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 boĆ®te ("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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Right Where I left Off -- Eel Noodle Soup at Gourmet Noodle House

I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, cast off incipient agoraphobia, Lyfted myself up and hobbled to the Richmond for my first solo slurp since my pratfall.  I could have  drawn on the bucket list of new venues I'd begun compiling for my return to action, but opted for almost certain reward from a Shanghai classic, eel noodles, which had been added to Gourmet Noodle House since my last visit.

The eels in question are not the familiar fillet-friendly unagi of Japanese cusine, nor the fat eels my father and I used to throw back into the St. Lawrence when we caught them, until an Estonian granny in our neighborhood started begging for them for pickling. The eels that only Shanghainese seem to love are snake-like freshwater eels so slender that recipes call for shredding, rather than filleting. They are very fishy, or "eely" in flavor, and as such work well in noodle soups as well as with "tossed" noodles (ban mian), though Shanghainese perversely like to serve this eel in a pond of white pepper-laden oil as a standalone dish.

Gourmet Noodle House wisely serves Shanghai river eel in full noodle soup mode, where the diluted eeliness of the shreds/fillets elegantly inform the richness of a well developed broth.  As with GNH's other soups I've ordered, the house-made noodles were perfectly cooked,  and the soup served piping hot, especially appreciated by us Instagrammers who like the time to pose our subjects before diving in. Dive in I did, and wasn't disappointed.

I accompanied my eel noodles with an order of ma lan tou, the traditional Shanghai cold dish of minced dry tofu and the chopped stems and leaves of the flowering herb kalimeris indica (sometimes called Indian Aster, False Aster, or Boltonia). It's a favorite salad of mine, and the tart and salty taste made a good counterpoint to the slightly piscine broth of my eel noodles.  Eating the fine-grained mixture is a bit of a chore with  chopsticks, and Gourmet Noodle House wisely provides a small spoon to dip into the ma lan tou salad with.

I mentioned to one of the proprietors that my wife's niece, recently visiting from Shanghai, told me that her favorite dish at her local Gourmet Noodle House branch was the yellowfish wonton soup, a dish that hasn't made its way to San Francisco yet. She indicated that it might well find its way here, since they are slowly adding items from the Mainland chain's menu (as was the case with my eel noodles). That's definitely a dish I'll be ready for.

Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

On A Break (Quite Literally) But I've Got Some Good Ju Ju Working For Me

Ju Ju's Pork Bone Soup

If you've noticed my absence from these pages, it's not due to lack of interest on my part by any means. On Feb 1 I took a dive on some uneven sidewalk pavement and fractured my left hip. Thinking it was just bruises, I hobbled on it for nearly two weeks, finally givng up and getting the verdict from Kaiser Permante.  I underwent partial hip replacement surgery on Feb. 16 and am now a hipper person for it.

Ju Ju
My recuperation and rehab is going well, but is maddeningly slow, and I'm chomping at the bit to get back on the noodle trail.  Fortunately, I've got some good Ju Ju working for me. That would be my long-suffering wife Rujuan (JuJu) who loves to whip up a bowl of tang mian, ban mian or chao mian at a moment's notice.  One particularly solicitous offering was her "pork bone soup," pictured above, which is guaranteed to repair my poor old bones quickly. The development of stock from long-simmered pork bones (often ncck bones, but any bone-in cut of pork can be used) is something the Chinese have been doing for centuries before the Japanese discovered ramen, It's no smarmy tonkotsu broth; Ju Ju takes care to minimize the fattiness and saltiness, and the addition of potatoes is a Shanghai thing.

With Ju Ju's noodles sustaining me (and bringing me long, long life) I'll back on the slurp circuit soon enough.