HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
What's your latest food quest?
TELL US

Secret Menu at Zen Yai? [San Francisco]

possumspice Jun 15, 2012 05:38 PM

Has anyone tried it? Particularly curious about the boat noodles.

http://blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/2012...

Will undoubtedly get around to trying it sometime this month.

  1. Dave MP Nov 4, 2012 08:41 PM

    I finally made it here tonight, and I really liked everything. The boat noodles (we ordered ours w/ pork and thin noodles) was a real highlight for me. A rich broth (with a nice flavor added from sprigs of celery), pork and pork balls, and a nice level of spiciness (we ordered spicy, but it wasn't super hot).

    Also tried the bbq chicken over egg noodles (in a soy-based broth) which were salty and a bit sweet. Not as good as the boat noodles for me, but pretty good.

    We tried 2 of the 3 sausages available....one was on the sweeter side, and was smaller, and the other with herbs was quite spicy and thick. I preferred the herb sausage, which had a pronounced lemongrass flavor.

    I wish that the Thai menu were translated into English, but it's up on the wall only in Thai.

    Am looking forward to going back soon! Thanks to everyone in this thread who reported!

    Dave MP

    1. r
      rotiprata Jul 8, 2012 10:08 AM

      We finally stopped by Zen Yai for the Guay Tiew Ruew. Portion is tiny but the blood broth is earthy delicious and intoxicating. Also tried the $3.50 tom yum version (with generous additions of pork liver) pretty good. Liked the wider flat noodles.

       
       
       
      3 Replies
      1. re: rotiprata
        DezzerSF Jul 9, 2012 12:56 PM

        How's that fried chicken?

        1. re: rotiprata
          e
          eethan Jul 10, 2012 11:53 AM

          What is that second picture (http://www.chow.com/photos/789410)? I regret failing to notice (or get the waitress to tell me about) that--it looks delicious, and also like it differs from the pork boat noodles in more ways than only the broth.

          1. re: eethan
            r
            rotiprata Jul 10, 2012 10:41 PM

            That was the tom yum noodle. I got confused during ordering (was asking for Guay Tiew Yum) but got this one instead. Not spicy although the toppings are nice. BBQ chicken was alright but wfe didn't care for it.

        2. possumspice Jun 30, 2012 10:00 PM

          Finally made it down there today for lunch. The restaurant was over half full even though we ate lunch on the late side (almost 2 p.m.) As other posters have noted, much of the clientele appeared to be Thai. There were some really interesting to-go items available, including a chili paste and the appetizer where you wrap various items (ginger, chilies, peanuts) in betel leaves, example here: http://www.seasaltwithfood.com/2009/0...

          We ordered three bowls of the boat noodles and really enjoyed them. We had one each of pork and beef with the default skinny noodles, then my husband doubled down for a beef bowl with wide rice noodles. The broth was thick, funky, and flavorful. I would have appreciated more spice, but there are condiments on the table if you wish to make adjustments. A wedge of lime would have added a lot. We were, however, underwhelmed by the regular menu items we ordered. The spicy stir fried squid was not spicy, and the squid was flabby. The chicken larb was about average. Larb is pretty tasty stuff, so we ate it all, but THE and Lers Ros both do better versions of this.

          The summary is, I'm pretty much dying to know what the other secret menu items are. The soup was well above the other items in tastiness. There are two signs written in Thai on the wall as you walk in. These are presumably the secret menu mentioned in the original article. Btw, as the original article notes, the bowls are teeny tiny, but they come out quickly so you can just keep ordering until you're full.

          Thanks to the people who checked it out earlier. I would undoubtedly have taken much longer to get down there without the feedback from this thread.

          6 Replies
          1. re: possumspice
            DezzerSF Jul 2, 2012 08:53 AM

            Glad you liked the boat noodles. Guay Tiew Yum, another noodle dish from the SF Weekly report sounds interesting as well.

            As for the squid, I never really thought of it as flabby, more like tender. And you definitely have to ask for it spicy.

            I've had the larb too, and the papaya salad here and I've had better elsewhere.

            1. re: DezzerSF
              o
              od_sf Jul 2, 2012 11:29 AM

              Guay Tiew Yum is basically the same as Guay Tiew Ruew but without the broth. I also loved it.

              1. re: DezzerSF
                possumspice Jul 2, 2012 03:36 PM

                Sorry I didn't mean to be so harsh about the squid. It *was* tender. I would have liked a little more complexity and zing. Good tip on asking for it spicy. I figured the spicy in the name was enough.

                1. re: possumspice
                  DezzerSF Jul 2, 2012 04:11 PM

                  The squid's definitely not as complex as the boat noodles. I think I love the combo of bamboo shoots with the squid, but I love bamboo shoots.

                  1. re: possumspice
                    f
                    Fine Jul 9, 2012 07:58 PM

                    Years ago (back when some of us were first going to Racha), it probably would have been enough to order a dish labeled "spicy"; alas, so many folks thought they liked hot food then couldn't eat it once they got it, most restaurants became very wary. I sometimes find even begging for really spicy doesn't persuade servers.

                2. re: possumspice
                  e
                  eethan Jul 2, 2012 10:30 AM

                  From memory, I think the board on the left is boat noodles (pork and beef), and the board on the right lists congee/rice porridge with several options for toppings/fillings (e.g., egg, liver, mushrooms). You can get porridge with everything mixed in, which might be the most interesting as long as there's nothing you dislike.

                  You can also ask for sausages, which are not on either menu. I think the SFWeekly blog post may have reported on this.

                3. b
                  bigwheel042 Jun 22, 2012 11:04 AM

                  Dumb question - what's the difference between boat noodles and the beef noodle soups served by most Thai noodle joints like King of Thai Noodle House, Bangkok Noodles, Osha, Soi Gow, etc.? Is this technically the same dish but much better executed at Zen Yai, or are the "boat noodle" broth ingredients actually totally different?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: bigwheel042
                    Ruth Lafler Jun 22, 2012 11:37 AM

                    According to the linked article, the broth of boat noodles is made with blood.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                      b
                      bigwheel042 Jun 22, 2012 11:45 AM

                      Are there other significant differences beyond that? What I've found so far is to the effect of "to be boat noodles it really has to have blood and liver," but it's still not clear to me what other seasonings might be different between the two.

                    2. re: bigwheel042
                      DezzerSF Jun 22, 2012 12:53 PM

                      The taste and seasoning are similar in both soups, both the main difference in Zen Yai's is the thickness of the broth.

                    3. o
                      od_sf Jun 21, 2012 12:26 PM

                      I ate there yesterday. No time for a long report, but I agree with DezzerSF - it is fantastic and well worth a visit. I tried the "dry" and the broth boat noddles and both were absolutely delicious. Quite a bargain at $2.50 per order. Also had simple carrot and cucumber salads with vinegar and fish sauce for $2.25 per order. Very simple and very fresh. This is by far the best Thai food I have had in SF and I will be returning soon. I should mention that at least half of the patrons were Thai - never seen that at any other Thai place in the Bay Area.

                       
                       
                      1 Reply
                      1. re: od_sf
                        DezzerSF Jun 22, 2012 08:32 AM

                        Glad you enjoyed it, and absolutely a bargain! Not sure about the rest of the menu though, as I've had some misses. The two dishes above are still my only favorite dishes.

                        But yes, most of the clientele was Thai like you said. When I first walked in, I felt like I was back in Thailand for a minute! Let's see if that changes now, with the press.

                        PS. They also sell Thai sauces and condiments at the front counter.

                      2. DezzerSF Jun 17, 2012 11:04 PM

                        Best boat noodle I've had, even better than ones I had in Thailand. Really thick broth, plenty of greens, and pork cracklings on top. My Thai friend said they use the right noodles in their version.

                        This is the old Racha Thai location, and they still serve the sauteed calamari from the old menu. I love that dish, get it spicy.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: DezzerSF
                          Melanie Wong Jun 24, 2012 04:26 PM

                          It's been a while since I've been by there, but I seem to recall that there was a sign up saying that it was still Racha Thai but with a new name or something like that. Some of the first Thai food I ever ate was at Racha, before I moved to SF, and that was a long time ago!

                          1. re: Melanie Wong
                            DezzerSF Jun 25, 2012 08:38 AM

                            I'm pretty sure Racha was the first Thai food I've had as well! As kids, my mother would take us there since she worked close by. Sauteed calamari and the fried fish cake is what we would repeatedly order.

                        2. o
                          od_sf Jun 17, 2012 05:46 PM

                          Never tried it, never even heard of the place, but many thanks for the link. It does look authentic and delicious; I will try it this week and report back.

                          Show Hidden Posts