Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuyet Mai's Nice Buns (Continued): A Festive Bowl of Bun Rieu

A random craving for the tomato and crab soup known as bun rieu (or more precisely bún riêu cuatook me to my New Best Friend in the Tenderloin, Tuyet Mai. I'm a relative newbie when it comes to bun rieu (usually distracted by the other bun, bun bo Hue), having previously only had a sensationally crabby-eggy version at a pop-up by The Soup Junkie at Vinyl Wine Bar, and a lesser version at a sidewalk pop-up by the Rice Paper Scissors collective.

When I got my bowl of bun rieu, along with a side order of cha tom (shrimp patties) I had an inkling of a subliminal factor that may have steered me towards this noodle soup -- its festive colors. The red tomato segments and the bright green coriander leaves in a reddish broth gave it a downright Christmas-y mien; The Vietnamese mint leaves I added with abandon added to the greenery, and made visions of candy canes dance in my head, too.

There are apparently several variants of bun rieu. Tuyet Mai's menu has it listed under "Specialties from Hue City" so it's presumably a Hue version they serve. Tofu, tomato wedges and shreds of crab, along with delicate bun noodles of the thinnest grade inhabited a broth with a prominent shellfish note. Unlike The Soup Junkie's version, it had no visible egg, and tasted less of crab and more of shrimp, presumably from shrimp paste. It also came with a degree of tartness which I enhanced with a squeeze of lemon.  Unlike Tuyet Mai's other notable buns, bun bo hue and bun mam, this is a subtle, contemplative broth, presumably meant to be enjoyed as such, since it came with a garnish  plate that included no jalapeno slices.

And enjoy it I did.

It was good to see Mom Tuyet in the house, bouncing and beaming as she commanded her kitchen. If they'd hung up mistletoe I'd have kissed her.

Where slurped: Tuyet Mai, 547 Hyde Street, San Francisco

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Coconoodle Round: A Well-balanced Khao Soi At Amphawa Thai Noodle House

I'm trying (despite the high 60s temps in San Francisco this week) to convince myself that Winter is here, so I can set out on a tasting round of a triumvirate of warming coconut curry wheat noodle soups. namely Burmese Ohn No Khao Swe, its offpring Thai Khao Soi and Malaysian Curry Laksa.  Today's dropping temperatures and lowering clouds provided me with enough entitlement to head for Amphawa Thai Noodle House (which I'd been dying to get back to since enjoying the Kwaytiau Sukhothai) to vet the Khao Soi, rumored to be among the best around.

With my dilatory nature, relocated bus stops and holiday shopping traffic conspiring against me, it was passt 3:00 in the afternoon when I arrived at Amphawa, too close to dinner to order an appetizer. (I so wanted to try the house Sai Oou.). I contented myself with an order of chicken khao soi (there's a choice of chicken or pork) and hot tea.

My khao soi came as a thick tangle of wide, crimped-edge wheat noodles in a mildly spicy, slightly sweet and tart yellow coconut curry broth. Slivers of fresh-tasting chicken, red onions and fried shallots shared the bath, and it was topped with a mountain of crunchy fried noodles, coriander and a decorative slice of red bell pepper.

Overall, my khao soi had a nice mix of crunchy, chewy and silken textures, and rich and rounded broth. If I had any complaint, it would be that the broth was a bit on the sweet side of optimal.  The extra sweetness didn't intrude while I was busy slurping my noodles, but after spooning the last of the broth into my mouth the sweetness was there as a lingering aftertaste. I'd probably have been happier with a little more heat and a little less sweet, but that may just be my personal taste.

Where slurped: Amphawa Thai Noodle House, 5020 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco. ,

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ducking Thanksgiving Turkey With Tuyet Mai's Bun Mang Vit

Continuing my Thanksgiving tradition of having alternative fowl (whether I also fall into turkey or not), I headed for the Tenderloin on a duck hunt. I had no plan in mind, armed with the knowledge that at least Hai Ky Mi Gia (it of the shapely duck leg fame) would be open for lunch, based on past experience. But not to worry: I bagged my prey with my first shot, at Tuyet Mai, open for the day on Thanksgiving.

I didn't have to look far down the menu for my canard du jour: there at Number 4 in the Hue City's specialties section was "Bun Mang Vit, duck with bamboo shoot noodles soup."  For good measure, I ordered an appetizer, Cha Hue, "pork patty." Cha Hue is sometimes described as "Vietnamese ham" but actually is more like the pâté used in banh mi.

The marriage of duck and bamboo shoots is one I'm very familiar with from my Shanghai sojurns, but the Vietnamese seem to have turned it inside out.  Instead of "old" (salted) duck and fresh bamboo shoots, bun mang vit brings fresh stewed duck and rehydrated dried bamboo shoots. The broth is a subtle, gingery chicken-based broth, not too different from a pho ga broth, though the bamboo adds a slight funkiness. Using all the Vietnamese mint leaves and lime wedges provided as condiments brightened the broth considerably. There was a veritable mountain of duck in my bowl, though it was on the bone, which made for a messy experience. (I haven't crossed the cultural boundary of spitting out bones on the table, but clean fingers and a generous supply of napkins saved the day). There was a plentiful quantity of noodles, which, as the dish's name implies, were rice vermicelli, more suited  for slurping than chewing.

I can't say bun mang vit is the most exciting bowl of noodles I've had at Tuyet Mai (or Ngoc Mai in its previous life), but it filled the bill as the un-turkey I was seeking and left me contentedly full without feeling stuffed. The cha Hue I ordered as a side was tasty and a generous portion for $3.70, but it too had an unctuous character and I found myself wishing I had ordered something that contrasted more with the noodle soup.

Thanksgiving 2014, painlessly done.

Where slurped: Tuyet Mai, 547 Hyde Street, San Francisco