>> Monday, January 24, 2011
Once Anthony Bourdain has visited your restaurant, it's really hard to keep quiet about it.
Funny thing is, I don't watch TV. Well, hardly ever. I might occasionally sit down and watch an episode of a food-related show if Bryan has the TV on. Or I'll watch some Boston sports games. But by in large, I almost never watch TV.
So I actually had no idea that Anthony Bourdain had visited this authentic Shanxi noodle restaurant (in Beijing) when I visited last fall. My goal, as always, was just to seek out the best hand-pulled noodles I could find. We picked this place because it was close to our hotel (we had a flight to catch right afterwards!) and came highly recommended by the hotel concierge. In fact, we were cutting it so close we actually brought our suitcases to the restaurant and headed straight to the airport afterwards.
The best part about Noodle Loft is the noodle making show in the open, circular kitchen. Definitely try to get a seat at the bar, or at least on the first floor, where you can see the action.
Noodle Loft focuses on the cuisine of Shanxi, a region that is actually not very well known outside of China. Shanxi cuisine is known for its use of vinegar, lamb, and (of course), it's wide variety of interestingly shaped noodles. In fact, Noodle Loft makes its own special vinegar, using a complicated process that ends with a three year fermentation! This apparently makes the vinegar much more aromatic and slightly sweeter than typical, supermarket vinegar.
The food here is good, and the atmosphere is definitely swankier than your average noodle shop. We loved the fresh chewiness of the handmade noodles. The soup did soften the noodles just a tad, but it was still quite good. Pictured above: the classic beef noodle soup with knife-shaved noodles.
I had originally ordered some simple sauteed greens. Alas, they had sold out, so the waitress recommended the dish pictured above, saying it was very popular. I had no idea what I ordered (my Chinese is still not that great and sometimes I just nod and pretend to know what they are saying) but I must say I really really liked it. The green vegetables were perfectly cooked - crisp, fresh, and just lightly salted. The white fungus-like things (they look like walnuts but they are not) were really good. I just wish I knew what they were. Does anyone know?
We also ordered a simple chili oil noodle dish (油泼面 you puo mian), inspired by a similar dish we had in Xi'an, China just a month earlier. The texture of the noodles was great (even better than the soup noodles, which just a tad softer than I would have liked), and surprisingly, the dish is not nearly as spicy as it looks!
Some may argue that the posh atmosphere makes this noodle place seem less authentic, since typically these humble dishes are served in much simpler environments for a fraction of the cost. Though there may be some truth to that, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some people (like Bryan, ha ha) who prefer the clean, comfortable, and service-oriented atmosphere of this place (not to mention the English menus - a huge plus!), even if it means paying a bit more for your noodles.
At the end of the day, you're still only paying around 80-100 RMB ($11-$13 USD) for two. A steal by by US standards.
20 Xi Dawang Lu
CBD, Chaoyang District, Beijing
This is part 13 of the China Series detailing my recent trip to Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai.