Annika, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, are out to find the Mission’s most noteworthy noodles.
Would you agree, there’s something refreshing about bon, nene?
And I’m not referring to the use of lower case, or the comma in the name. I mean the unpretentiousness of it all (especially having been to Flour & Water a week earlier).
First, the name, which comes from the French word for good (bon) and the Japanese name of the owner’s dog, as in “good, nene.” What does that tell you?
And did you notice the website eschews all attempts to convince us of the righteousness of the food and the expertise of the chef(s)?
How about the charm of the site? Only a block away from the tragically overdone 20th and Alabama complex, it seemed like a whole other world. No, not the “Old Mission,” but somewhere I might have seen on Netflix. Sitting at bon, nene was like sitting on the set of a charming rom-com.
Maybe they overdo it a bit on the charm. Even unpretentious can be pretentious.
I’d been to bon, nene earlier this summer, when I was merely a consumer. Would my recent promotion to noodle critic alter my perceptions?
We ordered chicken kaarage and edamame to begin. The chicken was my idea. As readers have probably intuited by now, The Editor goes for the beans.
I don’t know what kaarage means but this is some of the best fried chicken I’ve had in the Mission, or anywhere in San Francisco for that matter, since the demise of Powell’s on Hayes Street. The battered skin was light, tasty and crunchy, while the meat itself tasted fresh, juicy and pleasantly distinctive. I am aware I ate most of it, leaving the edamame for you and The Editor.
I ordered the gyudon, which consists of thinly sliced beef, onions and a poached egg over udon noodles. The beef, they say, is Kobe, and I have no cause to doubt them, as it was bursting with flavor. The beef and onions are cooked in a delightful sweet ginger soy sauce, which compliments the beef and noodles. There also appeared some red chile powder, which provided a mild but noticeable kick.
The udon noodles were thick white and very smooth and slippery. I didn’t think they soaked up the sauce very well, but played excellent backup to the beef. I also struggled a bit keeping them on a fork. Those who know me are probably thinking, “don’t blame it on the noodles.”
If you can’t tell, I really liked bon, nene, one of my new favorite Mission eateries. Did I mention I found it unpretentious?
I don’t know if I’d say bon, nene is unpretentious, though I probably toned down the charm a bit with my backpack and ability to get tipsy off one glass of wine. However, even slightly inebriated, I could tell you loved bon, nene as soon as I saw you take a bite. And, soberly, it’s now one of my favorites, too. So much, I admit, that I dined there again later that week (and, while the waitress recognized me, she benevolently didn’t give me any shit).
As the Mean Girls quote goes, “I saw Cady Heron wearing army pants and flip flops, so I bought army pants and flip flops.” So, when The Editor expressed interest in the bowl of mentaiko spaghetti a waiter brought to another table, I ordered the mentaiko spaghetti. It did not disappoint — I mean, obviously, The Editor’s taste is impeccable. Have you seen her side of the office?
I’ve never had mentaiko spaghetti before, but it appeared to me in such manicured, delectable fashion, I wondered if it was one of those faux food toys kids play with. While unfamiliar to me, apparently the dish won the hearts of people in Hakata, Japan, and now yours truly.
Like you, I took one bite, and bam! Cue the wave of an unfamiliar flavor and the ensuing child-like wonder. I got major Willy Wonka and his fictitious Three Course Dinner chewing gum vibes — a risky culinary bet that shockingly works, and immensely rewards the adventurous eater: Me!
I kept racking my brain, though. What was that taste in this secret sauce? Well, bon, nene’s mentaiko spaghetti consists of cured cod roe mix and a buttery cream sauce, with a sprinkling of seaweed. I “phoned a friend,” N, and realized the brininess from the cured roe coalescing with the richness of the butter had captured my heart. Umami?? I desperately texted my other friend, a Japanese noodle expert, T. Is this what umami tastes like?? Because, now, I’m obsessed.
Don’t expect the noodles to be dripping with sauce, though it’s evenly coated. The butter didn’t congeal into a fatty mess, either. Instead, the fish eggs pleasantly and literally clung to each individual noodle, like orange Nerds Rope.
Nothing distracted me from this novel, distinct flavor — no pieces of meat, no bits of veggies — and, thank God, because it would’ve ruined it. I mean it’s pasta, not a salad. As my Dad can affirm, plain buttered pasta was my fave as a kid. But as a slightly refined youth, I embraced the roe, which balanced it out and enabled me to inhale large quantities of butter without feeling sick. Unlike some other bowls of pasta, where repeatedly tasting one creamy flavor loses appeal, I kept digging my fork for more.
The portion was slightly more generous than I could handle, because I was full from the edamame and chicken karaage (yes, in spite of you, I had some). Still, I finished it, ‘cause, despite this column, I’m not a child.
Mark, I am not an udon fan, but I stole a piece of the white noodles from your plate and was struck by how light and airy it felt. Yes, I’m aware those aren’t noodle adjectives, but I’m telling you, it basically melted in my mouth. So, I concur with your opinion.
I can’t add much about whether it’s Old Mission, but yeah, I’ll admit it did feel romantic once I revisited without my boss and her husband. And as you learned, it’s so close to my home! Considering my tight purse strings and that bon, nene is a new addiction, though, I can’t yet tell if that’s a curse or blessing.
bon, nene is located at 2850 21st St. (website)