Soup Noodles @ BBQ & Noodle Garden, SF
- Melanie Wong
A couple months ago I was headed to Turtle Tower for a bowl of pho but detoured to the new Chinese place, BBQ & Noodle Garden, sporting the red "Grand Opening" banner on the other end of the adjoining public parking lot. It was completely empty of customers at high noon . . . not a good sign . . . but the roast ducks hanging in the window looked pretty good and the posters advertising the breed of free-range chickens pointed toward quality. I did a quick scan of the items on the steam table thinking I'd get a quick combo rice plate. But I decided to take a seat instead and try some of the bbq items.
The menu has a section of soup noodle bowls with various toppings for $4.50. Even "two item bbq" soup noodles, which is usually priced a bit higher. None of the noodles or rice plates on the menu are more than $4.95, and sliced fish jook or small plates are only $3.50.
I picked roast duck and white-poached free range chicken as my two items, as shown below, for the soup noodles. The meats were chopped at the window bbq station, and I liked that they were still a little warm from the original cooking and not put in the microwave. The noodles came from the out-of-sight kitchen. The bowl of soup noodles was an excellent rendition with very light, nearly clear, carefully skimmed, well-flavored stock. The noodles were as wiry as a Hong Konger would demand them, and the iceberg lettuce was wilted enough to bring out the sugars yet still had some crunch. Whoever is back in the kitchen has a good touch and hit the textures spot on.
The two poultries were very good too. Nicely browned skin, not too fatty, the flavor of the tender roast duck meat was complimented by the mild spicing and not overwhelmed with seasoning or sugar. Red at the bone, the chicken had very good flavor and texture, especially the toothsomeness of the plain skin. These folks are expert in this department too.
One of the soup noodles is "wonton with prawns". I'll leave it to those on the wonton quest to check that one out.
While I was enjoying my lunch, a group of four took a seat. The matron of the group looked over the steam table, then if I understood her correctly, said she wanted some of the things but cooked to order! After some back and fourth, the counter lady relented and soon that table was chowing down on fresh steamy plates of what looked like a stir-fry of beef and lotus root and another of chicken and asparagus. Maybe you have to be a Chinese grandmother to get this deferential treatment, but it's worth asking. (vbg)
Afterwards I walked across the street to check out Gastronom for the first time. It was a very good chow day.
BBQ & Noodle Garden
5740 Geary Blvd.
That's just one dish. It's not in my neighborhood so I don't expect to be back often. Hope 'hounds will try it and report back on what else is good. Prices are low enough for experimentation.
I sampled a variety of the non soup dishes and unfortunately, the results were poor. Sampled from steam table: noodles, fried tofu and mushrooms, BBQ pork. Sampled freshly cooked: shrimp chow fun and another noodle dish. The issue with all these dishes was tepid flavors; like the assertiveness and confidence dial was on low. For example, the chow fun lacked any charry crusty taste.
The employees were very helpful and hospitable - the waitress tried very hard to answer my questions in English, the cheerful man chopping the BBQ meats, and another man who helped us order. I wanted to like this place, but the non soup dishes aren't up to par.
The default for shrimp chow fun or any seafood seems to be "wet" style these days unless you specify otherwise. For wet style, the rice noodles are cooked/heated more like oil-blanched and not really chow'd. That texture and flavor is considered more in balance with the delicacy of the dish. However, if you ordered "dry", it should have been sizzled. If you want crusty, you should try ordering "dry" beef chow fun. The cooking temps are higher to sear the beef and the charry flavors go with the beef. Note that I haven't ordered either dish at this place and am just making general comments.