Lunch at Tong Soon Garden (Santa Clara)
Last month Peter Yee and I were foiled in our attempts to have pani puri and chaat for lunch. Likewise, the new chicken place that has replaced Dumpling and Noodle (or was that Noodle and Dumpling?). We pushed ahead along El Camino Real and settled on an old favorite, Tong Soon Garden, which was bustling at late lunch hour.
Some years since my last visit, I’m sorry to report that it is a shadow of its former self. We tried two noodle dishes and the spicy chicken wings.
No idea what the wings are called on the menu, we couldn’t find it. But every table has an order and our waitress knew what I wanted when I described them. The sauce was not nearly as spicy nor garlicky as my recollection. Fried well and still tasty, but I’d had better here before.
Korean-Chinese fried chicken wings in spicy garlic sauce
Of the two noodles dishes, the spicy seafood noodle soup (chao ma mian) was better to my taste, though Peter might disagree. Calamari, clams and shrimp were tender and not overcooked, but the soup stock lacked depth. Also, I’d asked for “medium” spicy, and this was far less than that.
The dan dan noodles I found plain weird. Hardly any spice at all, this is the first serving of dandan I’ve ever seen that wasn’t stained with red oil. It almost tasted like yellow bean paste or something similarly starchy. Also the noodles were cooked too soft.
Chao ma mian and dandan mian
Tong Soon Garden
3240 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051
The dan dan mian pic looks like a shanghainese rendition. Less chili oil, less sesame paste, more gravy-like than tart. When made well with lots of dried chili, I kind of like it for what it is, but it is sort of an interpretative dance version of sichuan dan dan mian.
Dandan mian has evolved to have many versions in the major Chinese cuisines. Street food at its simplest.
re: Tong Soon. I can never get a firm answer if they currently hand pull the noodles in house. I know they make the dough by hand though. Regardless, the noodles are still very long and toothsome. I agree that the broth is lacking. One fateful winter day, I asked for "very spicy" and I think the waitresses giggled when they saw how sweaty I got.
Oh, did the chao ma mian have sea cucumber still?
The spice levels aren't very scientific, one cook one day will use a heaping teaspoon of chili paste, another cook one day will use a level teaspoon. Both will be "medium" spicy, but the end results are decidedly different.