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

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