Monday, May 23, 2016

Mongolian Food In SF That's Not Mongolian Beef: "Tsuivan" Mongolian Noodle At Let's Jam

A couple of weeks ago I didn't know that Mongolian food (other than hot pot) existed in San Francisco or within easy transit access.  Then the hyper-resourceful gastromancer with the nom de l'écran "hyperbowler" came up with, first, Asian Grill/Монгол хоол in downtown Oakland a very short walk from the 12th Steet BART station, then Let's Jam, a downtown San Francisco cafe with a split personality, the important half being a Mongolian food cafe. Being a San Francisco first person (take that, Donald Trump) I hit  up Let's Jam for lunch today for my first Mongolian meal in memory.

Let's Jam, on the fringe of the Tenderloin on Geary St, began as a run-of-the-mill bagel-and-coffee place run by a couple of Mongolian women who introduced Mongolian classics by stealth, then posted an official Mongolian food menu, complete with pictures, around a year ago. Item #1 on Let's Jam's Mongolian Food Menu is Tsuivan - Mongolian Noodle, a hallmark Mongolian stew of noodles, meat and vegetables. Since it was the only dish on the menu which uses indigenous steamed Mongolian noodles (house-made at that) it was my choice; not that I didn't also hanker for some dumplings, but I'd been forewarned by Yelp reviews of huge portion sizes. My caution was well advised. The order of tsuivan which came my was a veritable mountain of food on a square plate,, with a side (or rather a corner) of pickled beet salad.

According to the research of poster hyperbowler, there are variations among versions of tsuivan, including a version he encountered at the Oakland venue with wok-charred noodles. The version at Let's Jam (described as "home  made pasta, beef, carrot and cabbage mixed seasoned with salt and onion") had noodles that appeared to simply have been steamed and mixed in with the meat and veggies.

The noodles had been thinly cut, one could almost say julienned, and their size and coarse bland texture were reminiscent of some shredded potato dishes found in Northern China. The well-cooked beef shreds were chewy, as if to emulate mutton, and the vegetable contribution was minimal as, alas, was the seasoning.  I found the blandness of the dish somewhat surprising, but not the portion size. It could easily feed two hungry people for around $11; after eating half or less, I asked for a takeout container and donated the remainder to the street culture of the Tenderloin.

Due to the dish's blandness, I'm not likely to return for the Tsuivan at Let's Jam, but there are dumplings and lamb ribs on the menu with my name on them.

Where slurped: Let's Jam, 842 Geary St., the Tenderloin, San Francisco


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lemon Chicken Ramen At Kirimachi Ramen, Just Because.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Lemon Chicken Ramen, and I had it today at Kirimachi Ramen. No, it's not soggy chicken kara-age nuggets in a lemon gunk-infused cornstarch broth; in fact there's no chicken flesh in it. What it is, is a chicken stock based, dashi-infused shoyu broth with traditional chasshu (roast pork) as the primary protein topping, along with a half soft-boiled egg, some menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and, notably, six razor-thin lemon slices.

This lemony snippet of ramen culture is the result of a recent visit to Tokyo by Kirimachi Ramen's owner-chef Leonardi Gondoputro and wife Febry Arnold, for the purpose of Febry's participation in the 2016 Tokyo Marathon. Chef Leo and Febry are so passionate about ramen and running, respectively, that their shop's T-shirts are emblazoned with the slogan "26.2 Miles Per Bowl" -- and never has a ramen restaurant had a more fit FOH then does Kirimachi.

While in Tokyo they discovered the lemon-infused potion at one one of Tokyo's now ramen-yas and Leo reverse-engineered it, with his own touches, on return.  At Kirimachi, the house-made thin, straight noodles rest in a rich, tart chicken and soy sauce broth. The noodles are springy even after resting in the piping-hot broth, which has been made stout enough to stand up to the bold contributions of the lemon slices. As always at Kirimachi, the pork slices and egg half were also perfectly cooked.  Were the lemon slices meant to be eaten? Definitely, according to Chef Leo, who advised that they are best eating with some noodles. I managed to do this even with my non-native chopsticks skills, and found it a novel mouth-feel experience.

The Lemon Chicken Ramen is one of the latest of Kirimachi's constantly rotating (and evolving) specials list, so there's no telling how long it will be available. The citrus-y tartness of this soup enhances its appeal on especially warm days, which today happened to be, and it delivered 26.2 miles of comfort.

Where slurped: Kirimach Ramen, 3 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tori Paitan Ramen At Mensho Tokyo Ramen -- Chicken Soup For The Rameniac Soul

I came across the heraded new Mensho Toko Ramen shop five minutes before the 5:00 PM opening time and affixed myself to the quarter-block long line to see what would happen. When the door opened, the line moved slowly until I was ten feet from the entrance, then stopped dead. Just as I was about to turn tail, a hostess popped out and called for a single diner. I was in like Flynn, given a seat at a counter overooking the kitchen through a curtain of glass drip coffee-makers.

I'm not a chaser of highly-hyped ramen-yas (nor a red-hot ramen fan, as readers of this blog will know) but Mensho Tokyo had a couple of pluses in my book. For one thing, owner Tomoharu Shono seemed genuinely excited to favor San Francsco with his first shop outside Tokyo, personally overseeing its execution, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) the venue is not pimping tonkotsu broth like ever other new ramen joint in town; in fact, it's not even on the menu here yet. The house special ramen at Mensho's San Francisco branch appears to be tori paitan. Tori paitan, which means "boiling the dickens out of chickens, " according to chef/blogger Keizo Shimamoto, can be seen as a chicken-y cousin to porky tonkotsu broth, the goal of both being to be rich, thick and unctuous.

Tori paitan is the priciest ramen on Mensho Tokyo's menu at $16 (there are other options bracketed around $10) but I decided I owed it to my blog to vet the house special. By default it comes with a single thick slice of chashu (doubling it is an option) as well as a couple of thin slices of duck, a nice touch. The broth was indeed rich and fatty, and could have been cloying, were it not for a couple of well placed accents: a slight pepperiness, and some smoky overtones (which may have come from the tangle of crispy fried shallots).  With these, it was one of the most enjoyable of noodle nectars I have experienced, calories be damned. Speaking of the house-made noodles, they were great, too: curly, thick and springy.  As to the ratio of noodles to broth, it was a noodle-forward bowl, as well as it should be with noodles that nice and broth that intense.

The tori paitan ramen at Mensho Tokyo is the most memorable bowl of ramen I've had since the Hakata kuro ramen at Hide-Chan in New York more than five years ago.  It's a chicken soup that can possibly cure anything from the common cold to my aversion to highly-hyped ramen joints.  I'll be back.

Where slurped: Mensho Tokyo Ramen, 672 Geary St., San Francisco.