Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Noodling For A Change

This past week or so was a blurrish gastronomic romp for me. I started on the 16th at the new RN74. A wine dinner featured Benjamin Leroux and his new 2007 negociant wines, plus a vertical of grand cru-like Pommards of Comte Armand des Epeneaux (details soon). The Cobia with grilled turnips and broccolini proved fantastic with the red Burgundies, surprisingly even more so than the duck cassoulet. That wine dinner was followed by our own wine dinner on the 20th. An array of Schloss Schonborn Rieslings accompanied by the haute-pan-Asian cuisine of Unicorn Restaurant made for a stunning evening.

Schonborn's hat-trick of 2006 Kabinett Rieslings--the Nusbrunnen, Pfaffenberg, and Erbacher Marcobrunn--was mindblowing. Impossible to find better Riesling values than these!

I changed pace on the 22nd at Izakaya Mai, washing down excellent small plates of seafood supplied by IMP with a cold Hatsumago sake. But on the 23rd it was back to RN74 for a casual dinner, including a couple of Burgundies from the list--a lovely 2006 Aligote by Roulot and a fading 1990 Pommard Epenot Dubreuil-Fontaine. This last made me wonder again: is the 1990 vintage overrated? Anyway, the Sea Urchin (uni) Carbonara on the wine bar menu is probably the best pasta concoction I've ever had; it was delightful with the Aligote.

With such classy meals and memorable drinks, I never expected that the finale of back-to-back lunches on Sunday and yesterday at a cheap noodle joint ensconced in Oakland's inner neighborhoods would blow me away. But they did. And for a change, there were no fermented drinks involved on these meals.

Noodle Trend is the new noodle house operated by the family of Unicorn proprietor Kiet Truong. After selling the original Unicorn in Berkeley, Kiet's family decided to go back to basics and open perhaps the only Chao Zhou eatery in the Bay Area. Kiet's parents are both cooks from Chao Zhou, a district in southern China's Guangdong province. They moved to Saigon, where they raised a family and run a successful restaurant serving a kind of Vietnamese fusion cuisine with Chao Zhou influences. After the fall of Saigon the family fled to the US, settling first in Minnesota and eventually finding their way to the Bay Area.

It may sound contradictory, but Noodle Trend is both a simple noodle joint and the epitome of fine cookery. Every main ingredient is prepared from scratch. The stock is extracted from a mountain of bones and herbs to get a rich flavor and is cooked for several hours until everything has reduced and melded perfectly. No dish tastes greasy, bland or fake. Live free-range chickens are butchered in the gleaming stainless-steel kitchen. Amazingly, no item on the menu costs more than $6.95, and every plate, every bowl is served almost overflowing with magnificently tasty food!

The unsweetened, thick fresh soybean milk (Sua Dau Nanh) served piping hot is made in the kitchen from pure soybeans boiled with pandan leaf to bring out the taste of the soybean. $2.00

A starter of Salt and Pepper Calamari (Mu'c Rang Muoi). $6.95

The Chao Zhou Fried Rice Cake (Banh Bot Chien) cooked with beaten eggs and turnip. It reminded me of tortilla, the classic Spanish tapas. $5.75

Qui, Kiet's brother, told me that in the streets of Chao Zhou this Chao Zhou Ho Fun combination soup (Hu Tieu Hoac Mi Trieu Chau) is prepared in minutes by street vendors for passersby hungry for a quick snack. $6.25

Orange Peel Duck Thigh Noodle (Vit Tim) $6.95. The confit-like duck thigh is fork tender and the broth is classic Vietnamese duck stew mix of herbs and tangerine orange peel with the traditional side dish of pickled carrot and cabbage.

Free-Range Chicken Ho Fun Soup (Hu Tieu Hoac Mi Ga Di Bo) $6.95. The strips of chicken meat skin-on was so tender and flavorful!

For variety I opted for rice, instead of noodles, for this Beef Stew (Hu Tieu Hoac Mi Bo Kho) $6.95. Tender beef brisket and tendon in a flavorful broth of Chinese herbs, carrots, and lemon grass. A squeeze of lime makes the taste of the stew explode in the mouth!

Three Colors Dessert (Che), a street food classic in Vietnam. Red bean, Jell-O, and agar-agar flavored with coconut milk and sugar and topped with shaved ice. Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines have versions of this popular ice treat.

Noodle Trend
401 International Ave.
Oakland, CA
Open 11am-7pm except Wednesday

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