Thursday, December 6, 2007

Shan Dong

Listen, we need to talk. There’s something that I need to tell you. I think its better that you find out now rather than later and I want to be the one to tell you…. I’m a noodle whore.

The cat’s out of the bag. Be it Hong Kong style wonton noodle soup, Taiwanese spicy beef noodle soup, or my coveted Vietnamese pho, I love them all. Noodles are dear to my heart and hold a special place in my stomach. Most aptly described as the cavern, it is reserved for only the tastiest of foods and can store an un-Godly amount of sustenance, something my waiter was quick to notice on my first trip to Shan Dong. After watching four of us polish off enough food for 10, he turned ghostly white when I asked for the menu a second time and began insisting that the kitchen was cached. Having given them a few weeks to restock, it was high time for another visit.

I came with four accomplices, Laura, Gabe, Chester, Ariane and the burden of ordering fell upon myself. I’m not sure how I obtained such responsibility but it may have been my drunken Cantonese performance on a previous noodle excursion in San Francisco. Alcohol does wonders for second languages and balance alike. Anyway, the same waiter from our first trip came around to take the order. I decided to practice moderation and only asked ordered seven dishes to begin with for our group of five. After jotting down the order, he asked if anyone else in the group would like anything. I couldn’t decide whether to give it to him for his audacity or applaud him for his consideration – he was obviously unaware that my friends were there simply to watch me eat.

I decided to start the meal off with a cold cut beef appetizer. It’s a dish that I don’t often have but enjoy quite a bit. This version was pretty good but I felt that it lacked a bit of flavor and umph that would have made it really good.

Laura requested pea sprout leaves or dow mew, of which I am a huge fan. They are probably my favorite vegetable. Sautéed with garlic, I could eat them every day of the week. While I usually prefer the larger, leafier kind, the little ones here were delicious.

Waiting for our table I spied a family enjoying this dish. Fish fillets stir-fried in a garlicky white wine sauce with vegetables and wood ear mushrooms. Mild enough to enjoy the fish while still bringing plenty of flavor to the table.

Nearly every table had an order of these string beans and for good reason. We had ours dry-fried with a bit of shredded pork. After one bite I realized how seldom I order these beans and how great a shame that is. That will have to change.

What we’d all been waiting for, the infamous hand cut noodles! We ordered this batch combination style and it came with shrimp, chicken, beef and choy sum. As they came from the kitchen Chester commented that “Noodles are all about mouth feel.” I couldn’t have said it better. With a smooth outside, healthy thickness and chewy al-dente bite, these noodles are right up my alley. We enjoyed them so much we ordered another batch later on.

These were the house special cold noodles. I was a bit disappointed at first to find the more common chow mein like noodles being used. I had expected the hand cut noodles. However the dish proved to be quite good. Slightly sweet and salty with a hint of mild vinegar, these noodles were gone in no time.

Mid-meal we placed an order for Dan Dan Mein at Ariane’s request. Anticipating spicy, garlicky noodles with sesame undertones we were underwhelmed with this dish. There seemed to be a lot of sesame paste and not much else. To be fair I’m not sure that Dan Dan Mein was on their menu. After all, it is a dish hailing from Sichuan and we were in a restaurant claiming the Shandong province. This last dish was only a slight hitch in a meal that had otherwise been right on the money.

Shan Dong dishes up incredible northern style noodles and dumplings and is one of my Oakland Chinatown hole-in-the-wall favorites. Aside from the food, there’s something to be said about the service as well. It’s not often that you find a waiter who’s quick, attentive and has a sense of humor and control of the English language enough to make you laugh and want to tip extra. Nearly all of the items on the menu that I have tried have been well above average but it’s the delicious noodles and dumplings that keep me coming back for more. Be sure to order extra when you go, you wont be disappointed.

PS - Please pardon the half eaten photographs. I usually try to restrain myself long enough to take a few quick snapshots but we were really hungry and the food was really good...


anima stellare said...

sweet post! oh hand cut noodles...

Love_at_first_bite said...

Thanks bud! Those were pretty stellare weren't they? Just a heads up, i'll be hosting a dinner party for the crew sometime soon before we all leave for vacation.

chestery said...

That was some good shit.

P.S. Only freaks enjoy eating dou miao.

almostchef said...

you should try "So" in SF out in the outer's a pretty good noodle shop too.