Sunday, June 6, 2010
Pumping the Pork at Wok and Noodle
I've always been a huge fan of Shanghainese cuisine with its subtle, refined flavors and ample use of pork. I consider having a reliable local Shanghainese place a necessity akin to having a reliable pizza place. For a long while, I relied on Shanghai Restaurant in San Gabriel Square until it headed downhill, and I've never been a huge fan of Mei Long Village, so I was thrilled to finally discover a worthy Shanghainese on my first trip to Wok and Noodle. Located on Valley Boulevard, east of Atlantic in Alhambra, Wok and Noodle is one block west of The Boiling Crab; there is no English on the outside of the restaurant, but they do have an English menu.
Wok and Noodle has a pretty typical Shaghainese menu so we managed a nice sampling of the classics, including the the classic Shanghainese dish known locally as "pork pump." At Wok and Noodle, pork pump is listed on the menu as "degreased and braised boneless pork leg shank" (mmmm, degreased). If you've never had pork pump, it can be intimidating. You're served a lump of pork slightly larger than a softball, glistening with fat and juice, sitting in a pool of sauce and maybe a few veggies (bok choy at Wok and Noodle). The trick is to cut into the pump like a Scotsman cuts into the haggis on Burns Night. If well cooked (meaning braised for hours and hours), the thick and viscous fat layer will yield to a mound of tender pork which easily pulls away with the slightest pressure from a fork. Serve it with the sauce spooned over it. I love a good pork pump, but it isn't an everyday event.
The meat in Wok and Noodle's version is deeply satisfying; it's lean, tender and juicy, but significantly less greasy than some other versions (hey, that degreasing must do the trick). The sauce has a nice meaty flavor, but it's lighter on the spice (anise in particular) than other versions I've had. Next time I get a low cholesterol reading I'll have to do a head to head with Lake Spring.
One of my favorite dishes was the cooked noodle with chicken. A chicken soup with a wonderfully viscous broth with wondrous medicinal flavors from shitake mushrooms and mostly likely ginseng. The noodles were nicely chewy. Also very good was the vegetable with bean curd sheet, a familiar mix of greens, edamame and tofu sheets.
Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) were also excellent, full of great pork flavor and succulent, slightly oily soup. Tony C. reports that they are sourced from Tastio/Dean Sin World, which would make sense, since Tastio's are some of my favorite XLB. Shen Jian Bao were tasty but over boiled, giving the dough a gluey consistency; I'm guessing these are also sourced from Tastio but perhaps not cooked with as much skill as the XLB.
In general, the quality of everything we ordered was very high. This is a place that fires on all cylinders and I will look forward to heading back to it as my new Shanghainese mainstay.
Wok and Noodle
828 West Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91803-3233