New York Noodle Town
I don’t feel as if I have much to say about Noodle Town since I’ve gone on about it many times before in other places. I first discovered it on Chinese New Year, which I didn’t even realize was Chinese New Year until I got down there and was overwhelmed by the crowds. But I’m not sure that the crowds were indicative of the holiday since I’ve never seen the place empty. Even at 3 am (it stays open til 4 am, which can be a godsend on some nights) the tables are filled, which is saying something.
You may have to share a round table, which is really hit or miss. Sometimes it’s a scowling, lone, elderly Asian woman, sometimes it’s a middle aged couple who read about Noodletown in Zagat or if you’re really lucky you’ll get obnoxious college-kid foodies who think they know all the best items on the menu and feel the need to share their knowledge with the Dutch folks on your other side who’ll end up befriending each other and passing food over you the entire meal. But most likely, you’ll just get some non-offensive people who’d like to enjoy their soup in peace just as much as you would.
I’ll admit that my breadth of knowledge concerning the menu is small since I order the same items almost every time. Remember soup and roasted meat and you’ll never go wrong. I get the roast pork wonton noodle soup and it hasn’t disappointed yet. It’s full pork slices, substantial wontons, bulging with two shrimp each, thin noodles, and broccoli (last time it was gai lan, Chinese broccoli, which was an even bigger treat). I’ve been to places where the soup is like water. This sad state won’t occur here–even the broth is packed with flavor. The soup is a meal in itself (I
never realized how large the portion was til I got an order to go and it filled up my bowl two and a half times), but try and save room for some roast duck. You can get an order on rice for $3.25 that won’t bust your gut. Of course, larger sizes are available if you’re in the mood. The salt-baked soft-shell crab is also a winner. They’re not overly greasy, and the salt is off-set by a sprinkling of sliced chili peppers that I swear are jalapenos, even though I know those are not Chinese and my dining companion refuses to believe me.
A lot of Asian food aficionados say you’re only supposed to order off the special menus. Noodletown has one with “fancier” things like meats served with snow pea shoots, sandy pot casseroles and things made duck’s feet, but I’ve always stuck with the basics. I know, you don’t want to be all fuddy duddy and order things like chow mein or egg rolls at a place with amazing regional food, but nothing’s wrong with their regular menu, which you’ll find displayed under glass right at your table for easy viewing. It’s not that I don’t want to try the frog congee, God knows I do, but my stomach is only so big. Maybe I’ll get a batch to go next time. Roast duck at 3 am and congee the morning after sounds like a good plan. Rice porridge is for breakfast, after all. (10/27/00)
Soft shell season—we had to go. Actually, I don’t understand the season because I swear they always have soft shell crabs on the menu at Noodletown. Maybe its just the difference between fresh and frozen? I love that salt and pepper preparation on fried seafood. It’s light and barely battered, which doesn’t induce the usual gut wrenching trauma I get from things like fish and chips. Oh, and the jalapeno slivers also are a nice spicy contrast. But I am a little baffled about the use of jalapeos in Chinese food, I don’t see it in other dishes. Is this traditional? Even Sichuan food gets its heat from peppercorns, not chiles. I will have to look into the Cantonese connection. (5/15/05)
NewYork Noodle Town * 28½ Bowery, New York, NY