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Happy noodles [San Mateo]

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New 30 seat restaurant with a chef from Chengdu (Chef Zheng). Cuisine from Kunming , Guiling , Sichuan , and Chongqing according to a sign on the door.

The temporary menu lists 30 something items, including 5 dishes you can order with handmade noodles (the characters 拉麵 indicate hand pulled, I think).

Anyone been? They're closed on Sundays and Mondays.

153 S. B St, San Mateo

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  1. I believe the characters you mention (拉麵) just mean "ramen".

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tripeler

      In Chinese it literally means pulled noodles, and generally refers to hand-pulled.

    2. Is this the place that replaced Sun Tung?

      1. Their "handmade noodles" is not really handmade. Machine made in a supplier factory off-site. Their dishes have authentic sounding names but are not at all authentic. Authentic sounding names draws in the crowd and higher prices. Just OK if you're in the nabe and desperate for food.

        1. Just tried this place out - one of the most enjoyable Sichuan meals I've had (though that doesn't mean much). Fresh, quality ingredients - prepared well. Clean, modern ambiance, decent service.

          The noodles are not hand-pulled but could very well be handmade - they've got the right amount of chewiness and smooth mouthfeel. Compared to most hand-pulled noodles, they're slightly wider and flatter. The craze over hand-pulled noodles is a little misguided in my opinion - it used to be that you pretty much had to get hand-pulled noodles to have the right texture and mouthfeel. But these days, other methods seem to be catching up. Who cares how the noodles are made, as long as they taste / feel good?

          In any event, we got the dan dan noodles, noodles with fish, and cucumber appetizer. Both were excellent (note that by default they come with rice noodles - you have to specifically request the handmade noodles). The dan dan noodles came with a good-sized portion of dou miao, which was a first for me, but definitely appreciated. The fish was fresh - always a concern with Sichuan restaurants. The noodles did soften up a little as the meal went on - not sure what they can do about that though (maybe I just need to eat faster). Cucumbers were really good - served with copious chili peppers and peppercorn husks, but mostly for decoration (it was barely spicy).

          1. A pleasant surprise!

            Dan dan mein (ordered with the "raman" noodles) were topped with ya cai, ground pork, green onions, pea shoots ("dou miao," thanks mr_darcy!), a generous portion of chili oil with lots of sichuan peppercorn flavor, ground peanuts, and a spot of chili (garlic?) sauce. The bottom of the bowl had a mix of ingredients including black sesame paste.

            Overall, this was a very good DDM with lots of things going on. Pea shoots weren't something I've had in DDM before and they added a fresh element. They matched up nicely with the wide noodles and, combined with the ground peanuts, this made for a crunchy dish. There was a small amount of ya cai and ground pork, but just enough to balance out the salt and savoriness of the dish. The amount of sesame paste was fine at first, but its texture became more noticeable as the noodle heap shrunk.

            The one element I flat out didn't like was the chili (garlic?) sauce, the heat and flavor of which stuck out like a sore thumb. I wouldn't mix any in next time.

            I also got an order of the Guilin noodle soup. Upon my request, the soup was served extra spicy (topped with a large amount of their sichuan peppercorn heavy chili oil). Also present were peanuts, cilantro, pickled vegetables (definitely long beans), thin slices of beef, fresh lettuce leaves, and thin rice noodles the gauge of thin spaghetti.

            I ordered the Guilin noodle soup extra spicy, and that masked any subtle flavors in the chicken stock. What came through even still was a complex flavor with a nice jolt of salt and acidity from the pickled vegetables. They did a nice job at keeping the beef tender. It was enjoyable to eat the lettuce as it slowly transitioned from crispy and fresh to wilted and flavor packed.

             
             
             
             
            6 Replies
            1. re: hyperbowler

              This is a nice place and certainly a good one for solo diners. I ordered their signature "over-the-bridge" noodles, and here are my observations:

              1. The portion size is small. You need $10-12 to get out the door, and if you are hungry, one noodle bowl is probably not enough.

              2. The broth is clean and light. Very light hand in salt or MSG (or lack of). I like that a lot. For some reason, this gave me a flashback of Japanese ramen places where I know they don't use or are light-handed in MSG like Halu.

              3. Even though I had already been informed by K K.'s review regarding their hand- or rather machine-pulled noodles, I forgot about that when I ordered and got the standard rice noodles (literally "noodle threads"), which were OK.

              4. I don't understand why all these places use the term "over the bridge." I can understand if they don't want to transfer the ingredients at your table to the hot broth, because it is labor-intensive and perhaps involves the health code, but "over the bridge" implies there will be some hot oil over the surface of the broth to keep things warm. There's always little oil in all the "over the bridge" preparations around. In my opinion, just don't call it that way.

              1. re: vincentlo

                Good point about the noodles. The menu says something like "with rice noodle or raman" and it sounds like the rice ones are the default. The server confirmed that the pulled wheat noodles are machine made, but good is good.

                BTW, fans of ya cai should note that they have a fried rice dish that uses it as an ingredient.

                1. re: vincentlo

                  "Over the bridge" doesn't necessarily imply an oil slick on your bowl of noodles. Serving the noodles with the toppings on the side (guoqiao) is a characteristic of Suzhou-style noodle joints (very popular in Shanghai) and even considered the "authentic" way of serving noodles there.

                  http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.co...

                  1. re: soupçon

                    The oil slick is part of the legend of how the crossing-the-bridge noodles originated:
                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing...

                    The Chinese version of this page has more info. It claims that while the casual version eaten as breakfast on the streets doesn't involve the process of cooking the raw meat when served, there are special crossing-the-bridge noodle restaurants where raw meat is indeed cooked in the hot pot of broth with the oil at the table, at a temperature higher than 212 degrees because of the oil.

                    1. re: vincentlo

                      It's not just "on the streets" but the also the most venerable noodle shops in Suzhou where "over the bridge" simply refers to toppings on the side. And rice noodles are never used.

                      The very notion of serving the toppings on the side "on the streets" seems implausible to me.

                      1. re: soupçon

                        I'm a little confused about whether "over the bridge" (which google doesn't seem to know much about) and "crossing the bridge" noodles are the same, but if we're talking about "crossing the bridge" Wikipedia says the name is lost in the sands of time but theories do involve the toppings and broth traveling separately.

                        Not that we believe everything Wikipedia says....

                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing...

                        I've had "crossing the bridge" at the famous place in Kunming that claims to have popularized it, and honestly didn't get it. It was noodles. Would have taken a few more eats at different places

              2. Yibin fried rice : contains ya cai. Salty and a bit earthy, one of the best fried rices I've had in a long time.

                Black and white fungus : it's commonly sold at Asian markets, but is white fungus available at other restaurants? This dish is all about texture--- the white fungus has lots of convolutions and is even thiner, crunchier, and more slippery than black fungus. The black fungus was slightly overcooked.

                Chengdu noodles are pictured below too.

                 
                 
                 
                3 Replies
                1. re: hyperbowler

                  The white makes an appearance in desserts more often than savories in my experience locally. White will sometimes be in seafood dishes, e.g., scallop stir fry.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Thanks, I'll keep a look out.

                    Desserts? Sounds like a great opportunity to play, "I can't believe its not shredded coconut."

                  2. re: hyperbowler

                    Koi Palace has a sweet-soup dessert where they double-boil white fungus, coconut milk and other stuff and serve it inside a young coconut shell for $8. It's rather delicious. It's on the menu at the very back, but you may have to pre-order it.

                     
                  3. If you're interested in visiting, you should go soon! When we visited last weekend, they were informing everyone that they are closing in about a month to open up a Bambu dessert house.

                    I liked both the dan dan mian and an order of dried bean curd with pork, but I found the fish noodles only ok, with a broth that was salty and a bit spicy without much other flavor or depth.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: drinkmoretang

                      This is a great place. Kinda ironic they are closing right after winning the 2014 Michelin Bib Gourmand award. I also find their broth to be on the "bland" side (as in not much taste, not lack of salt), but many love this since it implies little MSG.

                    2. I'm sure glad I made it here before it closes! I had the Guiyang spicy chicken noodle soup with the ramen noodles. The broth was unlike any I've had before, with a great mix of rich onion and chili taste. I'm no expert on Chinese noodle texture but they tasted good to me, along with the chicken, cucumbers, and peppers. A wonderful dish overall. Is there any other place to get dishes like this in the Bay Area?

                      Michael

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: mdg

                        Wondering if anyone has asked if it's still closing after the recent press.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I went Saturday the 26th, and they already had only a limited menu, as they're trying to clear out the kitchen (no more wontons, no more ants up a tree..) They did sadly confirm that Sunday the 27th would be the last day :\ It's turning into an Asian dessert place...

                          1. re: marilees

                            Sad indeed, had hoped there might be a change of heart.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              I also stopped by last night, and it was packed. Tried the Over the Bridge Noodles, DDM, twice cooked pork, pork tongue, spicy fish filets and a couple other things. It was all pretty good.

                              It's quite a shame that it's turning into a Bambu on a block with plenty of dessert options (tpumps, Creations, CREAM), not to mentions further options on the main street (Sharetea, Golden Island, Clear Optometry, Quickly, etc.).

                              Owner said he may reopen a restaurant in the future, but I wouldn't count on it anytime soon, especially since he will be running the Bambu himself. I'd be curious to hear where the chef will go.

                              1. re: Jon914

                                interesting.

                                passed by september and remembered a sign stating a crab or cajun place would be reopening there soon.

                                1. re: shanghaikid

                                  Didn't a Cajun place open up a few doors down?

                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                    yep. my bad. checked the address. it's a block apart. it was a hot day. the heat may be affected my memory

                                2. re: Jon914

                                  Bambu offers "che" which most of the others don't have. also, Bambu makes inferior milk tea.

                                  there wouldn't be an overlap of customers.

                                  1. re: shanghaikid

                                    My family frequented the "original" Bambu before the business was sold off and re-developed into a franchised concept.

                                    The only thing that's good is the Vietnamese coffee. When the original owners were doing it, it was 6 (!) shots per cup. With the whole franchising thing going on now, I can't make any guarantees that franchised locations do it as well as the original owner did. If you try, the best bet is the original location in San Jose's Berryessa neighborhood. Ask for it less sweet.

                            2. re: Melanie Wong

                              They confirmed that today's the last day without me even asking.

                          2. For anybody wondering where the Happy Noodles chef went, he's now working at Fey in Menlo Park according to the owner.