Sunday, March 16, 2008

101 Noodle Express, San Gabriel - Freshly-Made Beef Scallion Pancakes

101 Noodle Express San Gabriel

Driving around on San Gabriel Valley's, Valley Blvd. can be a dangerous thing. It's basically an obstacle course for Traffic School students... 24/7. Almost every time I drive on this street, my blood begins to boil because I am always behind a 30-mph herd of people that are doing anything but focusing on the road. Some people are busy yapping away on their cell phone, some are just blinded by their own facial sun visors that remind me of a welding mask (are you going to drive or are you going to solder me a new metal table in your car? make up your mind!) and most of the time, people are just too freaking old to be on the road. Like Koreatown, SGV's streets are surrounded by strip malls and shopping centers. If you don't know you're way around here and are trying to find your address, you can easily get into a car accident by not paying attention to the road. I've been close to rear-ending people in Koreatown because it is strip-mall overload – laden with signs that bear virtually no English. In SGV, there's one strip mall that I drive by all the time, always with a line of people strung along the parking lot. And if it wasn't for Jonathan Gold's review, I would simply drive by as usual... not knowing that this Shan Dong-style restaurant called 101 Noodle Express makes a truly delicious beef scallion pancake.

101 Noodle Express Inside

With a name like 101 Noodle Express, I am immediately discouraged. When I pass places like Pizza Pit, Burger Barn and Taco Town... I can't help but yawn. Even Panda Express is more interesting than 101 Noodle Express because pandas are just more interesting than pits, barns and taco-laden towns. Once I walked in to this aromatic and crowded restaurant, I had a feeling that the name did no justice for this place. While standing around for the next available seating, I looked around to see what people were ordering. Okay, I see beef scallion pancake... over here, there, there, there, back there, a few crumbs on that old lady's mouth, right here, one piece dropped on the floor, there... I think the jury has reached a unanimous decision.

101 Noodle Express Beef Pancake
Beef Scallion Pancake ( 牛 肉 捲 餅 )
I have no idea why I have the habit of rubbing my hands together whenever I see the waitress come out with my dish. It's automatic. The waitress laid the pancakes down and I did a double-take on the size of these mothers. My god, they were super-sized. Thinly-rolled and wrapped around beef that I could tell was super moist, and a generous serving of chopped scallions and cilantro. Awesome. Before I even drilled my teeth down to the center of the pancake, I felt the thin crackling of the toasted pancake. The beef was super tender and seasoned well with a sweet, home-made bean sauce. The balance was perfect in every bite. I recommend adding some of the chili sauce on top for a nice kick in the ass. 2 big 'fajitas' for $6.75. I like these much better than Mandarin Noodle Deli's version. The beef is not as tender there.

101 Noodle Express Beef Pancake Nachos

Stir-Fried Scallion Pancakes ( 家 常 炒 餅 )
Don't be frightened, it's not Applebee's strange new appetizer. This is the wilder cousin of the aforementioned dish. The ladies next to me were kind of enough to let me take a photo of their dish. The scallion pancakes are chopped into triangles and stir fried with bean sprouts, scallions and probably a little bit of salt and sesame oil. Jonathan Gold says it best... they're kinda like a wild version of Chinese nachos.

101 Noodle Express Dumplings1

Shrimp Pork Dumplings ( 蝦 豬 肉 水 餃 )
A lot of people ordered these as well. 101 offers a nice variety of dumplings, more than Dumpling 10053 in El Monte does – 19 kinds! The most interesting ones are lamb dumplings, pumpkin shrimp pork and scallop leek dumplings. I'll have to try next time. The ones pictured above are shrimp pork and filled with a nice amount of stuffing. They don't skimp on the shrimp. The dumplings were juicy but compared to Dumpling 10053, I have to give the gold medal for taste to D10053. The shrimp/leek and 3 flavor (sea cucumber, pork, imi. crab) are done nicely.

101 Noodle Express Dumplings2

101 Noodle Express Relish

Chinese Chili Relish
Seems like there's a bit of Latino influence here at 101 Noodle Express. You've got the beef 'fajita's, the scallion pancake 'nachos' and then there's this 'salsa verde'-like relish you can use on almost any dish. It's made of cilantro, chinese celery, green chilis and boiled onions – it's awesome. I put this in my beef noodle soup, scallion pancake and stuffed it into my dumplings. Sometimes even the smallest, unexpected things at a restaurant are reason enough to bring you back. In this case, I'm all for that chili relish.

Thanks for reading.

101 Noodle Express
1408 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-8654
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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ma Dang Gook Soo - Korean Handmade, Knife-Cut Noodles

Ma Dang Gook Soo

Since moving to the Silver Lake area, it's been beneficial living in such close proximity to Koreatown, what J & I refer to as a foodie goldmine. We used to frequent the standard Korean bbq joints most newcomers to Korean cuisine dined at, but learned that there is far more depth to what is one of my favorite Asian cuisines behind Chinese and Vietnamese. There's the 14-hour-braised beef bone soup called suhl lung tang, the spicy crab hot pot, spicy raw crab, black bean noodles, all-you-can-eat intestines & tripe, sashimi rice bowls, cold buckwheat noodles, pork belly fried rice cooked on a Medieval-style shield, etc. The list goes on. But as much as I love korean food, one thing I wished there was more of is soup noodles. In addition to the Korean-Chinese dish jjam pong, a fiery seafood noodle soup, jaap chae (beef & vegetable vermicelli) and packaged kim-chi ramen (la myun), the list is still short. And then I find out from trusty Koreatownists about a place called Ma Dang Gook Soo - a place for kal gook soo, korean soup noodles.

Ma Dang Gook Soo Fresh Noodles

J & I parked in the tiny strip mall MDGS is located in, which neighbors BCD Tofuhouse and E-Moon Oak . Walking up, I saw this illustrated motif of something very promising. Handmade! Knifecut! I could hear the Pavlov bells ringing. We walked in and see four waitresses in the kitchen turn around and say 'ahn yong ha sae yo'! The restaurant itself has a very homey feel and is adorned with large photos of Korean villages. By the cashwrap, small photos of their menu are displayed across a wall but you can tell it's been about a century since they last updated the withering food images.

Ma Dang Gook Soo

We took our seats and were immediately served some ice cold barley tea, which is refreshing during the summer season. On the wall were a few Korean articles and a Jonathan Gold review on MDGS. Here is Mama Ma Dang Gook Soo.

Ma Dang Gook Soo Mama

As I was walking to the bathroom, I took a peek into the kitchen and saw four Korean women making noodles – I wanted to document it! I walked into the kitchen slowly and did this sign language communication thing with my fingers and camera. After a few seconds of puzzled looks, they figured out that I wanted to take a photo and welcomed me in. The women were joking around and frolicking in their freshly made noodles – they all wanted to pose for the camera, but everyone made way for Mama MDGS. As I was taking the photo, she lifted the noodles up like a kid showing his 3-lb trout on a summer trip.

Ma Dang Gook Soo Mama

Ma Dang Gook Soo Fresh Noodles

There's nothing more beautiful than freshly made noodles or pasta. The flour was rolled into a very thin layer and folded over neatly like a book of fabric. The cook then took her 14-inch chef knife and gracefully sliced the dough into 1/2" noodles (similar to fettucini). Note that these are handmade & knife-cut noodles, unlike the chinese knife-shaven noodles (dao xiao mian). The process is different because a cook will hold a ball of dough, use a paring knife to skillfully launch the slivers of dough into a boiling pot. The result is a chewy, un-uniform 'noodle'.

Ma Dang Gook Soo Kal Gook Soo

Korean Soup Noodles with Chicken - dahk kal gook soo ( 닭 칼 국 수)
My eyes lit up when I saw our waitress carefully steer herself in between the tables, holding a piping hot bowl with two hands. Steam beautifully rising above. I was intentionally limiting myself to the side dishes set in front of me, saving my space for this. You can order from four types of soup noodles: chicken (what most people recommend), clams, anchovy and kimchi. The bowl comes with shredded white meat, julienned scrambled eggs, 1 whole boiled potato, zuccini, scallions, roasted seaweed in a white, milky broth. I'm sure the majority of the whiteness comes from the flour runoff of the fresh noodles. Like suhl lung tang, kal gook soo is served somewhat plain. You're expected to use the condiment tray to flavor your own soup. A little salt, tons of black pepper and 3 big scoops of their delicious, garlicky chili paste. Everything tasted really good, and is simply comforting. It wasn't the most outstanding noodle dish I've had, but I worked up a nice sweat because I enjoyed it. Compared to more robust soup noodles like Thai Boat Noodles or the spicy lemongrass-based bun bo hue, one may think that kal gook soo is on the lighter, bland side. But I'm a huge fan of Korean food because most of the dishes are very homey and untainted by customers demands. Next time I'm going for the Anchovy version. Yum.

Ma Dang Gook Soo Kal Gook Soo

Close-up of the Noodles ( 닭 칼 국 수)
I loved the un-uniform cut of the noodles. Such a nice feeling knowing that my food wasn't processed by some greasy, rusty metal monster. I much prefer my food made by jolly Korean women frolicking in flour and noodles. Wee!

Ma Dang Gook Soo Chili Paste

MDGS's Chili Paste ( 다 대 기)
One look at this and I fell in love. Scallions, garlic, red chili pepper (go chu ga roo), sesame seeds, soy sauce and sesame oil... hot. I added 3 big scoops to my soup noodles. This isn't spicy at all and is simply a flavor enhancer. I can eat this stuff off rice because it's so tasty. I took half the jar back in a small container. Sorry MDGS!

Ma Dang Gook Soo Jjol Myun

Cold Spicy Noodles ( 쫄면)
This may look like bi bim naeng myun (cold spicy buckwheat noodles with meat) but there are subtle differences. The noodles used for this are made of wheat flour and potato-starch, which make the noodles extremely chewy. There's no meat in here but rather a barrage of julienned vegetables and topped with half a boiled egg. This was also served with a hot bowl of anchovy broth which is reminiscent of bonito flakes.

For those that have been to Olympic Noodle and Myung Dong Kyoja, would love to know what you think of their kal gook soo soup noodles. Reports on those other two soon! The total bill for this was $16... a great deal for a meal that makes you feel at home without hearing the crap that comes out of your parents mouths. Thanks for reading.

869 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA, 90005
(213) 487-6008
CASH ONLY (what a surprise?!)

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Cha Ca - Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles, Cha Ca Recipe

Bun Ca Thi La1

I love Vietnamese food, in general, for many reasons. It has the ability to really trigger the salty, sweet and sour facets of our palates and send you back wanting more. The food is light, fresh, bright and healthy (minus the deep fried dishes of course). After trying this dish called bun ca thi la (Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles) at Viet Soy Cafe in Silver Lake, I had to make this for myself. Viet Soy Cafe & Viet Noodle Bar serves Hanoi-style food, which according to the owner, is generally lighter in taste and not as robust as its Southern counterpart. I've heard this applies especially to pho, which originated in Hanoi, and brought down to the South during the war. Hanoi-style pho usually serves less shrubbery (bean sprouts, limes, herbs) and sticks with the standard chili sauces and jalapeno. The result is a clearer soup that has a delicate taste because less spices such as anise are omitted. Nothing a few dashes of fish sauce couldn't do for a bowl of soup noodles.

Viet Tran calls his dish bun ca thi la because he serves it with bun rice noodles. But this dish is more popularly known as cha ca which was made popular by the landmark Hanoi restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong. Graham of Noodle Pie and my very own J both state that the fish is first grilled partially in the kitchen and brought to the table in a sizzling platter for the final cooking process. Awesome. Viet Tran gave me a 'rough' recipe for his dish, so I combined it with the recipe found in Andrea Nguyen's "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen". If you're a fan of Vietnamese cooking, this is a great book to help you take your first step. J got me some cookbooks from her Vietnam trip last year but don't do me any good because they are, well, in Vietnamese. So this book is perfect. Nguyen's book is a great portal into her life as a Vietnamese immigrant and writes a little intro for all of her dishes. Nguyen also has her own blog and is quite responsive to my annoying emails about "what kind of shrimp sauce do you like to use?" Thanks Andrea.

On to the dish. Viet Tran uses sole fillet, Nguyen uses catfish... I chose a type of catfish called basa, which is native to the Mekong river and is in the same family of catfish. Why this fish? It all begins with my love for Best Fish Tacos In Ensenada. The owner, Joseph Cordova, chose this fish with his experience as a wholesale seafood buyer. The fish is flaky yet moist... it's fantabulous. We then took J's parents to eat at BFTIE and they fell in love with the fish tacos. The following week, they headed over to a market and found the basa fillets for like $2.50/lb and gave me a nice frozen gift from the seas of 99 Ranch. Also, Nguyen calls for sour cream in her recipe, but I decided to try for the soy milk because it's much lighter. I'm sure hers taste awesome, so whatever you like.

Ingredients (approximations... i never measure. adjust to your own taste)
2 lbs. of basa catfish (or sole)
soy milk (small bottle for under a $1)
1.5 tablespoons ground turmeric
1 tablespoon fresh galangal juice or galangal powder
1.5 tablespoons of fine shrimp sauce (mam ruoc or mam tom)*
rice noodles (I used something called banh tam, which was sold fresh)
1/2 a cup of fried shallots
3 scallions
small handful of fresh dill
fish sauce
chili sauce (Sriracha)

(1) Wash fillets, pat dry and cut fillets into 4" x 1" pieces. Mix the turmeric, fine shrimp sauce, galangal (i didn't have a grater so i julienned the galangal root... a 1" block of it) and about 2-3 tablespoons of fish sauce in a bowl. Taste it and see what it needs, add sugar to balance out the salinity. Add soy milk (Viet Tran's style) to the mixture and taste it once more for a balance check. You should have something pungent but not overwhelming. Because of the usage of fish sauce, things will SMELL far stronger than it TASTES. Add the fillets in a container, and pour the mixture on the fish, making sure it's well-coated. Marinate for at least 2 hours.

(2) Nguyen calls for broiling in the oven, but I don't have a broiler. I simply pan fried the fish on medium heat, 4-5 minutes on first side, and 2 minutes more after you flip them.

(3) Prepare the noodles. Depending on what type of noodle you use, some will be quick (fresh bun noodles or banh tam). The noodles should have a nice bite to it. Drain the noodles and shock in cold water to stop the cooking.

(4) Once the fish is done cooking, you can heat up the noodles or just eat them room temperature – both will taste fine. Set the fish aside on top of the noodles. You're almost there.

(5) Heat a small pan on medium and add oil once it's hot enough. Once it starts to smoke, add chopped scallions, fresh dill and fried scallions. Stir it around and make sure they are quickly seared. Turn off the heat. Add the mixture on top of the fish noodles. More shallots, the better it is! Add a few dashes of fish sauce and hot sauce, and you're good to go.

*Mam ruoc or mam tom is finely ground shrimp sauce, that's been fermented with salt. It's a purple-color paste that has a very strong odor to it. This isn't as potent as the Thai or Laotian versions known as gup bee. Nguyen recommends Lee Kum Kee or Koon Chun, which are Chinese-style. I went for the sauce labeled completely in Vietnamese - no sign of any english.

Bun Ca Thi La3

Never have I gobbled up a noodle dish faster than this. It was REALLY good. The combination of the moist fish, fried shallots, dill and chewy noodles was delectable. Thanks for reading.
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