Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Khao Poun At Lanxang Kingdom Is A Sometime (And Sumptuous) Thing

The good news is that Lanxang Kingdom serves an addictive Khao Poun.  The bad news is that I may not see it again for a month of Sundays. Or Thursdays.

As you may recall from an earlier post, Lanxang Kingdom is a once a week restaurant (pop-up is too flimsy a descriptor) that materializes every Thursday at Turtle Tower (that restaurant's regular day off).  In addition to a fixed menu, they rotate other  dishes (including soups) as "weekly specials." That's fine for me, as it increases the variety of delights I get to explore, but it makes repeatability of my experiences problematic. Can one step in the same river twice?

Khao Poun was on this week's list of specialties for Lanxang Kingdom, and wild horses (or elephants) couldn't keep me away. It was my third experience with the dish per se, the other two being at Maneelap Srimongkoun and at the Isan Thai restaurant Tycoon Thai, where it took on the generic alias "Kanom Jeen." I've also had a considerable number of close (and not-so-close) cognates, such as Thai  Khao Soi, Burmese Oh No Kau Swe and even similar-seeming Penang Curry Laksa.

My Lanxang Kingdom khao poun came with perfectly al dente rice noodles (round bun style) in a spicy coconut curry broth chock full of boneless chicken, cabbage and bean sprouts, and chunks of galangal which I chewed on, (something I don't do with ginger) .  It was adorned with banana blossoms, which add at least as much beauty to the dish as flavor.  Overall, it was was similar to the one I had at Maneelap Srimongkoun, but markedly spicier. The spice level was similar to the "kanom jeen" version at Tycoon Thai, but the chicken was not on the bone and it lacked the blood cubes of the Isan version.  The flavor was as complex as it was spicy, and overall it deserves a honored place in the Pantheon of coconut-curry-chicken-noodle soups of Southeast Asia.

With my noodles I ordered another special, Lao-style mango with sticky rice.  The purplish rice was more savory than other versions I've had, and the only sweetness seemed to come from the coconut cream dressing which came on the side to pour over the rice and mango. I usually eschew dessert and sweets in general, but I have a soft spot for mango with sticky rice, and the Lao version at Lanxang Kingdom immediaately became my favorite.

I've blogged about Lanxang Kingdon just once before, when they served Mii Katii on their opening Thursday; this is a noodle blog after all.  But I've been there four times all told, and have been pleased with the the non-noodle dishes as much as with the noodle dishes from their far-ranging menu.  You may not be ready for crickets, larva or  red ant eggs, but you'll find all your familiar Lao favorites there as well, including Lao sausage, rice ball salad and. of course, larb -- plus many flavorful new foods you have yet to discover. Once a week, at least, you'll find the best in Lao food at host Turtle Tower's digs, without having to trek to The Excelsior, Oceanview or the wilds of East Oakland, or having to parse a Lao/Thai menu to figure out which cuisine is which.

Me, I'm still waiting for an appearance of the frog sausage that made an appearance on Lanxang Kingdom's first draft menu.

Where slurped: Lanxang Kingdom at Turtle Tower, 645 Larkin St., San Francisco

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Taste Of Formosa: Go For The Beef Noodle Soup, Stay For The PotStickers

After my recent round of complex Southeast Asian rice noodle soups with their exotic botanicals that spoke pleasant but unfamiliar languages to my palate, I started pining for more familiar fare with robust wheat noodles and ingredients I am already on a first-name basis with. What could be better, I thought, than to check out the beef noodle soup at the neglected (by me) Taste of Formosa on outer Clement St., especially since I could also try their "Taiwanese Potstickers." Potstickers were chosen as the "Dish of The Month" on, which got me hankering hopefully for some open-ended "Zhonghua Road" style potstickers, which I became enamored of at a Taiwanese fast-food chain in Shanghai.  Were they awaiting me at Taste of Formosa?

The external face and signage at Taste of Formosa speaks neatness and orderliness, and so it is with the interior, I discovered. The small seating area on the ground floor was packed wen I arrived just after 1:30 PM on a Saturday, and the server led me to a larger upstairs dining room which was about half filled.  I ordered "Taiwanese Pot Stickers" and the "Braised Beef With Noodle Soup"

After what seemed an interminable time, my potstickers arrived, followed not long after by my noodle soup in an ornate bowl with two old friends, Shanghai bok choy and cilantro, floating on top. The bok choy had been sliced vertically (a nice touch, since it avoided the necessity for having to chew through a pulpy stalk). It appeared to be fresh, and the cilantro leaves and stalks were particularly pungent.

These two brother garnishes, unfortunately, may have been the best feature of the soup.  The broth was fine, if not exciting: beefy, faintly spicy and vaguely aromatic but a little on the lukewarm side. The braised beef (brisket?) was mushy, and appeared to have given its all to the broth.  Worst of all were the noodles, which were unconscionably soft; this may have been partly due to a unusually hectic demand on the kitchen, but to me there is no excuse for overcooking noodles.

On the brighter side, I found the potstickers to be excellent. They weren't the open-ended style I was hoping for, but were thin-skinned, elongated and flat, with plenty of surface area browned. They were crispy without greasiness on the bottoms and soft on the tops, encasing a sharply savory pork filling.

Despite the beef noodle failure, I found the place very inviting, with many things to explore on the menu for a Taiwanese food novice like me.   I'll have to get back to try the xian doujiang, a dish which I do know well and hanker for, and which looks good in the photos on Yelp that I have seen. They also have stinky tofu on the menu (another gimme). And I'll gladly reprise the potstickers.

Where slurped: Taste of Formosa, 2428 Clement St. (25th/26th) San Francisco

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Observing A Vietnam Milestone With Tuyet Mai's Bun Mang Vit (Duck and Bamboo Shoot Noodles)

It was the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon (or the unification of Vietnam, depending on where you sit) and I decided to mark the occasion with some Vietnamese noodles. The event that ended the war nobody loved had a salubrious side effect hereabouts: the enriching of the Bay Area's cuisine by an influx of Vietnamese immigrants who brought their food with them. San Francisco may not be San Jose, the city with the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam itself, but our city contains well over 50 sit-down Vietnamese restaurants within its borders, not to mention countless banh mi shops.  The victor in the Vietnam War may have gotten the spoils, but we got the pho.

For my commemoration I chose Tuyet Mai, my favorite Vietnamese mom 'n' pop restaurant and one of the gems of the Tenderloin.  The symbolism was appropriate, too; the owners are from Hue which, though technically part of what was South Vietnam, is very close to the part of Vietnam's narrow waist where the two halves of the Republic were sewn together. For my noodles, I was leaning toward one of the Hue beef soups I have yet to try, but with the weather trending toward  a very toasty 90° F, I decided to go with the lighter bun mang vit, duck with bamboo shoots noodles.

Bun mang vit is listed on Tuyet Mai's menu in the Hue specialties category, but it is easy to see it as popular in any part of Vietnam, and having analogues throughout SE Asia. It could have come from a Hakka or Chaozhou inspiration, and the duck and bamboo shoot combination is a familiar one as far north as Shanghai, albeit with fresh bamboo shoots.

The Tuyet Mai bun mang vit consists of bone-in duck pieces, reconstituted dried bamboo shoots, and round bun ("vermicelli") rice noodles in  a salty, gingery and slightly tart broth. As can be seen in the above photo, there is a generous amount of duck pieces; almost every piece has bone in it, and the meat is not exactly falling off the bone, so it requires you to work for your reward and get two hands greasy.  (It would be nice to have this dish with one of Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck legs!)

There seemed to be a minimal amount of bamboo shoot slices, probably intentionally, as the dried version tends to flavor the broth much more aggressively (and with a different profile) than fresh bamboo. The bun mang vit also came with a little side dish of  Nuoc mam gung, a rather sweet but pungent ginger fish dipping sauce. Tuyet Mai's version had three jalapeno slices floating in it, which eventually found their way into my soup. Topping the soup were crispy fried shallots, onion, garlic, and flavorful Vietnamese greens which I have yet to learn to recognize, but greatly appreciate.

In the end it's duck soup, which you might expect to be a comfort food, but that implies blandness, and Tuyet Mai's broth is far too sharp  to be considered bland. On top of that, the work required to get the meat off the bone will keep you from getting too comfortable there.

Where slurped: Tuyet Mai, 547 Hyde St., San Francisco