Friday, October 20, 2017
Even in noodle blogging quasi-semi-retirement, there was no way I could get through a road trip to New York City, upstate NY and Vermont without a noodle joint screaming for my attention, if not necessarily my approval. The EAT ME! in this instance came from Mu Ramen in Long Island City.
Mu Ramen, of course, is the enterprise that Pete Wells put at the top of his New York ramen list when it was but a pop-up inside a bagel shop, and it kept the plaudits coming after becoming (quite literally) a brick-and-mortar establishment. Were I a rameniac, which I am not, this would have drawn me to the place in a New York minute, but a second, more practical reason conspired to draw me there: Mu Ramen is a mere 5 minute walk from my daughter's railroad flat where I was staying.
There was a fifteen-minute wait for seats at the communal table on a Wednesday night when we arrived at 7:15. As expected, they were out of their limited-production house ramen. Rachel ordered the tonkotsu and I the spicy miso ramen. We also ordered a "Okonomiyaki" which was actually four slices of a conventional pancake topped with foie gras-infused maple syrup and trout. The chef worked under Thomas Keller at Per Se and likes his quotation marks.
My daughter's tonkotsu ramen (above) came with fine, straight noodles in a smooth, satisfying broth, and hog jowl instead of the more familiar melt-in-the-mouth chashu, a variant I, for one, appreciated (she gave me a sample bite). My spicy miso came with thicker, curly noodles and pork which had hacked (but not minced). The broth wasn't particularly spicy, but the use of red miso added to the complexity.
I liked Mu Ramen. If I were to reach for a superlative, I'd say it was probably the loudest ramen bar I have ever been in, with jazz and pop music bouncing off the brick-and-mortar walls and the joyful noise of conversation trying to rise above. No faux contemplative-ness to the noodle slurping here. Perhaps the no-reservation and cash-only policies have also served to de-hipsterfy the experience at Mu, leaving it one of simply enjoying the fare, which is as good and inventive as that of any ramen-ya I have visited.
Now, if one only could pick up some bagels on the way out. Nu?
Thursday, August 17, 2017
I waited patiently with my Portsmouth Square homies for the weather to heat up enough to fully appreciate a cold noodle dish I've been dying to try, "Sichuan Soba" which is on the menu at Pot & Noodle, but no dice. So I went around the corner to sister restaurant Chongqing Xiao Mian again, for another research project.
My bowl of small pot rice noodles was spicy (ma la) enough to earn its chili pepper symbol on the menu, and the one-pot cooking process rewarded it with a richness and depth of flavor that the spiciness couldn't mask. It wasn't a particularly meaty broth, though some shreds of beef lurked in its depths, along with bell pepper tomatoes (possibly), cabbage, peapod (or edamame) tips, leeks and spring onion. Atop the broth and noodles swam a couple of large chunks of winter melon, a novel touch. Beyond visible ingredients, the broth was infused with plenty of chili, garlic and probably other spices, and overall was the star of the show, as I found the rice noodles a little too soft.
Where slurped: Chong Qing Xiao Mian, 915 Kearny St., San Francisco.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I headed out to Pot & Noodle for Round 2 (Vetting of the Sichuan Soba) but found them closed for some sort of maintenance (installation of the noodle machines, perhaps). A hand-written sign outside (in Chinese, but I knew what it said) directed me to sister restaurant Chong Qing Xiao Mian around the corner, where I was lucky to find a seat at the communal table at 6:30 in the evening.
CQXM doesn't have Sichuan Soba on the menu, so I opted for the Guilin Rice Noodle Soup. I hadn't had Guilen mifen since my last trip to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles in Oakland; in fact I hadn't even ventured out to my favorite Guilin mifen guan on my recent trip to Shanghai. There was also a mystery to be solved, too. The Wu-Du chain (see me last post) tends to cut and paste the picture menus between their stores, and the depiction of Guilin Rice Noodle Soup specifies that it is served with beef, peanuts and quail eggs. However, a fellow noodle maven had just tried the version at Pot & Noodle and reported it had pork and a tea egg instead of beef and quail eggs. What would I be getting?
With my noodles, I ordered a cucumber salad appetizer. The cucumber chunks in a slightly spicy "vinaigrette" coated with sesame seeds made for a less complex version of this dish than found at other Northern Chinese restaurants in town, but was very refreshing and one I will order again.
Where slurped: Chong Qing Xiao Mian, 915 Kearny St., San Francisco
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
|Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles at Pot & Noodle|
Pot & Noodle, which just opened in the Jackson St. space vacated by ABC Bakery and Cafe, is the eighth Sichuan-styled restaurant venture (including the now-closed Pot Sticker) by Jiayi (Jenny) Wu and Ziwen (Truman) Du, who met when she was a server and he a chef at Z&Y Restaurant across the street.
The Chinese name of Pot & Noodle is Chong Qing Xiao Mian, identical to the Kearny St. facility's name, but since I had already reviewed the namesake noodle dish at the latter, I decided to try the "Wuhan Hot Dry Noodle" (reganmian). It was the first Stateside version of this dish I have had, and the first since before I began blogging, so I have nothing within memory to compare it with.
Time Out Beijing has provided a pragmatic description of reganmian, which can have many variants in toppings:
As far as Chinese food-lore is concerned, regan mian (热干面) is relatively straightforward, avoiding the customary historical quagmire that usually accompanies iconic dishes of Chinese cuisine. Regan mian, or 'hot dry noodles', unequivocally hails from Hubei's capital Wuhan... There is some local variation, of course, but all regan mian can be divided into three parts: freshly cooked wheaten noodles, pickled carrot and occasionally minced pork, and a thick sesame paste-based sauce. The sauce can either be drizzled over and tossed with the noodles or allowed to pool in the bowl for the diner to mix.My meatless reganmian came with a minimum of carrots (which was fine with me) and a plenitude of scallions (ditto); and, as a local variation, apparently, whole peanuts. the sesame paste was very viscous, perhaps too viscous, as the noodles, though properly cooked, tended to clump together even after a very vigorous mixing, courtesy my server. It was a huge portion (an attribute Wu-Du restaurants are known for) for $7.95 and tasty, if not particularly spicy (nor was it expected to be, not being a Sichuan dish).
Keep it up, Wu & Du!
Where slurped: Pot & Noodle, 650 Jackson St., San Francisco Chinatown,
Friday, May 26, 2017
I've just returned from my eleventh trip in Shanghai in 25 years, this one overlapping the 25th anniversary of my first visit in April and May of 1992. They weren't all noodle-focused trips, to be sure, though noodles were always lurking in the background, but this time I had little else on my mind. My strategy was not to chase down noodle destination in this city of 50,000 restaurants, but to wander and let the noodles find me. Slurp randomly found noodles I did, from fine bean thread noodles to bedsheet-sized biang biang noodles, topped with pork, beef, lamb, clams, tofu and even donkey meat, mostly in the Zhabei neighborhood where I was staying. Without further ado, here are some tour highlights, in chronological order:
Lamb with hand-pulled noodles (Yang Rou La Mian) at Xi Bei Niu Rou Mian - classic Hui Muslim style noodles at the first mian guan I came across wandering down Pingxingguan Lu toward Zhabei Park. Thin slices of meat (in this case lamb) garnished robust hand-pulled to order in a subtle clear broth. I was home, I felt.
Saozi Mian at Yu Shan Fang (dry version) - Yu Shan Fang was my big find of the trip, a spare and cheerful Xi'an food outpost just two bus stops from my apartment, good enough to make me forget Xi'an Famous Foods. Vegetables, tofu and a bit of ground pork sauced with a now-familiar sour Silk Road flavor which is as much Mediterranean as Chinese topped linguini-like noodles in an exemplary Qishan saozi mian..
You Po Che Mian at Yu Shan Fang - I couldn't, and wouldn't wait to return to Yu Shan Fang for what is perhaps my favorite of Xi'an noodle dishes, spicy you po che mian. This dish, like the one above, is presented as a thing of art, but must be stirred vigorously to coat the noodles with the toppings (and some underlying chili oil) before consuming.
Biang Biang Mian "4 Ways" at Yu Shan Fang - Xi'an restaurants typically have house special combinations of 3, 4, or even 5 toppings YSF's, if I recall correctly, were pork, tofu, bean sauce and tomato & egg. Like the two dishes above, the topping were meant to be stirred into the bedsheet-sized biang biang noodles (some heavy lifting there!).
Hong Shao ("Red-cooked") beef hand-pulled noodles at Hong Shao La Mian - tearing myself away from new best friend Yu Shan Fang, I found this gem of a hole-in-the-wall on Yanchang Lu, opposite the entrance to Shanghai University's Yanchang campus. More of a Taiwanese style than a Lanzhou style, it featured high-quality beef in a very beefy broth.
Clam Ban Mian from Gourmet Noodle House (Raffles City branch) - Gourmet Noodle House (家有好面 in Chinese) is a popular Shanghai chain that may or may not be related to the San Francisco noodlery of the same name. Although parts of the menu are similar, I couldn't resist this "tossed" noodle dish featuring a small mountain of shelled clams, not found in San Francisco. Even in the tacky Raffles City mall venue, GNH lived up to its reputation for good noodles with this dish.
Qishan Saozi Mian (wet version) at Yu Shan Fang - having initiated my romance with Yu Shan Fang with the sauced version of saozi mian, I of course had to try the soup version and was not disappointed.
Lamb Noodles at Muslim Boutique Beef Noodles (Luochuan Lu) - sparkling clean and, yes, a bit boutique-y in appearance, this place had the lowest prices and possibly the biggest menu of any mian guan I encountered. The lamb here was of much higher quality than the standard Hui brotherhood places.
Curry Beef and Bean Thread Soup at Hutu Shengjian - A bean thread soup with either beef or tofu is a traditional accompaniment to an order of Shengjian bao, and the version at Hutu was by far the best of three I tried. Not only did it have the desired beefy flavor, its garnish even included a couple of hard-boiled quail eggs.
Donkey Noodles at Donkey Daddy (Lu Ba Ba Lu Rou Huo Shao) - It took a bit of research to find donkey noodles in my neigborhood. Donkey Daddy didn't have the Henan hui mian version I was looking for, but I was able to pair it with my first donkey sandwich (lu rou huo shao) of Beijing fame. I found the donkey meat blander and a bit sweeter than beef, and distressingly soft in texture.
Liang Pi at Yu Shan Fang - A 100° day sent me back to Yu Shan Fang for a cooling liang pi accompanied by a large bottle of pineapple fruit beer (lurking in the background). I can recommend the former much more heartily than I can the latter.
Ji Dan Hui Ma Shi ("Cat's Ear" Noodles with Tomato and Egg) at Yu Shan Fang - my last go at Yu Shan Fang. The combination of cat's ear noodles (elegantly translated by my Waygo application as "Orecchiette") and the tomato-based silk road flavors of this dish gave it a particularly Mediterranean character, almost like a minestrone.
Niu Rou La Mian at Muslim Boutique Beef Noodles - Back to the "boutique" for one last classic Lanzhou style soup with clear broth an better than usual beef -- all for 9 yuan ($1.35).
Yellowfish Wontons at Gourmet Noodle House - Wontons may not technically be noodles, but I have to pass along a recommendation for this one. It's a spectacular dish, and one that I hope the San Francisco Gourmet Noodle House copies.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
|Gourmet Noodle House's version of Chongqing Xiao Mian|
My favorite SF noodle houses of recent vintage are Chonqing Xiao Mian, which flies the flag of Chongqing's signature dish of the same name high, and Gourmet Noodle House, which is so thoroughly Shanghainese it would fly the flag of Yellow Croaker Noodle Soup if it had a flag. It never occurred to me that the two noodle cultures would sometimes intersect, so it came as a surprise to me when I headed to Gourmet Noodle House to recalibrate my tastebuds for an upcoming trip to Shanghai and found that Chongqing xiao mian (the dish) had been added to the menu.
Since Gourmet Noodle House only offered the plain version of Chonqing xiao mian (no toppings other than garnish), I added a side order of malantou (a finely chopped mix of dry tofu and the tart, slightly bitter herb-like vegetable know as Indian Aster). This cold salad dish made my meal undeniably Shanghinese, as well as adding the desired protein to my early dinner. It was as pleasing a version of the dish as I've found.
Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Blvd. at 2nd Ave., San Francisco
Friday, March 24, 2017
I was tiring of stratospheric noodle prices like $16 for chicken ramen at the latest name-dropper ramen-ya or $14 for a bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup at China Live (where they raised the price two bucks after I convinced them to add more broth to the bowl), so I decided it was time to return to more proletarian-priced renditions of The People's Food. Where to begin?
I have the bad habit of ignoring places in my own back yard, but a couple of metaphorical taps on the shoulder sent me to Yin Du Wonton Noodle on Pacific Avenue, which I hadn't been to since it replaced a middling walk-away dim sum shop four years ago. The first nudge was its inclusion in a sina.com article recommending an array of Bay Area noodle joints, and the second was my reaction to an attractive picture on Yelp showing duck wonton noodles at Yin Du. As you know, "Duck" is my middle name.
My #9 Roast Duck Wonton Noodles included about five five irregularly-shaped, bony pieces of duck flesh, not the neat, thicker slices found in some of the Yelp photos (perhaps because it was late in the day). There was enough skin to add a duck-fat sheen to the broth, but not enough meat to add any ducky intensity to it. The broth, which came a couple of shades hotter than lukewarm, was overall on the bland side, so I used a little soy sauce and black pepper to kick it up, as no other suitable condiments were available. The wontons were the best feature: plump, with some shrimp crunchiness, The noodles were ample in quantity, but as I've written before, I'm not fond of the traditional fine "dragon's beard" noodles, which make me feel like I'm chewing on someone's hair. I think there was an option for substituting fun noodles, but I generally try to stick to traditional forms the first time around.
I probably could have gotten a more sumptuous and well-endowed bowl of wonton noodles for a bit more at ABC or Washington Bakery a couple of blocks over, and pound-for-pound my bowl of wonton noodles at Yin Du brought nowhere near the gut-busting value of Chonqing Xiao Mian's $7.95 namesake noodles around the corner on Kearny St., but at $5.75 before T & T it was probably the cheapest bowl of noodles I will have all year.
Where slurped: Yin Du Wonton Noodle. 648 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco
Thursday, March 2, 2017
China Live is basically in my neighborhood, so I couldn't resist stopping by to visit the grand opening, and once inside, to vet their only noodle soup offering, Taipei Braised Beef Noodle Soup
A couple of caveats here, including the obvious: it was China Live's first night open to the public, without even a a soft opening other than a single benefit preview event, and thus it would be unfair to hold the restaurant to any standard of perfection. In addition, I can't claim to be a good judge of Taiwanese beef noodle soups, having had fewer than a dozen versions so identified, though I have a fair grounding in Chinese beef noodle soups generally, going back to my first bowl at California Beef Noodle King USA in Shanghai 25 years ago.
"Taipei Braised Beef Noodle Soup - Brisket/tendon, Red Broth" as it is described on the menu is one of many varieties of "Taiwanese" beef noodle soups (a Taiwan-published cookbook I have lists 20). It weighs in $12 a bowl; in light of the understandable priciness of the China Live venue, this seem almost an absolute bargain to those of us sadly inured to double-digit noodle soup prices by trendy ramen joints.
Overall, I would pronounce my bowl of beef noodles at China live a success, with some correctable (and maybe even overlookable) flaws. The good news is that they seem to have the hard parts down -- good broth, chewy noodles and mouthwatering beef. The broth was deep, rich and beefy, without medicinal or, somewhat surprisingly, very noticeable star anise overtones. It was savory enough nonetheless. The medium-thickness wheat noodles were pleasingly al dente with a little snap to them, just the way I prefer, and the beef was fall-apart tender but....
The major fault I found with my bowl of soup was the noodle-to-soup ratio, or, should I say, the soup-to-noodle ration. There was a respectable serving of noodles in my bowl, but a serious (IMHO) lack of broth; it's a soup dish after all, not a semi-dry noodle offering. Another failing, less serious, was that the tendon appeared to have been cooked too long, perhaps in search of a guilao-friendly consistency. To me it was too jelly-like, and lacking a satisfying chewiness, But different strokes...
Lastly, not really a flaw but irksome to me, was the way the brisket was cut -- uniformly sliced across the grain, like so many pieces of chashu atop some ramen noodles. I would have preferred larger, irregular hunks. But then again, there wasn't enough broth for them to lurk in.
Finally, My China Live Beer ($7 for a 10 oz, glass) was crisp and refreshing, a bit like an amber ale and more tart than hoppy, greatly appreciated by us non-IPA lovers.
Where slurped: China Live, 644 Broadway, San Francisco Chinatown.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
My diet regimen finally ran aground, due to a failure of due diligence, so I decided "To heck with it, I'm going back to full noodle throttle." This decision arose out of a fit of blind envy: my TV teased me mercilessly with flickering images of Anthony Bourdain (whom I cannot abide) and his bro Eric Ripert downing all manner of great-looking noodles and other fare in Sichuan and Chongqing, and I cracked. Why should those guys have all the fun?
|Chonqing xiao mian in Chongqing|
Chongqing Xiao Mian was packed on a Sunday afternoon at 3:00, with all the tables occupied except for the central communal table, where I gladly took a seat. I pretended to study the menu, but I was already aware of the restaurant's portion sizes and passed on appetizers, ordering omly a bowl of wan za mian, listed on the menu in English as "noodles with peas and meat sauce," and a pot of hot tea.
When my bowl arrived, piping hot and fragrant, I was not disapponted. It was what I would call semi-dry, heavily sauced, but not really a soup. The Mount Emei of noodles sat in an honestly spicy broth, redolent of Sichuan peppercorns and chili oil. There was a generous amount of yellow peas and ground pork on top. The yellow peas had a slightly crunchy texture, and the ground pork was at once sour and salty; additional garnish was provided by green onion tops and a couple of slivers of Shanghai bok choy. I'm not sure if the broth was less spicy than the straight Chongqing xiao mian noodle dish from my first visit, or the additional flavors of the marinated ground pork and the blandness of the yellow peas attenuated it more than the noodles alone would have. In any event, the overall effect was more pleasing and multi-dimensional than the naked CQXM of my first visit, and I would choose it again over that version.
Where slurped: Chonqing Xiao Mian, 915 Kearny St., San Francisco
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
I was a bit dismayed last summer when Terra Cotta Warrior closed temporarily "for innovations" even though they promised to reopen "under new management" on a specific date. They did indeed reopen on schedule, and I became warily optimistic when no "downhill reports"surfaced, yet was somehow hesitant to revisit. Then came the news from an impeccable source that David Deng, apparently still the owner, had spent the hiatus beating the bushes in Shaanxi for new recipes for his menu, followed by some blurry Yelp photos of TCW's new menu indicating that he had added some new noodle options, including the missing link on his 2014 menu, biangbiang mian! Needless to say, I was on it, like white on rice.
A comparison of Terra Cotta Warrior 2.0's menu with the original fare indicates a significant fattening out of the "Restaurant Special" portion of the menu, with a dozen items added. There's a new "pita bread" (paomo) option, Hulutou paomo with pork intestines -- no dumbing down there. There are now seven "burger" (rojiamo) compared to the previous three and, best of all, six new hot noodle options, including three in the biang biang category.
For my first shot at Terra Cotta Warrior's biang biang noodles, I chose "Xifu Biangbiang spicy pork noodles," 西府裤带面 in Chinese, literally "Xifu trouser belt (kùdài) noodles." This is a semi-dry (sauced) noodle dish served in a bowl. A generous mass of robust, irregular "belt" noodles sat in a thick sauce, topped with thick shards of smoky roast pork (reminiscent of Hunan roast pork), spring onion tops and cilantro. The sauce, red from tomatoes and containing bits of scrambled egg, was more smoky than spicy and slightly sweet. It had a definite Silk Road quality to it, similar in flavor profile to the sauce used in Xinjiang laghman. So thick was the sauce that it tended to glue the noodles together, making lifting them a chore, like lifting weights. The noodles themselves were properly cooked and toothsome enough, and I found myself wanting to taste them in a thinner sauce or a more naked form (the noodles, that is). That said, the dish was tasty enough that I would repeat it, in rotation, to be sure.
If you think tomato and egg seem odd in a dish from the interior of China, you have another think coming. Another dish added to the menu, "Fufeng minced pork noodles soup," according to my server, contains tomatoes, potatoes, tofu and egg." I'll get to that one, sooner rather than later.
Where slurped: Terra Cotta Warrior, 2555 Judah St. at 31st Ave., San Francisco
Sunday, January 15, 2017
I dashed over to Hinodeya Ramen Bar in Japantown to reward myself for besting my pound-per-week 2017 diet goal for two consecutive weeks. It marks my quest for noodles out of the house in 2017, not counting the two types of noodles served with out hotpot New Year's Day dinner at Dragon Beaux.
Hinodeya is the first overseas venture for a 130-year old Japanese restaurant group, and is modeled after a Tokyo restaurant noted for its innovative dashi-infused broth. Dashi is a soup base made from dried, preserved Skipjack Tuna and other seaborne ingredient. I've long been a fan of fishy soups, and have written here about Assam Laksa, a couple of Vietnamese Bun Mams and a whole flotilla of Mohingas, s well as a couple off other SE Asian fish-based soups.
Thanks (or not) to my Muni connections being exceptionally expeditious, I arrived at Hinodeya 25 minutes early for its 5:00 dinner service on this crisp Winter day. I was first in line, but the queue that formed behind me filled the restaurant once the doors were opened.
Once inside, I took my seat at the bar and ordered the house special Hinodeya Dashi Ramen, a side order of Crispy Fried Yam and a Sapporo Beer. Service was efficient and friendly if noisy, with greetings and orders in Japanese shouted cross the room in what I assume is traditional fashion, and I soon had my crispy yam pieces with the first bowl of the establishment's house ramen following soon after.
If I expected a revelation from the dashi ramen broth, I was a little disappointed. The soup, a chicken-bone broth infused with a soup base made from kelp, dried bonito flakes and small sardines, according to Hinodeya's Japan website, was perhaps a little too subtle for my untrained ramen palate. I tried to detect a forthright fishiness to it, but could only suss out a faint tuna-y taste, and if you grew up with tuna salad sandwiches as I did, you don't really associate tuna with fishiness. It left a bit of a cloying aftertaste, like the miso broth it much resembled. The toppings, while well prepared, seemed a bit stingy for a $14 bowl of noodles: a single thin slice of chashu, half a soft-boiled egg, a few sticks of menma, a single piece of nori. I couldn't help noticing that the "extras" section of the menu consisited only of more of what was already in the ramen (no corn, alas). The noodles may have been the best thing about my bowl of ramen; curly and of medium thickness, they held their chewiness to the end.
I'll be writing more about ramen (because it is there) and the more elegant and healthful pho this year as I fit them into my diet regimen. They both are typically lighter meals than my beloved Chinese la mien.
Where slurped: Hinodeya Ramen Bar, 1137 Buchanan St. (in the mall).