Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ramen Ramblings: Approaching The [Ramen] Bar; Kirimachi's New Space

It started out as a jaunt to Embarcadero 4 to verify the opening of Crystal Jade Jiangnan, and, especially its ground floor takeout operation, Singapore to Go. While the main restaurant indeed opened on schedule, the street food spawn, I discovered, is a month away. This left me hungry and heading to 101 California and Ken Tominaga's Ramen Bar, just a stone's throw away.

I don't often find myself waiting in line for ramen, but it was high noon in the FiDi and lines were pretty much everywhere I would want to eat. It was a fast-moving line, and soon I found myself seated at the counter by the window waiting for order #30, which happened to be "Chasu Miso-Butter Hokkaido."  It was a $14 bowl of ramen, and only once before had I spend as much as $14 for ramen, at Ippudo in New York, though that was in 2010 dollars. I normally would wrinkle my nose at a "butter" broth, but this bowl featured fresh corn (which I love in my ramen) and butter goes with corn like Zhenjiang vinegar goes with xiao long bao.

When my ramen came, my $14 bucks seemed well-enough spent; the butter and corn flavors merged beautifully with the miso broth, making for a broth that was as rich without being as heavy as a tonkotsu broth. Garlic, soy-cured egg and scallion tops and menma also accompanied the thin, tender slices of chashu pork, and there was no stinting in the noodle offering with thin, chewy noodles cooked to perfection.

Where slurped: Ramen Bar, 101 California St. (facing the plaza).

*  *  *  *  * 

Ramen didn't come into my mind randomly after Singapore to Go failed me; I had stopped off earlier on my journey down Clay Street to check up on the progress of Kirimachi Ramen's new venue at Embarcadero 3.  Luckily chef Leo Gondoputro was on the premises. All the paperwork was in, and newly-hired servers were being trained on the POS system as we spoke.  He was free to serve ramen as soon as he wanted, Leo told me, and expected to be  open for business by Friday, Nov. 21 or Monday, Nov. 24.  Kirimachi will be open continuously from lunch through dinner, with "happy hour" specials in between.  Kirimachi plans to make its ramen in-house, but the noodle machine has yet to arrive.  There will be also be a "shake-down" period while Leo tweaks the product to his requirements, so don't expect house-made noodles before the  first of the year.  

Where to go: Kirimachi Ramen, 3 Embarcadero Center (entrance on Clay St. near Davis St.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lao You Fen: A New "Old Friend" At Oakland's Classic Guilin Rice Noodles

A recent tip from a Chowhound.com poster that a dish called lao you fen was now being featured  at Classic Guilin Rice Noodles in Oakland, where I had previously enjoyed the namesake rice noodles and Liuzhou spicy snail noodles furnished me with a mandate to return to the Mysterious East Bay.

Lao You Fen (老友粉), literally "Old Friend Rice Noodles" is synonymous with Nanning, capital of Guangxi Province.  Here's how it's described on one Chinese travel website:

"Lao You Fen is the most famous Fen dish and has over 100 years of history. Legend has it that an old man went to Zhou Ji Teahouse everyday and made friends with the Boss Zhou. One day he was not able to go because of a cold. Boss Zhou made a bowl of hot Fen especially for his old friend. That Fen dish had so many flavors including garlic, fermented bean, pepper, beef and sour bamboo shoots that it helped the old man recover quickly. From then on, Lao You Fen became popular for its multi-flavors and cold-busting abilities."
Classic Guilin Rice Noodles was packed at 1:15 on a Friday when I arrived, making for a brief wait for a table, but began clearing out quite rapidly around 1:30.  The menu had been expanded quite a bit since my last visit, particularly with new lunch combos, and I was handed a stack of separately laminated sheets (including one for the lao you fen) along with the original main menu. The "old friend noodles"  are available in a "small" or large bowl, and  I wisely chose the small one, which is actually quite large. There's also a choice of beef, pork, or both. I chose both. 

My bowl arrived about 10 minutes after ordering, the broth  piping hot.  It was a deep rich broth, markedly sour and spicy. Research indicates that lao you fen broth typically includes lobster sauce, but I can't confirm its presence in this instance. Fermented black bean was also an obvious contribution.  The tartness of the broth comes unequivocally from sour bamboo shoots (an essential ingredient), and the spiciness appeared to come from both chili and black pepper. There was a decently high level of spice heat, enough to clear the sinuses. Also included was garlic, tomato, scallion tops, pickled green beans, and of course, beef and pork, some of which appeared to be chewy offal I didn't immediately recognize. The noodles themselves were up to the heavy lifting required to support the bold, sharp "multi-flavors" of the broth and toppings. Wide and thick enough to provide a good chew, they almost rivaled fresh wheat noodles. 

Classic Guilin Rice Noodles is a gem of an operation, one I wish I could transport to my side of the Bay. As it is, I'm not going to wait for it to introduce another landmark Guangxi specialty to return. 

Hello, 12th Street BART Station.

Where slurped: Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, 261A 10th Street, Oakland

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Paper Cup Ramen With A Pedigree: Sachio's Ramen Shop at Seismic Joint

Doing ramen seems to be an obsession with chefs these days, regardless of how many other things they have on their plates. Or in their bowls. Generally these efforts are accompanied by advance social media buzz (which seems to be go hand in hand with ramen). As a result, it came as something of s surprise to me and apparently food media people when the otherwise undistinguished coffee and pastry bar Seismic Joint, attached to the Exploratorium, began offering ramen created by a legendary sushi chef who once presided over what the San Francisco Chronicle considered to be San Francisco's best sushi spot.

The chef in question, Sachio Kojima, once of Kabuto, currently serves up sashimi at Seaglass, the high-end cafeteria-style restaurant attached to The Exploratorium at the business end of Pier 15. Recently, and without fanfare, he added ramen to his repertoire, served at "Sachio's Ramen Shop" within Seismic Joint, at the Embarcadero end of Pier 15, next to the Exploratorium gift shop and just a few steps from the sidewalk. On offer are four different broths (shoyu, miso, Sea Salt, and a cod sour broth) either vegetarian for $8.50 or with chashu for a dollar more. Curry ramen is also available according to the chalkboard menu.

Seismic Joint is primarily a takeout joint with little seating (there are three tables outside) so the ramen is served in disposable containers.  I carried my order of miso ramen with chashu gingerly to one of the tables (all were available at 2:15 today). The thick and not overly salty miso broth was comforting, and chock full of curly medium noodles on the harder side of al dente, but not objectionably so. The two slices of chashu were savory but overly soft, having spent too long in their warming place (ramen service is from 11:00 to 3:00, and here it was almost 2:30). They did have a nice fringe of fat on them.  There was also the obligatory nori "flag", half a boiled egg, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shooots, onions, cherry tomato and green beans.

By its nature, Sachio's Ramen Shop could not be considered a destination, but certainly would always be in play for lunch if I worked in the area, and may well be graced by my presence again if I am wandering by and hungry.

Where slurped: Sachio's Ramen Shop (inside Seismic Joint), Embarcadero at Pier 15.