Birthday Bar

It’s a rainy summer morning in Hong Kong, and after the redeye from Bangalore I don’t know if it’s still my birthday or not. I think it isn’t here, but will be when I get home. The international date line is weird like that.

After texting my wife and making my way through security, I head to Cathay Pacific’s Wing Lounge and grab a scotch to sip (don’t judge, it’s 5pm somewhere) as I watch the planes and ground crews navigate their polkas on the slick tarmac.

Then I remember that this lounge has a feature to explore.

Tucked away upstairs behind the coffee lounge and the bar is a uniquely Hing Kong amenity, a noodle bar.

In an elegantly modern space lined with black marble and bamboo, two women tireless churn out local noodle dishes prepared to order. The top of the short 4-item menu is the star, the Dan Dan noodles.

A black bowl on a black tray quickly arrived on the black counter. Simple thin noodles swim in a thick, creamy broth made with coconut milk and peanut. When you slide on over to the edge of the counter to grab a spoon and chopsticks, don’t forget to dress it up with a dash of chili oil, toasted garlic, green onions, and to cut the fatty broth, some Chinese red vinegar and pickled vegetables.

Slurping up the rich warm broth contrasted with the cool refreshing vinegar and pickles makes a delectable experience. A palate of familiar flavors wrapped up in a new package.

This is comfort food.

Noodles, eh?

A cold rainy night in Edmonton, Canada finds us looking around for something warm. Luckily, a highly recommended noodle shop in an up-and-coming neighborhood is blocks from our AirB&B.

Prairie Noodle is steaming with heavenly sesame smells as we walk through the door. Cutouts of prairie dogs, deer, snakes, and other animals in plywood give glimpses of the noodle bar and tons of craft routes plywood, a fun play on rustic craft modern.

Then menu is focused on ramen, but using locally sourced ingredients. There’s bao made with local wild proteins – rabbit, venison, whatever the hunter found. The hunter came back empty handed tonight so we started with edamame – smoked and steamed, then dressed with salt and Izumi bringing a nice freshness.

They have multiple ramens: a smoked pork miso broth, a chicken broth, a veggie broth with smoked Gouda, and a spicy garlic version of the smoked pork. Naturally I went straight for smokey, porky, garlicky goodness.

The smell is overwhelmingly rich and smokey. There’s a deep smoked rasher of bacon (pork belly to these Canucks) and pulled smoked pork over thin ramen noodles. A generous amount of scallions, local corn, bean sprouts and a pickled tea egg top the spicy fatty broth. Mix in the smear of miso from the side of the bowl, and this is an intense richness of umami. The salty spicey broth, with the smokey pork, pungent scallions and garlic, and the sweetness from the sweet corn makes a killer combination in the mouth.

The chicken broth is rich and creamy, and comes topped with not just chicken, but a poached egg – a nice twist on the usual tea egg.

Now the twist, desert. For only $5 CAD you get a bit of chocolate cake a la mode. The ice creams are exotic house-made flavors like rose petal, or booze options like whiskey!

The raspberry sorbet is a bit icey (pieces flying off the plate) but the flavor is intense with fresh ripe berries, and a sweetness that seems more boysenberry than raspberry. But the whiskey…. that steals the show. Not too much, so it’s not icey or overwhelming, but a hint of smokey peaty buttery flavor adds a nice almost savory richness to compliment the dryish cake. Apparently they pour in their good stuff: Suntory Harmony.

This place knows their noodles and could easily hold their own in a competitive ramen market like LA.

Ramen in the Rain

Cold, rainy. Perfect night for ramen in Portland’s Boke Bowl.

Staring off with their seasonal bun, squash, is a delightfully savory and sweet combination of several different cabbages and squashes with punpkin wrapped up in a rice bun with a rice vinegar sauce.

But the main event with all its porky goodness is the draw. House-made al dente noodles fill a large bowl of a thin but umami-rich (beef?) broth with pulled pork. Top it off with some braised pork belly and bok choy, and you have a delicious savory soup for a cool night, even if it isn’t a traditional rich fatty ramen.

Only downside? Closes at 9pm so get in early.

When in Asia…

Modern French bistro decor and soft jazz. Lots of white brick with dark wood and simple framed black and white photos. This is clearly not Chinese! We found ourselves in Nha Trang, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s becoming popular in Hong Kong. Perusing through the English menu found all our usual American Vietnamese delights like Pho and Banh Mi, plus some more Chinified dishes.

I started with my favorite Vietnamese iced coffee, but double-shot to wake me up. Also shown, a sweet drink with orange candied orange peel and candied pineapple which was too sweet and could really have benefitted from the tartness of fresh pineapple.

My wife went with a noodle soup, with a broth a little richer than typical pho. Filled with tender slices of pork, beef, fish cake, and all the usual proteins. The noodles had perfect texture and the broth savory and slightly sweet and spicy – simultaneously rich and light. I was scared by the mention of fish paste in the broth, but I found it amazing!

For myself I selected the pork chop banh mi. They warned me it would take an extra 15 minutes, which surprised me. How long does it take to assemble a sandwich? It didn’t actually take that long, probably because they grabbed pork that had already been cooked – it was clearly not “sizzling” as the menu described. Still good, with a great crispy crust baguette and crispy pork. Too much mayo though kinda killed it all leaving it a bit bland.

So how does Hong Kong Vietnamese compare to the American stuff? While I’ve had much better banh mi sandwiches stateside, I don’t think I’ve ever had pho that could top the rich stuff found here. I guess proximity does help somewhat.

Noodling along through Chicago

Ok, I know it’s not real Chicago Italian-American food, but it’s a regional chain I’ve heard about. Noodles & Company makes all things noodlish, from Asian to Italian styles, and represents something you just don’t find in LA, hot hearty convenient food for a cold day.

I’m a sucker for good Mac and cheese, and very picky about it. So I knew it was a gamble to try their Wisconsin Mac & Cheese with meatballs. If you like the blue box, you’ll probably like this. The noodles are very hot and al dente, but the cheese sauce tastes powdered. The pile of factory shredded cheese on top didn’t melt and didn’t add much to the dish. The meatballs had great texture and a lot of rich flavor with a nice oven toasted crust, but were very salty. But within a few minutes the whole dish had congealed into a lumpy gross mess.

Pearl fared much better with the Bankok Curry. Pulled pork on rice noodles tossed with fresh herbs and vegetables in a nice light spicy gingery sauce. Certainly not Thai, and not a curry either, but quite delicious. Add a delicious dash of Siracha and you’re all set!