The original Chef Wangs on Castro in Mountain View was our familys regular stop for Shandong-style hand-pulled noodles for many years. But when the restaurant relocated to Los Altos six years ago, it fell off our radar screen. Last month I was in the neighborhood and checked it out for a Sunday lunch.
The current location is double, maybe even three times the size of the old one. Its a big step up in atmosphere too with a more upscale décor and wine list. The menu is far more extensive, now including some Shanghai and Sichuan dishes, in addition to the Mandarin/Shandong specialties. Theres also a supplementary menu in Chinese and English with Northern and Shanghai-style small eats.
Hedging my bets, I ordered two items. Good thing, because the xiao long bao were terrible. They were misshapen with an opening on the top, similar to the picture of the homely Beijing bao posted a few weeks ago. They had a stale taste, probably frozen rather than freshly made, with doughy undercooked wrappers and a pork filling that lacked flavor and was too firm. I ate one, and when a bite into another delivered the same, I left the rest.
I had better luck with the spicy seafood and beef noodle soup (tsao ma mien), pictured below. The softly chewy hand-pulled noodles were not as fine textured as I remembered, but still pleasing. The mix of seafood was heavy on calamari and giant squid, light on shrimp and scallops, and sea cucumbers were missing completely (which some may prefer!). While the soup was not as spicy hot as some versions, it was just my speed.
I ordered a few things to go as well. The scallion and sesame bread was decent, but not up to the standard at China Village in Albany. It was fragrant and crackly on the outside, but had a wet line of uncooked dough running through the interior. The vegetarian goose was below average seems to be a trend indicating that the Shanghai area is a weakness. The star of all was the spicy conch salad. It was not as spicy or salty as House of Yu Rongs, but this let the delicate flavor of the conch show through more. Thin transluceent slices of tender and slightly crunchy mollusk were bathed in garlicky red chili oil with slivers of yellow leeks and scallion. Very delicious and almost addictive.
I had shared the take out with my brother. He got quite animated recalling favorite dishes at Chef Wangs, asking did you have the dried squid or the spicy tendons, how were the noodles? Well need to return for another trip down memory lane.
5100 El Camino Real