bit to get back on the noodle trail.  Fortunately, I've got some good Ju Ju working for me. That would be my long-suffering wife Rujuan (JuJu) who loves to whip up a bowl of tang mian, ban mian or chao mian at a moment's notice.  One particularly solicitous offering was her "pork bone soup," pictured above, which is guaranteed to repair my poor old bones quickly. The development of stock from long-simmered pork bones (often ncck bones, but any bone-in cut of pork can be used) is something the Chinese have been doing for centuries before the Japanese discovered ramen, It's no smarmy tonkotsu broth; Ju Ju takes care to minimize the fattiness and saltiness, and the addition of potatoes is a Shanghai thing.

With Ju Ju's noodles sustaining me (and bringing me long, long life) I'll back on the slurp circuit soon enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Completing The Shanghai Noodle Trilogy With Chao Mian At Gourmet Noodle House

I was hoping for some nice fat Shanghai cu mian (粗面) when I headed to Gourmet Noodle House to complete a trilogy of noodle dish types. I'd already had their soup noodles (tang mian), two exemplary versions, in fact, and the house Shanghai-style tossed noodles (ban mian). It was time to vet the fried version (chao mian, or "chow mein" if you will).

A mention of Shanghai chow mein may automatically call up images of the characteristic fat, udon-like noodle the Shanghainese call cu mian  (粗面, "thick noodle") sometimes used in this dish. In reality, this is as much the exception as it is the rule for chow mein in Shanghai;  home cooks find it a daunting task to bring this noodle to the right degree of done-ness in a stir-fry, and for the ubiquitous street-side chow mein vendors who freshly stir-fry noodles for their customers, it would be too time-consuming. For Gourmet Noodle House, it makes sense to stick with the medium-thick house-made alkaline noodles the chain is known for.

I ordered "N26, Shanghai Syle Fried Noodle W/ Vegetable, Chicken Beef and Shrimp." along with a side order of four Shanghai-style shao mai (siu mai). My chao mian/chow mein came as a thing of beauty on a square plate, a tangle of stir-fried, fresh-made noodles sumptuously topped with the advertised ingredients. However, I found the noodles a little too far on the soft side of al dente; it was also too light on the soy sauce for my tastes, strange as that sounds.  My Shanghainese wife whips me up some chow mein often, in old school style, with the whole affair pretty much doused with soy sauce; Gourmet Noodle House's lighter style might be a pitch to the millennials the chain is marketing to, but I found myself longing for my wife's saltier, muskier version.

The shao mai were Shanghai-style, as my server promised, with most of the savory filling provided by soy-sauce infused rice. They were a well-tonsured version, lacking the prepuce-like top to the the money-bag shape Shanghai shao mai sometimes come in.  Cut or uncut, they were nonetheless tasty.

Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Slurping Down Tonkotsu "Kuro" Ramen At Slurp Ramen In Chinatown

Slurp Ramen opened around Christmas 2015 on Commercial St. in Chinatown.  Despite what Tamara Palmer says about my ramen-scouting diligence, I tend to have other noodle priorities and am typically dilatory when it comes to finding out what new ramen joints have to offer. Slurp's location within my usual stomping grounds  pushed it to the top of my ramen-ya bucket list, however;  I haven't had what I could consider a "local" ramen shop since Kirimachi left North Beach and I felt I owed Slurp an audition. Noodlesse oblige.

Slurp Ramen is located in the 700 block of Commercial St., across from the ghosts of the National Noodle Company and within the official boundaries of Chinatown (the only dedicated ramen shop with this distinction). It's a quiet, nondescript block with no other retail uses, and Slurp Ramen is almost invisible from the sidewalk until you come abreast of it.  Though compact, it's no jerry-built hole in the wall, but tastefully if sparsely appointed, with dark wooden  tables (mostly four-tops and two-tops) and a faux granite counter along the kitchen area for solo diners like me.  The latter helps give it a certain intimacy, and to this gaijin Slurp Ramen looks like a ramen shop should look. Service, at 2:00 on a Friday afternoon, was practiced, prompt and upbeat, though almost bordering on the formal.

Slurp Ramen features tonkotsu broth ramen (who doesn't, these days?) with several flavors including shoyu, miso and spicy miso. They also offer a straight shoyu broth ramen.  Along with the ramen, the well-rounded menu includes small rice bowls and sides such as gyoza and chicken karaage, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and desserts.

Being a masochist, I ordered the "Tonkotsu Black" (tonkotsu broth with blackened garlic oil added) even though I am not a fan of tonkotsu ramen generally. Somewhat paradoxically, my favorite all-time ramen experience to date has been with a "kuro" (black) tonkotsu ramen at Hide-Chan Ramen in New York, whose copious use of the bitter oil aggressively countered the smarmy unctuousness of the tonkotsu broth. As with my other attempts to recapture Hide-Chan's kuro tonkotsu magic locally, Slurp's version  came up short, with the sparing use of the oil providing mere accents to the richly fatty, salty broth.  This may in fact be the intent, and if you are a confirmed tonkotsu fan you will probably like this selecton very much; I'll add that the curly noodles had the appropriate "snap" to them, the half soft-boiled egg cooked just right, and the thin, broad slice of chashu as tasty as it was decorative. with As for me, I'll probably try the spicy miso version or the straight shoyu ramen on my next visit.

At lunchtime Slurp Ramen offers "combinations" in which for two or three bucks more you can add half orders of various sides to your ramen.  I went with "Combo A," which included a half order of house-made pork gyoza. These were very good, and next time I'll probably spring for a full order.

Insofar as I need a ramen "local" (perhaps I'll succumb to the ramen craze), I've found one in Slurp Ramen.

Whee slurped (d'oh): Slurp Ramen, 710 Commercial Street, SF (next to Kumon).

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Geary & 2nd Calls Again: Shanghai-style Ban Mian And Yellowfish Spring Rolls At Gourmet Noodle House

The vicinity of Geary Boulevard and 2nd Avenue has been very, very good to me, if not always to its restaurant tenants.  I've gotten at least a dozen blog posts out of six different establishments that have  inhabited just three addresses within half a block of that intersection; they've supplied me with delights from Shandong, Xi'an, Sichuan, Korean and Burmese cuisines, with some bonus Xinjiang dishes still beckoning as well. And that was before Gourmet Noodle House, the intersection of noodle cuisine and Shanghai cuisine, opened at the very corner of Geary and 2nd.  Behold, my third GNH review in four weeks!

My attraction today was N2, "Noodles W/ Scallions and Dry Shrimp." The Chinese in the menu identifies the noodles as 拌麵 (ban mian, pronounced like bü mi by Shanghainese), not to be confused with the Fujianese "ban mian" which are flat, square shaved or hand torn noodles.  Shanghai's "ban mian," or "tossed noodles" are sometimes compared to lo mein, though in fact it's a leaner, cleaner dish. In its most basic construct, ban mian consists of freshly cooked noodles that have seasoned, sizzling hot oil poured over them. The hot oil is invariably infused with spring onions, as well as other condiments according to specific recipes. In the case of Gourmet Noodle House, the condiments also include dried tiny shrimps and bits of "wood ear" mushrooms.

Shanghai-style ban mian is not really designed to supply protein (it's generally enjoyed in its simplicity without toppings) so side dishes are important to the making of a full meal.  Out of curiosity I ordered S1, "Yellow Croaker Spring Rolls" as a side dish. Before Gourmet Noodle House's advent, I had never head of such a creation, but a little research indicated that it is very popular at Gourmet Noodle House's Shanghai branches; at GNH's busiest (Zhongshan Park) branch, it is the most recommended dish by reviewers on (China's Yelp, as it were).

I've rarely ordered ban mian in a restaurant, and my expectations may have been conditioned by the way my wife has prepared it, but I found Gourmet Noodle House's version a little on the dry side. It took quite a bit of extra stirring to coat all the noodles so they didn't stick together, and there was no pool of liquid left in the bottom of the bowl as I would expect. Yes, it was a little more oil the dish demanded, but what the heck, it's vegetable oil after all. Otherwise, the combination of dried shrimp and scallions was rewarding, and the noodles themselves happily chewy.

If I found my noodles a little short of the mark, my yellowfish spring rolls were a revelation; at first glance these appear a little pricey, at $7.95 for four smallish pieces, but I found them worth every penny. The thin, crackly, nearly greaseless cylinders were each stuffed full with yellowfish filet and bits of shepherd's purse; there was no filler, no rice and  beans (or bean sprouts) for these chunjurritos. I'll gladly order these again.

Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Shanghai Surprise: A Spicy Beef Flank Noodle Soup at Gourmet Noodle House

I jokingly chided the server at Gourmet Noodle House for failing to alert me to the spiciness of "N14 House Special Beef Flank Noodle Soup." It was the woman whom I had wowed on my first visit with my smattering of Shanghainese, and she didn't believe me when I told her there was no reference on the menu for the non-Chinese reader to the heat level of this dish. She picked one up and checked herself, and was surprised to find me right. I thought the omission especially odd because Shanghainese cuisine is not known for spiciness.

I knew going in, of course, that this dish was respectably spicy, because poster "Cynsa37" had noted on Hungry Onion that the dish had made her eyes tear and her nose run, and I was looking forward to the same experience.  I was obviously not complaining, as I had eagerly drained my bowl, but I could picture the hassle and extra expense to the house  of having a spice-averse Yelper (or even a Chowhound or Hungrion) not appreciating the "Shanghai surprise" and sending the dish back. And maybe loudly bitching about the lack of communication later.

To me, the dish was the perfect potion for a gloomy, overcast day between rainstorms. If I had to compare it with anything, it was akin to a good spicy Taiwanese beef noodle soup, though without any medicinal undertones. The flavorful beef flank (the cut of beef one typically finds in "beef stew noodles") sat in an honestly spicy beefy, chili-laden broth, with the only further visible adornment provided by stalks of Shanghai bok choi (qing cai to Shanghainese speakers). The fresh noodles were like thick, straight ramen noodles, but with more snap. In a word, it's a simple, robust and satisfying bowl of noodles for anyone who likes a little spice heat in their life.

My server also confirmed something I had suspected: the restaurant is connected to the fast-growing Shanghai-based chain of the same name (in both English and Chinese), which currently has about 100 outlets in China and plans for 300 by the year 2020, according to this article (I think).  "We're part of the same 'group'," she said. I assume it's a franchising arrangement, because the owner of record is the same person who owned the Roadside BBQ that formerly occupied the premises. I also learned from my server that the chef came from Old Shanghai Restaurant (down the road a piece), where he had 20 years of experience.

I promised my server-friend to return to sample more noodly fare, and she promised to offer caveats to future N14 novices. 

Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Thoughts on Thoughts: Style Cuisine Showroom and its "Mechanical Noodles"

I'm not generally a fan of culinary fusion (the "F" word, I like to call it). Too often it's a bullying form of cultural appropriation, like adorning yourself with a feather you've stolen from a peacock's tail. Sometimes though, it can be playful, or taken so far as to be self-mocking.  Such appears to be the case at Thoughts Style Cuisine Showroom; I mean, how else can you interpret a Thai cuisine-based restaurant that features dishes like a spicy "Tum Yum Kung Risotto"?

Thoughts, as I'll call it for short (and the last three words appear to be a subtext, as printed on the menu) is the product of design students, led by Thai Ms. Mu Chanma, who has a BFA in Design and Visual Communications and a MFA in Creative Strategy (who knew?) and is also the chef at Thoughts. According to an article in Eater SF,  the concept is a fashion showroom for food instead of clothing items. She and her friends are are also designing a sunglasses line (still in development), and they came up with the idea for "brunch and shades." The idea is to eat at Ms. Chanma's restaurant while wearing her sunglasses. That explains why they made it such a bright space, with an Ikea-white color scheme.  The overall design is what you might call modern industrial/third wave coffee house style (though the current drinks menu is  caffeine-free).  There's an obligatory high communal table with high-design stools, and transparent acrylic chairs at the low, white-topped tables.

But I was there  to check out an item mysteriously named "Mechanical Noodles," further described as "DIY" noodles on the menu. But why "Mechanical Noodles"? Had they imported a noodle-making robot from China? Were the noodles cranked out of a noodle machine? The answer was at once more prosaic and more obscure. "We thought it was a cool name," explained one of the servers. "And..." she paused, making stirring motions with her hands. "The mechanics of putting the ingredients together is up to me?" I said. "Yes," she said.

The Mechanical Noodles turned out to be a cold noodle salad.  I was brought a bowl of pre-seasoned bun-like rice noodles and a condiment caddy containing four tumblers: one with ground pork, one with a spicy dressing, and two with purple and green lettuces. The small bowl of noodles sat in a larger bowl for mixing purposes. Like the bowls used in some other dishes at Thoughts, the mixing bowl was a shallow, doggie-bowl shaped bowl with two little handles and a single abstract word printed on it. Mine read "IF."

I felt I had a challenge before me to make something attractive, and took my time adding the ground pork, stirring in some of the dressing, and breaking and arranging the lettuces. One of the servers, the one who explained the name to me, seemed to be watching me approvingly from a distance, like a teacher watching a child make something from Lego blocks. My constructed Legoland salad, it might be called, was cool, refreshing, and absolutely made by the spicy onion-y, garlicky dressing, and perfect for a light lunch.

There was no coffee or tea on the menu, so I blindly ordered something called "Camou Milk." It turned out to be a mixture of milk and a green soda of some sort.  In a clear tumbler filled with small cubes of ice, it had the appearance of camouflage, hence the name. I have to say this drink looked better than it tasted.

In addition to some other shotgun wedding dishes on the menu (like Seafood Khao Mao Penne and a Tod Mun burger) there are some more conventional Thai dishes including Sukhothai Noodles, which Ms. Chanma avows is made in a more or less traditional manner, and which I will have to return to try. But my own transitionals will have to do for sunglasses.

Where slurped: Thoughts Style Cuisine Showroom, 139-8th St., San Francisco