Saturday, April 18, 2009

Highlight #166: The noodle that never ends - Restaurant: Noodle Loft (Beijing)

I was determined to make it here while in Beijing for the "single noodle bowl" So on our second day in the city, with three hours of sleep and between meetings, I made it with a few other hungry souls.

They weren't kidding when the said "single noodle." There is only one noodle that curls around and around in the bowl. Being the short girl, I am really not the right model for this, but you get the idea.
Before I jump ahead to the noodles, let me first say a few words about the other dishes here because they were really excellent, even though the noodles are the draw. We were recommended a potato salad, which sounded odd because it was described as being slightly pickled. Indeed, the pickling was clearly evident in both the color and the slight tangy taste. The pickling also completely changed the character of the potato. Instead of tasting starchy or creamy as in many western salads, the thin potato stripes were crunchy and refreshing. This was truly an appetite inducing starter.
When traveling in China, one complaint I hear a lot from guys who are used to eating large pieces of meat is that there aren't enough meat in the Chinese diet, at least not the kind that you can get to without working hard (as in getting the meat off little bones). So to help supplement their meat deprived diet, I ordered a plate of little meatballs. Tender on the inside and crunchy on the outside, these were addictive to pop into the mouth. The sauce reminded me of salted caramel with a hit of soy sauce. The combination may sound odd, but it turned out very good.

I also ordered a dish that's my grandpa's favorite and comes in two parts. The wet part was a meat stew base that dangled from a mini hot pot over a lit canister to keep it boiling. The dry part consisted of these pretzel like pieces that can be eaten as is or dumped into the pot.

Our preference was into the pot. The key to eating this is to remember fishing out the the pretzel pieces before they got completely soggy when they are softened on the outside but still crunchy within. Plenty of other goodies also floated in the pot including battered and fried rib bits and various veggies.

As for the noodles, there were at least a dozen basic shapes to choose from, which are made fresh from dough balls after one orders. The available shapes include the single noodle seen above, free hand knife carved stripes, little ears rolled out using chopsticks, hand pulled, hand twisted from mung bean dough, and a lot of other possibilities. Each bowl is 12 Chinese yuan, which coverts to about $1.75. That's a deal in any book.

Once the shape has been decided, one can either go watch the noodle being made in the open kitchen smack in the center of the room or contemplate the various sauces, ranging from the more basic soy-based to fried meat sauce to tomato and egg sauce. The last one sounds strange, but apparently works very well with the meat sauce.

Here is an already mixed bowl of mung bean hand twists, which won the overall highest score at our table. Because of the bean addition, the noodles took on a different texture, which is more absorbent than a regular flour-based noodle, but still resilient. We mixed in both the basic soy sauce and the fried meat sauce that yielded excellent results.

For the free hand carved ones we went with an aged vinegar combination. These stripes were ultra slippery in texture thanks to the very smooth surfaces created by the sharp knife action. Because I enjoy the chew, these were always up there for me in term of how much fun they are to eat. But they don't quite absorb the sauce as much, so one must mix in condiments with a heavy hand.

The single noodle was an experience to play with, but very hard to eat. We spent lot of time just trying to get a section from the tangled up strand. It also absorbed the least amount of sauce because it virtually had no pores for anything to cling to. I am glad that we tried it, but probably won't get it again based on taste.

No comments: