Festival of Noodles

Noodlefest came across my radar courtesy of one of the newsletters that I subscribe to, Tasting Table or Daily Candy.  I always get excited when I hear about these food festivals, but my immediate enthusiasm is quickly tempered by the memory of the Great American Food and Music Festival at the Shoreline Amphitheater.  The pre-paid tickets for this Noodlefest bares resemblance to last year’s unfortunate incident and made me worried that we would end up facing similarly massive crowds, endlessly long lines and very little food for what we paid for.  However, it sounded too interesting not to check out, and at half the price of what Livenation charged us last year, I figured it was worth the risk.

Noodlefest is a joint venture between North Beach and Chinatown where a $15 ticket entitled people to 3 samples of Italian pasta and 3 samples of Chinese noodles.  There were about 30+ vendors pretty much evenly split between both neighborhoods. I was determined to get my money’s worth, so I made sure Pdho, JC and myself would be there before the 3pm start time.  We decided to start out in Chinatown first. By the time they actually started serving a little bit after 3pm, we were standing at the front of a couple different lines hungrily waiting for our noodles.  Our plan was to spread out and share samples from a bunch of different places so we cold maximize our tastings.

There were a variety of different types of noodles spanning the Asian continent such as Singaporean curry rice noodles, BBQ pork chow mein, and Hong Kong style pepper steak spaghetti. Some of the more notable dishes were the Shanghai thick noodles from Bund Shanghai Restaurant. rice noodles with chicken from Washington Bakery and Beijing tan tan mein from The Potsticker Hunan. Pdho also liked the cold noodles with spicy Szechuan sauce from Z&Y Restaurant, but I found it had too much kick for my liking.

I liked the thickness of both the Shanghai noodles and rice noodles with chicken, but I found the latter noodles more interesting.  Instead of being long, the noodles were short in length.  Both of the noodles were a little bit plain tasting though.  It wasn’t bad, but neither of the noodles had a very memorable flavor. The Beijing tan tan mein was actually the most flavorful of all the noodles. I assumed it was something like ja jiang mein, but not quite. Instead of a rice-type noodle, they used chow mein noodles and the sauce had more ground beef in a bean paste sauce.  There was definitely more depth of flavor there.

Most of the noodles were pretty average for the most part. I don’t think any of them were really really good, but all of them were pretty solid.  One of my main critiques which became even more apparent once we ventured on over to the North Beach side was the fact that it seemed like a bunch of kids were running the food booths. Granted, they still served some hearty portions of noodles, but somehow it just seemed like a disorganized mess at some points.

When we had stamped out all of our Chinatown allotment, we headed over to North Beach to check out their sampling of pastas. I was actually pretty surprised to see how much more crowded it was on that side of the festival. The lines were longer mainly because many of the vendors were cooking the pasta right on the spot. In fact, one of the first lines we stood in was Vicoletto serving  some house made pasta prepared with red wine, tomato braised short ribs, porcini mushrooms, calabrese chillies and white truffle oil.  This was probably one of the more elaborate things served at the festival and probably one of the most delicious. The short rib was tender and juicy and the truffle oil added a nice touch to the flavors in the dish. It definitely intrigued me to go back for a full visit one day.

Although we were pretty full after our tour of Chinatown, I was really enjoying a lot of the samples from the North Beach vendors. Enrico’s Restaurant served a rigatoni with veal, tomato and parmigiano cheese which was a little overcooked and slightly mushy in texture, but the flavors were definitely spot on.  Bocce Cafe gave samples of two different types of gnocchi, napolitana which is a tomato-based sauce and pesto.  The gnocchi was surprisingly very-well cooked. It had the same denseness as expected for a starchy dumpling, but it struck a good balance between being soft but not too chewy.  Both the sauces were very delicious, but I might give the slightly upper hand to the napolitana sauce for having a nice creamy tomato taste.  The seafood ravioli from Sotte Mare was the last really memorable dish from the Italian vendors.  I liked the creamy sauce and the seafood filling. It was yummy.

Overall, the festival was a success. I really feel like I got my money’s worth for $15, especially since the 3 of us were able to divide and conquer.  In evaluating both sides of the festival, I really feel that the Little Italy vendors offered much high quality and more professional products in their booths. In fact, I am pretty sure it was the actual owner or chef who was manning most of the booths in North Beach.  Granted, I heard someone say that most of the Italian restaurants weren’t really open at that time of day as opposed to the Chinese restaurants which open all day, so it is easier for the restaurant owners to take time out to fully participate.  There was also a more overt effort by the Little Italy vendors to use the opportunity to engage with the customers, advertise their restaurant and ultimately generate more business where as the teenage volunteer crew for the Chinatown vendors could care less whether people came back or not.  Nevertheless, it was a successful food festival in my book and slowly helped to erase the bad taste left in my mouth from previous adventures. Hehe!


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