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.