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Restaurants & Bars 7

Ay-Chung Noodle at Ranch 99 Mall in Richmond

ericf | Oct 28, 200502:20 AM

This is some sort of chain; there's another local shop in Milpitas, which is where the take-out menus come from. I've never been to the Milpitas one, so I can't say how they compare. It's in the old Goldilocks space; decorated in bright sienna and yellow with modernish chairs and tables and loud Mandarin pop music playing, not so much in the background as in the foreground. You order at a counter in the front and pay (CASH ONLY), and they give you a number which you place on a stand at the table you select. You go to a counter station to get plastic tableware and chopsticks, napkins and water. Condiments include black vinegar and a fearsome looking chili sauce that is indeed pretty hot. Presently your order is brought to you by one of the Mandarin-speaking teenagers that run the front of the house.

Great deals here are the rice plates, which come with meat (e.g. pork chop, pork belly, or special Taiwanese sausage), an egg, some leafy vegetable like baby bok choy, two scoops of rice with a little mild soy-based sauce, and some minced pickled mustard green and some seasoned preserved radish on the side. Price for these range from 4.25-5.95 depending on the meat. The plate is ample for most appetites, including my own (190-lb frequent exerciser).

I've tried:
#1. Oyster Pancake $4.50. Popular Taiwanese dish. I must say I've never "gotten" it. Tasted fine to me.
#3. Fried crispy chicken. Seems like chunks of boneless thigh dusted with a starch (tapioca or corn) and lightly seasoned, fried quite crispy. I thought it could have used some more salt, but it went nicely dipped into a sauce of soy, vinegar and chili.
#6. Duck Meat. Boiled duck seemed awfully bland to me. Wouldn't order again. Came with some kind of sweet bean sauce.
#13. Pork chop rice. One of the aforementioned rice plates. Good. Again, I thought the chop itself could have been saltier, but then again, I prefer saltier than most.
#15. Stewed pork rice. Good. This is pork belly stewed in chunks 1-1.5 in. on a side. The stewing broth is soy, sugar, maybe some ginger and garlic. Again served with all the items described above.
#17. Minced pork rice. Good. Alone of the rice section, this at 2.95 only includes minced pork belly stewed as above but chopped to smaller pieces, on a large scoop of rice with some of the minced pickled mustard greens.
#53. Beef stew noodle. Beef stewed in a medium soy broth that does not taste strongly of other components; if I had to guess I'd say it had some bean paste and star anise, but compared to the stuff I make myself it was quite mild. Not spicy. Served with linguine-shaped wheat noodles (may have egg in the noodles, but not like Cantonese egg noodles). Includes some spinach and minced pickled mustard greens. Good but I prefer my own.
#63. Hot pot noodle. Spaghetti noodle on a sizzling platter with an egg and onion and topped with black pepper sauce. Actually rather tasty; despite being in the "steak" section seemed to have no apparent meat. Came with salad and soup. Reminded me of HK "Western" food. At $4.95 would order again if in the mood.

Despite being of Taiwanese extraction, I have little insight into the cuisine as a whole. The sort of food served here I would describe as "rustic," compared to say Cantonese restaurant cuisine. It's also not as rich as Cantonese homestyle cuisine (even the pork belly dishes seem comparatively spare, if that's possible). It's much blander than other regional cuisines such as Sichuan, Hunan and Shandong.

I like it overall and see it becoming part of my regular rotation. Actually, 168 Restaurant in the same mall has many of the same dishes and table service to boot. A stylistic difference, perhaps.

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