Melanie Wong | Oct 7, 200303:01 AM     5

This restaurant gets mentioned from time to time on the board but with few details. When we wandered by the other night, the couple seated at the window table who looked happy slurping their spicy beef noodle soup and the modest prices on the menu encouraged us to make this small storefront our dinner stop. The customers were a mix of Chinese families and Taiwanese grad students, plus a couple of non-Chinese faces.

There was a dinner special, a choice of three dishes for $17.99 including either rice or scallion pancakes, but the dishes weren’t nearly as interesting to us as the selection of “fresh handmade noodle” offerings or the selection of Taiwanese small tastes (e.g., stinky tofu, intestines, rice cakes, pork blood soup) at the back of the menu. A handful of specials were posted on a chalkboard, but we ignored them.

We noticed that nearly every table had ordered a clay pot (actually metal here) and a bowl of noodles. Because it was a warm night, we got a dry style noodle dish instead of soup this time. Seated right next to the refrigerator, my brother pointed out the Marina Super bags filled with greens, including “A” cai so we ordered that with garlic sauce (not on the menu).

Potstickers, $4.25 – Remembering a rec for the potstickers, we wanted to give them a try. I asked our waiter if they were made in the Taiwan style. He shook his head but did say they were fresh and housemade. These were juicy and tasty, not greasy, and golden brown and crisped on one side with a well-seasoned pork and cabbage filling. Dipped in the vinegar-soy sauce I mixed for myself, these were satisfying. While in the jumbo American style, the wrappers were not as thick as the norm though I did leave the doughy seam edges on my plate. There were also five types of boiled dumplings (shui jiao) on the menu that I’d try another time.

Black bean paste noodles (zha jiang mian), $4.95 – William lobbied to order this dish and we both liked it very much. Even though described on the menu as “black bean paste”, the sauce was actually light brown and tasted more like a blend of brown bean sauce with some hoisin or plum sauce. The softish thick handpulled noodles on the bottom of the bowl were served hot and topped with a ladle of the sauce blended with slivers of pressed and smoked tofu, chopped raw onions, and seasoned ground pork. Thick slices of deseeded cucumber and cilantro garnished the dish. The knife work was home-makish and not refined, but it was delicious nonetheless.

“A” cai – The vegetable was only okay as it was somewhat overcooked. The garlic flavor was mild as a couple cracked cloves left whole were used rather than minced garlic. Also, some of the yellowish leaves in the bunch I had seen in the refrigerator had not been removed. Even though sloppily prepared, it was still worth eating. I probably won’t ordered sauteed vegetables here again.

Oyster pancake, $5.95 – This was my pick from the Taiwanese side of the menu and the one mistake in our ordering. The egg portion of the pancake was very thin and dry. The pancake was dominated by way too much grayish blubbery chewy stuff gluing together the pieces of oyster and some overcooked “A” cai. The whole shebang was topped with the ketchupy sauce typical of Taiwan. It required a fork and spoon and elbow grease to cut through a portion to serve. This was my brother’s first exposure to the dish and he asked me if it was an “acquired taste”. I explained that this was the worst one I’d ever been served.

Eggplant and tofu clay pot, $7.95 – I wanted to order the three cups chicken clay pot for the same price, but my brother convinced me this would be a better test of the kitchen. It was a successful choice. The Chinese eggplant slices were caramelized and sweet with that meltingly soft texture that soaks up oil and pan flavors. The fried cubes of tofu were solid in the middle and not as spongy to soak up the sauce as I would have liked. A couple pieces of Chinese radish added a sweet flavor to the blend and Napa cabbage provided some fresh crunch. The sauce was well-tuned and delectable with steamed rice.

With tax and tip our bill was $40. We had plenty of leftovers, and if the oyster pancake had been edible, this would have been enough to feed three people easily. Technique is rustic here and hearty type dishes, such as the clay pots, are probably the best bets. My brother did a better job of picking dishes this time than me and he felt this was the sort of place that he’d return to for noodles and dumplings for an inexpensive $5 meal. He said he wants to try the spicy beef noodle soup next – the bowls piled high with tendons and rimmed with red chili oil did look great.

Other recommendations for what to order here?

Queen House
273 Castro St.
Mountain View
Sun-Thur, 11am – 9:30pm
Fri-Sat, 11am – 10pm
Closed Tuesday

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