Although my birthday was last Wednesday, I had a dinner last night to celebrate it. I happened to stop at the Asian market to do some shopping a month or so ago, and noticed that one of the fixtures in the center, a restaurant called "Nice Time Deli," a bland enough name for a place that, as far as I could see, had average sort of food, had closed, to be succeeded by 101 Noodle Express.
I am one of those people who love Asian food. Perhaps it is because I despise cheese, and Asians generally eschew it, so that I can eat almost any dish and be relatively sure that no cheese is in it. For the same reason, I avoid Italian food, for the most part. But of all Asian foods, my favorite is noodles and dumplings. There is just something about the act of slurping up noodles that is extremely satisfying, and one can mix them with almost any sort of protein, vegetable, and sauce or soup. Dumplings, whether Asian or otherwise, also charm me. The little packet enclosed in some sort of dough has thrilled me since I was a child consuming chicken soup with kreplach. It was only a short jump to wontons, then gyoza, and all manner of steamed and pan fried dumplings with various fillings.
So when I saw this new place, I instantly snatched up a take out menu, and perused it carefully. Though no one had yet written a review of the place, for good or ill, to my knowledge, I decided this would be the place where I would celebrate my birthday.
But, I decided, to avoid disasters, perhaps a pre-party visit would be in order. So R and I went over last Friday and had dinner. It was hard to make up our minds with so many wonderful dishes on the menu (the promised 101, at least). There were steamed dumplings, fried dumplings, buns, rolls, noodles wet and dry, as well as assorted stir fried dishes and rice dishes.
After picking at an odd plate called "peanuts and small roasted fish," which consisted of a bowl of fried peanuts from which a school of tiny, anchovy-size fish peered, hiding behind and between the peanuts, we began with a soup. I am enamored of soups, particularly Asian ones. This was a light broth with feathery fish dumplings, garnished with very thin slices of cucumber and cilantro, which accented the fish balls exceedingly well.
We followed that with a juicy assortment of steamed dumplings and a plate piled high with steaming green onion pancakes, light and entirely lacking grease.
That was enough to convince us that this was a good choice for the party, and the party itself allowed the place to shine.
In addition to the aforementioned fishball soup and green onion pancake, we ordered steamed lamb dumplings for our crew, several of whom would not eat pork. They were juicy and mild, a welcome addition to the dinner. We followed that up with ox tail noodles, a bowl of soup noodles spiced with star anise, a beautiful, fragrant spice often used in beef pho, the ubiquitous Vietnamese soup noodle dish. But this dish had tiny hunks of ox tail, slabs of shredded meat, and bones in a broth laden with what appeared to be handmade, thick noodles. A very good choice, though it wasn't the dry noodle dish we expected.
Perhaps the greatest find of the night was something known only as beef roll and chicken roll. These were stir-fried vegetables and shreds of the named meat wrapped in a covering that was not a noodle and not a bread, but something in between. These were cut into pieces and were eaten rather as one would eat a steak sandwich, with both hands. Luckily, we hadn't heard what the people at the other end of the table were ordering, so we brought home enough of these to make another dinner, which we will consume tonight. Only I am not sure how to warm them up. To put them in a pan or oven would be to dry them out. To put them in a microwave might make them soggy. Perhaps I should try to look up this dish online and see how they were cooked to begin with and follow suit with more of the same.
In any case, for those of you who are close enough to try this place, a heartily recommend it, though I would go early, as it is very very popular!
And oh, by the way, the company was convivial and we all had a great deal of fun, even J, the lone person of his age at the table.