Sunday, June 27, 2010

Four for New York: Hand-pulled Noodles in Flushing and Manhattan

Hand-pulled noodles are viewed as a rare and wondrous thing in San Francisco, where I usually sit. I have seen gawking crowds viewing noodle pulling demonstrations by "chefs" in full whites in the middle of Union Square, and the discovery of a new hand-pulled noodle venue anywhere in the Bay Area is passed around in hushed, almost reverential tones. In China, by contrast, hand-pulled noodles are all but the lowest common denominator in comfort foods, with self-indentified "Lanzhou" la mian establishments on nearly every street corner dispensing a hearty bowl of fresh noodles for 3-5 Chinese Yuan, or about 50-75 cents. Pulling noodles, while it requires a skill that comes from practice, is physically demanding "mule work" in a busy noodle shop, and more often than not assigned to the youngest, most strapping member of the cooking family.

Fortunately for those of us who love fresh noodles, the burgeoning Chinese population in New York is pushing its food culture in the direction of la mian as a necessity and away from la mian as a novelty. In a recent visit to New York four hand-pulled noodle shops (including one that drew multiple visits from me) ended up in my mix of small eats venues, and I'm sure I could have found more with due diligence. All four were excellent values, serving up a good-sized bowl of fresh beef noodles in a broth with a distinct personality for $4-$5.00. Two were in Flushing, and two were in the East Broadway vicinity of Manhattan's Chinatown; two were served with a typical Lanzhou-style clear broth, and two with a more strongly flavored, brown colored Taiwanese-y broth. The four are profiled below

Kuai An La Mian Hand Pulled Noodle [Pictured at top]
28 Forsyth St., Manhattan

Kuai An La Mian was formerly know (and loved) as Eastern Noodle. I didn't have the opportunity of trying it under the earlier regime, though I can't imagine it's lost much if anything, as the noodles were fresh and delicous. This was one the two with a dark broth. A pleasant place to sit, with a view of the vegetable market along the Manhattan Bridge landing.

Lanzhou Handmade Noodles
Golden Mall, 41-28 Main St., Flushing

This is my favorite place for hand-pulled noodles to date in New York, partly for the just-like-China ambience of the Golden Mall food court, as well as the proximity (an arm's reach away) of Xi'an Famous Foods, where I can grab a lamb a lamb rou jia mo to add a little tasty protein to my dinner. Come here at 10:00 at night on a steamy evening (bringing your own beer), and you'll find it jumping. Pictured above is the more expensive eel noodles (which I found too sweet to my taste); I was too quick to dive into the excellent beef noodles to snap a picture. They use a clear Lanzhou-style broth here; I recommend the beef tendon noodles.

Lan Zhou Hand Made Noodle & Dumpling
96 E. Broadway, Manhattan

I stumbled across this place on my way from the 88 E. Broadway Mall (of Xi'an Famous Foods #3 renown) to the F Train station and had to give it a go. It was quiet in the middle of a weekday afternoon (with only one other table occupied) but has an extensive menu and good, fresh noodles. Despite the name, the broth in the beef brisket noodles I had was more of the Taiwanese style, even to the faintly medicinal taste characteristic of Taiwan's beef noodles. The noodles, however, were definitely Lanzhou style in thickness and shape.

Lanzhou Hand Drawn NoodlesFlushing Mall Food Court, 133-31 39th Ave., Flushing

This was a repeat visit for me, but the first since I put a lot of "genuine" Lanzhou noodles under my belt in Shanghai. Like the noodles at the Golden Mall (though neither the shops not the malls are related) the broth is of the clear Lanzhou style, though the noodles seemed a bit thicker than is characteristic, and the inclusion of bok choy was also atypical. This is not to fault the noodles, which were tasty and fresh. I was there at dinner time, and the shop was lacking in business; indeed, the whole food court seems depressingly like a ghost town except for clusters of activity at the far end from the unfortunately located noodle shop.

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