(Formatted with All Pictures here:
With the chilly Winter evenings setting upon So Cal, I found myself looking for some hot soup noodles to fight off the cold. As I was thinking of places to try, I remembered the great info from veteran SGV Hound Chandavkl, about a new restaurant that used Bamboo to make their Noodles. I wasn't sure what to expect, but off I went to visit Bamboodles, to see what "Bamboo Stick Noodles" were all about.
While the English name - Bamboodles - conjured up notions of a horrible, cheesy marketing gimmick, its Chinese name sounded much better - Lian Hsiang Zhu Shen Mian (Fragrant Lotus Bamboo Stick Noodles) - and gave my friend and me a better first impression. :) Stepping inside from the wintry evening, we were welcomed by a brightly lit, simply furnished restaurant. A glass partition towards the back revealed the Noodle workstation that the chef would use to make their signature Noodles from scratch.
(Note: all Chinese romanized names below lean towards a phonetic pronunciation (thanks for the help from one of my Chinese Hounds.) :)
According to the story printed on the table mat, Zhu Shen Mian (Bamboo Stick Noodles) were created in the Guangdong Province of China in 1940, by Chef Hu Min. His protoge ended up teaching Chef-Owner Chuck Lew and his brother, and they moved to the U.S. and opened up Bamboodles a few months ago.
On our first visit we missed the making of the fresh noodles by Chef Kenny Chen (whom Chef-Owner Lew has taught and entrusted the kitchen duties to), but we were able to catch the process on a second visit. :) The concept of the Bamboo Stick Noodles is to take a large piece of bamboo (bound at one end to the kneading table), and using the additional force of the person's body weight hopping on the bamboo, they are able to generate a more smooth, springy dough (and noodles) that have far more "chew" and "bite" to them than a regular hand-kneaded noodle.
I wasn't sure if that really worked or not, but we were eager to find out. (^_~) I started off with their Ju Hwa Mi Cha (Honey Chrysanthemum Tea). This was thankfully the made from actual Chrysanthemum Flowers variety (as opposed to the powdered, artificial teas at many Boba places)). It was only lightly sweet, with a nice Chrysanthemum Flower aroma coming through clearly. Definitely nice on a cold evening. :)
And then I glanced at the rest of the menu in more detail and noticed something I couldn't believe I was seeing in a small, hole-in-the-wall Chinese eatery in L.A.:
They only make 300 servings of their hand-made Noodles each day, and their Beef Stew Noodles are limited to only 100 servings per day! The same is true of their in-house-made Wontons and Dumplings!
They actually had a limited quantity of all of their menu items, and once they sell out for the day (regardless of when), they stop serving it and you have to come back another day! I haven't seen something like this since the legendary Ramen at Menya Kissou and Rokurinsha in Tokyo! This had the markings of a Noodle Specialist that actually *cared* about quality. I quickly placed our order and hoped that this would be the beginning of a great, new Specialist in L.A.! :)
The first order to arrive was their Hohng Shao Cha Ruo Mian (Green Tea Pork Noodles). Bamboodles focuses on only 2 broths to develop their various Soup Noodles: A Chicken and Pork Broth, and their Beef Broth. The Green Tea Pork Noodles are served with their Chicken and Pork Broth, slow-cooked for at least 4 hours daily. I took a sip of the Broth to start and it was an excellent, clean, pure soup, evenly treading the line with notes of a good Chicken Soup and Pork Soup, and not very oily. Murakami-san's Shio (Salt) Chicken Bone Soup edges out this one, but Bamboodles makes a very respectable version. MSG-wary folks will be glad to know that Chef Chen uses No MSG for any of the dishes and is proud of that fact.
I then took a bite of their famous Zhu Shen Mian (Bamboo Stick Noodles): Wow! Definitely very smooth and pliable, but there was a really nice "chew" and firmness to them at the same time. Outstanding.
This dish was coming together pretty nicely, and then I took a bite of their Hohng Shao Cha Ruo (Green Tea Pork):
An amazing cut of Stewed Pork that was less fatty than Pork Belly (more like Pork Shoulder), that was *so* soft and tender, and truly unctuous; this was the best Pork I've had in a Soup Noodle dish in L.A., surpassing Murakami-san's Pork Belly Chashu (but only barely)! Notes of Star Anise, Peppercorns, Green Tea Leaves, a light Soy Sauce, Rice Wine, and a freshness that reflected their limited quantities philosophy. This wasn't anything like the disappointing 2-3 days-old Pork Slices found in most Soup Noodles locally. This tasted like it was stewed and made just before we came in (it was made that day). (On my 3 visits to Bamboodles, the Pork has been consistently just as fresh and delicious.) Just amazing! (^_^)
Looking back on it, this is a great alternative to a pure Shio Ramen if you're in the mood for it and in the area.
Our next dish arrived soon after: Suan Rohng Hsia Lao Mian (Garlic Shrimp Lo Mein) with Buo Cai Mian (Spinach Noodles). In addition to the regular Bamboo Stick Noodles, Chef Chen makes an even more limited amount of Spinach Bamboo Stick Noodles. He takes two whole batches of fresh Spinach and blends the juice and pulp of the Spinach into each mini-batch of the Noodles! Looking closely, you can see the chunks of fresh Spinach in each Noodle. This was impressive.
(Note: You can choose to have Spinach Noodles instead of the regular Bamboo Stick Noodles with any of the dishes.)
Taking a bite of the Spinach Bamboo Stick Noodles, the Noodles themselves were as texturally delicious as before - a great bite and suppleness - with just a faint note of Spinach. It was blended with some of the sauteed Garlic already and matched nicely.
Besides the striking color and great texture, the actual Shrimp Lo Mein dish itself was OK. The Shrimp were butterflied and sauteed, and paired well with the Noodle, but it was a touch too dry overall (they didn't provide any bowl of soup on the side like the usual Lo Mein dish).
We also ordered their Hsiang Jien Jiao Zi (Pan Fried Dumplings). Their Dumplings and Wontons are handmade every day (skin and fillings), but the day's batch is wrapped up in the morning (before they open), and not rolled out and made-to-order (ala Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan)).
Still, we were excited about the Dumplings. Unfortunately, they were a bit disappointing: The Dumpling Skin was a bit too thick (probably the thickest Dumpling Skin I've had in recent memory(!)), and while the filling of Marinated Ground Pork and Nappa Cabbage tasted very fresh, it had a very mushy consistency that was a bit of a turnoff. It certainly wasn't a bad Pan Fried Dumpling, but there are better around the San Gabriel Valley.
On my second visit, I called up a SGV Hound to try out more of their dishes. :) On this visit, we started out with their Beijing Zha Jiang Mian (Beijing Zhajiang Mein). Bamboodles serves their version deconstructed, with the Cucumbers, Soy Beans, Bean Sprouts, Green Onions, and their Zha Jiang sauce (made with Marinated Ground Pork, Dried Tofu, Tian Mian Jiang, Doh Bahn Jiang) all on the side.
We mixed it all together and eager sampled the end result, which turned out to be disappointingly too salty. It wasn't slightly too salty, it was a salt bomb. I was really surprised, given the delicate, pure flavors of their Chicken and Pork Broth Soup and the Green Tea Pork. It was probably due to the concentrated amount of Doh Bahn Jiang and Tian Mian Jiang sauces. The Bamboo Stick Noodles themselves were as excellent as before.
We also tried their only other soup base for our second dish: Hsiang La Nio Ruo Mian (Spicy Beef Stew Noodles), paired with Buo Cai Mian (Spinach Bamboo Stick Noodles), which is limited to 100 servings per day.
This was a fragrant, focused, long-stewed Beef Broth, excellent in its MSG-free recipe, which makes it a good, safe option in the San Gabriel Valley if you're looking for Chinese-style Beef Noodle Soup. When paired with the fresh, outstanding Spinach Bamboo Stick Noodles, they are more appealing than Noodle House's version (where the Noodles are a bit too soft).
Unfortunately, the Beef Shank itself isn't cooked long enough: All the chunks were still tough and slightly chewy; another 1-2 hours of stewing would've made it perfect.
We had tried ordering their Wonton Soup Noodles, but they had completely sold out before dinner(!). We ended up trying their Zao Pai Jia Hsiang Jiao Zi (House Special Dumplings).
While their Pan Fried Dumplings were too thick and chewy for my tastes, I had hoped that their pure, boiled versions would make the skin softer and help with the overall execution. Alas, it didn't help: The Dumpling Skins were just as super-thick and chewy as before, but the filling in these Dumplings were better: Using Nanfang Bai Cai (Southern Napa Cabbage), Mushrooms and Marinated Ground Pork, the flavors came together nicely and had a good combination of the porkiness of the Ground Pork with the fragrant, earthy notes from the Mushrooms. Overall, for Shwei Jiao (Boiled Dumplings), Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan), 101 Noodle Express and Dumpling 10053 have better execution and are less thick / dense.
I still wanted to try their sold out Wonton Noodle Soup, so I enlisted more guests for my 3rd visit to Bamboodles a few days later. :) We arrived on a bright, sunny Winter day, and the place was packed. But since it was lunch, I was hopeful that their Wontons weren't sold out yet.
I quickly placed an order for their Hsien Hsia Hwun Twun Mian (Shrimp Wonton Noodles), with a side of Tsai Ruo Hwun Twun (Pork and Vegetable Wontons).
The first thing that struck us when it arrived was just how tiny their homemade Wontons were. They were probably about 1/3 the size of Foo Foo Tei's excellent, homemade Wontons (and about 1/2 the size of many Wontons around L.A.), but hopefully the taste would make up for that. (Here's a quick picture comparison between Bamboodles' Wonton and Foo Foo Tei's.)
Their Pork and Vegetable Wonton had a delicate skin and a solid porky flavor from the filling of Marinated Ground Pork and Southern Napa Cabbage. It was decent, but nothing outstanding. The Shrimp Wontons fared worse, however: A really fishy, heavily pungent Shrimp flavor erupted with each bite of the Shrimp Wontons, a sign of old product, which was disappointing. Ultimately, the Wontons at Foo Foo Tei (Hacienda Heights) are probably some of the best around, with their combination of Pork and Shrimp and Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe(!)).
We also tried one of their Appetizers: Hai Dai Tu Doh (Seaweed with Potato). This sounds really simple, but it was one of the best versions of this dish I've had in the San Gabriel Valley: Simply dressed slivers of Hai Dai Seaweed, with delicate slivers of Potatoes, dressed in Sesame Oil and a very light Chile Oil. A beautiful nutty fragrance and light kick, and a refreshing starter overall.
For our last dish, we ordered their Ji Hsi Mian (Chicken Noodle Soup).
Using their main, long-stewed Pork and Chicken Broth, this had hand-shredded pieces of Chicken, with some Jieh Lan (Chinese Broccoli) and Green Onions. The Chicken tasted fresh (cooked that day), as opposed to the more commonly found versions that use 1-3 day old chicken. It was good, but nothing exceeding expectations.
Service was just fine for a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley; getting Tea refills and other needs were as simple as flagging down a waiter or waitress. The owner stopped by each table to ask how the meal was, and eagerly listened to any comments from the customers in the restaurant, which was nice. Dishes range in price from $1.95 - $8.95, and the legendary Green Tea Pork Noodles are at an absurdly fair price of $6.95. We averaged about $10 per person (including tax and tip).
The newly opened Bamboodles (Lian Hsiang Zhu Shen Mian) has laid a strong foundation for becoming a Specialty Restaurant worth celebrating. It's already delivering some top notch, made-from-scratch Bamboo Stick Noodles, a No MSG environment, a pure Chicken-Pork Broth base, and one outstanding Green Tea Pork Noodle dish that puts nearly all competitors' Chicken Soup-based Noodle dishes to shame (outside of Foo Foo Tei (Hacienda Heights)'s Shio Ramen and Shin Mama's Tokyo Shinasoba). Their focus on limited quantities of Noodles and Broth to keep things fresh is another outstanding and rare trait.
Unfortunately, the rest of their dishes still need some work, like their Dumplings, their Wontons and Beef Noodle Soup amongst other things. With Chef-Owner Lew actively asking for feedback from his customers (during all 3 of my visits), here's to hoping they improve the other dishes to match the level of their Green Tea Pork Noodles. If they do, Bamboodles will become another rare, but celebrated Specialist in the L.A. culinary world.
*** Rating: 7.1 (out of 10.0) ***
(Rating for Green Tea Pork Noodles alone: 9.0 (out of 10.0))
Bamboodles (Lian Hsiang Zhu Shen Mian)
535 W. Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Tel: (626) 281-1226
Hours: 7 Days A Week, 11:00 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
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