Monday, August 26, 2013

The Richmond's Xi'an Gourmet Restaurant Brings Welcome New Choices to San Francisco

I fell in love with many of the foods of Xi'an more than five years ago at David Shih's Xi'an Famous Foods in Flushing, NY's now legendary Golden Mall and have been lamenting the near total absence of this cuisine from San Francisco ever since.  I am happy to report that it is now possible to get my Xi'an food "fix" in San Francisco, thanks to Xi'an Gourmet Restaurant at Geary Boulevard and 2nd Avenue.

A couple of weeks ago, San Dong House restaurant, looking for a way to distinguish itself from the growing number of local hand-pulled noodle joints (with and without "Shandong/Sandong" in their names), morphed into Xi'an Gourmet. It was not a gratuitous makeover: the chef at San Dong House was from Xi'an and, it appears, has an assertive grasp of his hometown cuisine, at least judging from to two items I had today.

I found out about Xi'an Gourmet over breakfast, from perusing the Yelp listing of new businesses (say what you will about Yelpers -- they may not always get it right, but they almost always get it first). After that Big Reveal I resolved to be there for lunch, and so I was.  Xi'an Gourmet's menu is quite long and varied, since the Shandong cuisine items remain on it, as well as the requisite Chinese food Golden Oldies. The 30-odd Silk Road dishes are quite easy to find, though, in the two sections of the menu labeled "House Special" and "Hand Pulled Noodle" though you might want to throw in some skewers or Shandong dumplings as well. I chose two bell-wether Xi'an items, a lamb roujiamo ("Shaanxi Sandwich with Cumin Lamb") and a noodle dish called you po mian or sometimes you po che mian (here "Shaanxi Hand Made Noodle"), both items which I  am quite familiar with from New York and Shanghai.

I consider Xi'an Famous Foods' lamb roujiamo a benchmark, simply because I've eaten so many of them, and Xi'an Gourmet's stacks up well to them.  Overall, XG's version was about the same size and as full of meat as XFF's version.  XG's lamb seemed slightly less fatty, but at least as aggressively spiced with cumin, jalapenos and chili oil as XFF's.  Xi'an Gourmet's buns were a bit denser and more impermeable than Xi'an Famous Foods', which gave them a nice crunchiness but made XG's roujamo messier, as the buns didn't absorb the chile oil and juices as well. XG's lamb roujiamo are also more expensive, at $5.95, though they also serve a pork version for $3.95.

The you po mian is a tossed noodle dish, with rough, fat, hand-pulled noodles sitting in a puddle of spicy oil and topped with ground dried chilis and other condioments, then tossed.  I'll be writing more about this noodle dish in my separate noodle blog, but will say that it was very similar to a version of the dish I had in Shanghai, and didn't suffer by comparison to with any other version of you po che mian I have had.

I'll be returning within the week to vet the yang rou pao mo (a hearty lamb soup that uses torn up flatbread instead of noodles) and will have a further report once I've analyzed and cherry-picked the menu.

Xi'an Gourmet, 3741 Geary Blvd. at 2nd Ave., San Francisco

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