A rockin' good time was had by the nine hounds who met for lunch at the attractive (no pee-smelling carpet here) Taiwanese noodle house just north of Rockville center. Thanks to Marty L's organizational skills, we were guided today by Hungry Kate and her work/lunch colleague Jenny, a native of Mainland China, who are regulars at Bob's. Others present were Steve Siegel,Louise McG, Roe Panella, Anne/Smokey, Bill Pappert and me.
We had a big, round table in our own little alcove, and personal attention from Bob himself, an affable, flirtatious man who describes himself as "an M.B.A.--married but available."
We wanted to try the "smelly tofu" that we'd heard so much about. Bob was skeptical that we would like it:"sort of like blue cheese," is how he described it. "Some people like it, some don't. Very popular back home." Jenny told us that it smelled bad but tasted good. She also told us that a literal translation of the Chinese name for the dish is "fart tofu." The version we were served was quite mild, by Chinese standards, according to Jenny. It did have a pronounced, "barnyard" aroma which reminded me a lot of a badly brett (brettomycenes)-infected bottle of Cotes du Rhone I once opened, that smelled like poop. The outside was lightly crisped and the interior soft. It was served with pickled cabbage and a spicy chile sauce. The flavor was pungent, slightly sour from the obvious fermentation it had gone through. Not something I'd be in a hurry to eat again, but then it took me a while to work my way from Camembert to Livarot and Pont L'Evesque. Ripe, stinky cheese is about the closest comparison I can come up with.
Bob delivered a complimentary amuse--a plateful of marinated eggs. They were brown and savory from a long soak in a soy flavored broth. Very tasty. Jenny is a good cook herself, and described the process of making them. The first dish we were served, after the tofu, was oyster pancake--a type of omelet, really. Generously covering a large plate, it was fresh and delicate, packed with small, fresh oysters, scallions and had a savory sauce ladled on top. A winner.
We had three soups-- pork stomach with mustard greens had thin strips of tripe and fresh greens in a bland broth; shrimp with spaghetti-like noodles in a chile broth was more interesting. the third soup, mushroom and spinach in a pale, watery broth was, well, delicate and thirst-quenching. Not much there, there.
A whole tilapia in a spicy bean sauce was delicious--very fresh-tasting fish that had been fried and then covered with a complex, lightly spicy sauce.
Chicken in ginger sauce with Thai basil was nuggets of dark-meat chicken with pieces of bone in a brown sauce with hints of star anise and the brighter anise notes of basil. Very good. We also had two different versions of Chinese watercress, one with pork and one with beef that were good, but indistinguishable, one from another. The green veg was a nice balance with the rest of the dishes. And we had clams with black bean sauce, a creditable version of the classic dish. As an afterthought, we ordered a dish of soft-shell crab, which was chopped in bite-sized pieces and deep fried. It was fresh tasting-but mostly of breading and oil. The crab wasn't flavorful enough to shine through.
The piece de resistance came for dessert: a spectacular, heaping "volcano" of shaved ice, piled high on a platter. It was topped with sliced fresh strawberries and surrounded at the base with small mounds of boiled peanuts, canned lychees in syrup, sweet red and brown beans and cubes of black tapioca gel--square versions of the bubbles in boba-tea. One spooned the saved ice into a bowl with the fruit and sweets and mixed it all up. It was cold, sweet, refreshing, with all kinds of interesting textures. A fabulous finish to the meal. Some were initially taken aback by the sweet beans, but we all ended up exclaiming over how good it was. A perfect summer dessert.
The best part was the bill-- $12 each, including a generous tip!