**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2012/10/great...
Great NY Noodletown probably the most well known restaurant in Chinatown and generally is a pretty famous restaurant. It’s been around for a long time and was here far before I arrived in New York. The restaurant specializes in shao la (Cantonese BBQ), congee and various simple dishes. I’ve been meaning to write about this restaurant for a long time as I feel like my blog wouldn’t be very comprehensive if I didn’t report about this place.
The restaurant looks like most other Cantonese BBQ restaurants in NY; its run down, kind of dirty, has no décor to speak of and has BBQ meats hanging in the window. However, you will notice when you walk in that it’s noticeably more crowded than other restaurants. You often have to wait for a table on the weekends and there is usually a line of Chinese people getting BBQ meats or food to go. Another thing you will notice if you go late enough is that it’s a late night spot that lots of drunk people come to after partying.
Here’s what we got:
- Pork and Thousand Year Egg Congee (Pi Dan Zhu Rou Zhou): Congee is one thing that Manhattan’s Chinatown does very well. I actually find the congee here to be fairly similar to what you get in Hong Kong. Congee is rice porridge that you make by cooking rice with a lot of water until it turns into porridge. I was actually wondering how they came up with the name congee since it’s nothing like that Chinese word for congee (zhou in Mandarin or juk in Cantonese) and according to this Wikipedia article it’s actually derived from a Tamil word (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congee). Anyhow, the congee here is very good, it has good thick consistency and nice flavor although congee by itself is fairly plain, but I’ve heard some people may add some chicken stock or lard for flavor. I prefer to get it with pork and pi dan which is a black preserved egg, which has a creamy flavor if you’ve never had it before. Also, I prefer a decent amount of white pepper and a little chili oil in my congee for flavor as well (it’s always sitting on the table). Overall, it’s simple dish, but it’s done very well here. 8.5/10
- Beef Congee (Niu Rou Zhou): This is the same thing as the other congee except it has nicely silky tender beef in it. 8.5/10
- Fried Crueller (You Tiao): You tiao is a long fried donut that is a standard accompaniment with congee. You take it and dip it in the congee and it’s delicious. The you tiao here are decent, but they are pre-fried, so they’re not nearly as good as a freshly fried one. 7.25/10
The first picture has roast pork, soy sauce chicken and roast duck (from left to right) and the 2nd picture is roast pork. Here are reviews of each:
- Soy Sauce Chicken (Jiang You Ji / See Yau Gai): This is roast chicken covered in a dark soy sauce. This is one of my favorite shao la (Cantonese BBQ) dishes. The chicken is very tender and the skin is very flavorful and pairs really nicely with the soy sauce. The version here is quite good although it can be a little inconsistent. One thing to note is that Chinese people like their meat tender and I’ve found some Americans can find the texture of the skin to be too slippery and dislike it. Overall, they do a pretty decent job on this dish. 8/10
- Roast Duck (Kao Ya): This is roast duck that they pour a semi-sweet soy sauce marinade on it. It’s got good flavoring, but it can be inconsistent as sometimes I find it can be too dry sometimes as I like my duck to be really tender and juicy. 7/10 when it’s off, 7.75/10 when it’s on
- Roast Pork (Cha Shao / Cha Siu): Cha siu literally means “fork roast” in Chinese; the reason they call it that is because you skewer a long piece of pork and then roast it in a special cylinder shaped oven. The marinades can vary, but generally it contains honey, soy sauce, five spice powder, hoisin sauce and some people use this stuff called hong fu ru, which is a fermented bean curd. The flavors can be quite different ranging from very sweet to barely sweet at all. Also, the reason it’s red on the outside is because they use food coloring. Cha siu is literally one of my all time favorite foods when I was a kid I used to refuse to eat the other food and just wanted cha siu with rice. When done right it’s tender, juicy and has a great sweet flavor. Anyhow, the cha siu at Noodletown is extremely inconsistent. When it’s on its actually quite good, I’d say you might even consider it maybe an average type place in Hong Kong, but when it’s off its dry and not good at all. It’s totally luck of the draw as to whether it’s going to be off or on unfortunately. Also, just so you can see here’s a link to the best cha siu I’ve ever had in Hong Kong (https://www.lauhound.com/2010/10/fu-s...). 6.75/10 when it’s off, 8.25/10 when it’s on
Ribs (Pai Gu): These are prepared in the same marinade they use for the cha siu, so it’s a bit sweet and salty at the same time. They are pretty good, not as tender as the cha siu, but reasonably tasty nonetheless. 7.5/10
- Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab (Jiao Yen Ruan Ke Xie): This dish has become perhaps their most famous dish; I believe it was written up in the New York Times actually. It’s a soft shell crab battered and fried in a typical Cantonese style salt and pepper batter. It’s nicely crispy on the outside and the salt and pepper batter goes really well with the soft shell crab. It’s well deserving of its reputation and definitely a really tasty dish assuming you like soft shell crab. 8.5/10
- Salt and Pepper Squid (Jiao Yen You Yu): Same thing as the soft shell crab except with squid. This is a favorite Cantonese dish of mine so I almost always get it when I come here. South China Garden (RIP) had the best version, but now that they are closed I find Noodletown to have the best version in New York right now. The batter here is good, the only thing is that I find their squid isn’t quite as tender as I like, but overall still quite good. 8.25/10
- Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (Jie Lan): This is a standard dish, which tastes exactly as it sounds and they do it well here. 8/10
- Flowering Chives with Beef (Jiu Cai Hua Niu Rou): This is another signature dish. Its flowering chives which I believe are called garlic chives in English stir fried with beef, carrots and ginger. It has decent “wok hay”, which means wok air basically and it’s the flavor you get from cooking food in a wok at a very hot temperature which effectively smokes the food. The beef is very silky and smooth and the garlic chives have a nice crunch to them and good flavor. I think this is one of the best dishes here. 8.25/10
- Shrimp Wonton Noodle Soup (Xia Ren Yun Tun Mian): While wonton noodle soup sounds like it should be an easy dish to make it’s actually very difficult and I would say that it’s somewhat akin to Japanese ramen in that sense. In Hong Kong people take it pretty seriously and you have lots of restaurants that specialize in it and people are very particular about it. I think the hardest part to get right is broth and I’ve never really found anywhere in the US that can get it right unfortunately. That said within in New York, Noodletown probably is one of the better versions in NY. The noodles are pretty decent, but be aware that the noodles in wonton noodle soup are very springy and some people find them almost too springy. The wontons are decent, they’re reasonably well made although I think it’d be better if they used better quality shrimp. The broth is decent although it doesn’t have the complexity a really good version has and I also find it has a little too much alkaline flavor. It has an alkaline flavor because you need to use alkaline salts in order to make the noodles. Fyi, the best version is Shifu Chio in Flushing which you can see here (http://www.lauhound.com/2010/09/shifu...) and I’d also say Noodle Village does a decent version as well (http://www.lauhound.com/2011/01/noodl...). 7.5/10
- Eggplant in Garlic Sauce (Yu Xiang Qie Zi): I ordered this randomly once, it’s your typical eggplant in garlic sauce, but they definitely made it on the sweet side. The sauce wasn’t gloppy, but I thought it was too sweet. 6.75/10
Overall, it is an enjoyable restaurant and definitely one of the better restaurants in Chinatown although their BBQ meats are inconsistent.