Monday, January 26, 2015

Just Getting Warmed Up

For me, the attraction was the weather. For others, it was the night before.

We may end up with no more than a dusting of snow, but baby, it's cold outside.

Monday means Shoryuken Ramen is up and running at the Lunch space, so I made sure I arrived at 5:00 sharp to get a a stool (I had to displace a woman's large, silver bag to do it) and a bowl.

I was remembered from my last visit and the first question was if I'd been at the Elby's last night. Holding up my still-sore feet now encased in flats after last night's platforms, she laughed saying she couldn't hang with the restaurant crowd. "Too hardcore for me. I'm in bed by 9:30."

She was right. No way she could hang with that crowd.

Explaining that the weather had brought me in, she said some people suffering from Elby hangovers had called this morning hoping to get delivery of soul-reviving ramen to their homes mid-day. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Luckily, only my feet were hurting this morning, so my ramen needs didn't arise until an appropriate dinner time.

Even tucked into a corner, every time the front door opened to admit new guests, an icy gust would sweep through the dining room. A woman I had seen talking to a man in a car outside came in to ask for a table for two, despite being alone.

"He's outside, but he's coming in, even though he doesn't want to," the woman explained to a server. When the man did come inside, it was only to sit sulkily across from her while she ate a bowl of ramen. The things we do for love.

The door kept opening. One of last night's Elby award-winning restaurateurs and a friend came in for dinner. A friend of a friend I'd run into just the other night at Dutch & Co. arrived, saying she'd gotten off work at 4:00 so she could ensure making it to the pop-up in time to score a table. Her husband and a friend were joining her and she kindly invited me to be their fourth but I demurred, not wanting to horn in on other people's plans.

Anyway, I soon had company at the bar in the form of a young couple who were making their first visit to Shoryuken after being bitten by the ramen bug eating at noodle shops in San Francisco.

They were the last two people to slide in and find seats in the first wave. After that, newcomers had their names put on a  list and went to wait patiently either in their cars or next door at Supper.  This time of year and in this weather, tiny Lunch barely has room for its legal number of occupants and their accompanying big coats.

Tonight's special - because it's always classic ramen or a vegetarian version plus one special - was Thai peanut ramen, a double soup ramen with pickled papaya, peanuts and Thai basil. The smell coming from the kitchen was beyond enticing and the girl near me said as much as they waited to order. "The smell is killing me," she moaned.

It didn't help when my bowl arrived and I began slurping up noodles while they eyed me hungrily. They were right to covet my bowl because the depth of flavor in the broth spoke to the beauty of combining two types for a complexity that would have been fantastic any day, but on a windy cold night like tonight, was sheer perfection, especially along with assertive but not fiery Thai heat. And the yolk of the soft-boiled egg was that one perfect bite that required eye closing to fully appreciate.

As much as I want to try the classic ramen one of these days, Chef Will keeps offering these killer specials (last time it was wontononmen) I can't resist.

But the couple had gone classic and once their bowls arrived, we chatted while we all ate. They were aghast when I told them about the man who'd eaten nothing while his wife ate and amazed at how small the Lunch space was.

It makes sense, though, as  a friend who lived in China said that noodle shops are tiny places there. Clearly they've nailed the authenticity on that point. Our stools faced directly into the kitchen, causing my dinner companion to observe, "We've got the best view in the house."

It was true. Watching the ebb and flow of movement as the kitchen staff put together bowls of ramen was a study in anticipation as people leaned and ducked to allow others to finish a movement as bowl after bowl got the final touches.

I was the fifth person of the first wave to finish and much as I might have wanted to continue the chat with my fellow bar sitters, seats are at too high a premium for that, so I made my way over to talk to the people who'd invited me to join them and meet their friend.

Like me, all three had ordered the Thai peanut ramen and its tantalizing aroma was wafting up from the table as we talked restaurants and movies. But you can only stand in the aisle and block servers for so long before you know it's time to cede the space to the second wave.

It was only fair. My soul had been fed, my belly warmed and now it was time to address my lingering post-Elby's pain. Time to soak my disco-weary feet and start a new book.

Maybe not the most exciting Monday night, but all in all, not a bad way to spend a frigid evening. Unless, of course, I get a better offer.

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