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A clean, well-lit place that serves straightforward Chinese dishes, the Noodle Café has made itself a welcome addition to the Loop's never-ending ethnic options. Inexpensive entrées include the usual suspects -- sweet-and-sour chicken, cashew chicken, pepper steak, fried tofu with vegetables, General Tso's chicken -- but the five noodle dishes are the real reason to stop in, especially during the winter months. Generous amounts of fresh cilantro, celery and carrots add grace notes to the broth and noodles; takeout servings are large enough to last for two or even three meals. Owner Peggy Hou has been in the St. Louis restaurant business for more than 25 years, and in this little storefront spot she's got another winner.
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A Simply Awesome
Chinese Noodle Café
By Tim Potthoff
Fast, fresh and tantalizing to the taste buds, hot and sour soup at Chinese Noodle Café is a compelling reason to visit this extraordinary restaurant. The similar, but diversely sliced vegetables are just as persuasive. Directly across from the Pageant, the eclectic mix of privately owned (or non chain) merchant shops and restaurants is another enticing reason.
I recently visited Chinese Noodle café on a busy Saturday night and a less crowded early Sunday evening. The interior, with its mixture of light and dark oranges, pea and avocado greens and yellow crème colors, as strange as this may sound, is just as inviting as the hot and sour soup. The restaurant is in a long and narrow older building with a refinished original wood floor. The lighting is bright and cheerful but not blinding. Restaurateur Peggy Hou greets customers with a “Hi, how are you.”
My Saturday night visit started with hot and sour soup as an appetizer. The soup is laden with carrots, strands of leafy wood ear mushrooms, crunchy slices of bamboo, water chestnuts and opposing chunks of soft tofu. The delicate blend of spicy broth with vinegar overtones topped with fresh cilantro and red pepper flakes makes the hot and sour soup a must order.
Appropriately, the restaurant offers seven signature Chinese Noodle soup specials. They range from seafood, beef, chicken, and vegetarian rice sticks to pork chop noodles soup, which has an entire pan fried pork chop on top of the noodles. This Saturday night, I chose the beef noodles soup as my first entrée. The quart sized bowl was enough for at least two people. Thin, very hot beefy broth with slices of ginger will definitely help clear the sinuses. The basic spaghetti-style noodles float underneath the vegetables and beef chunks. The vegetables range from angle cut celery, julienned zucchini to thin julienned carrots. The large beef chunks are very tender, but chewy with some fat still attached. This doesn’t take away, but adds to the rustic texture of the soup. This beef noodle soup has made me want to try the other six.
I continued with the beef theme by ordering spicy Hunan style beef. A red pepper logo stamped on the menu indicated this as a spicy dish, but the flavorsome brown sauce was only slightly spicy. My tastes require more. The thick cut carrots, half dollar sized water chestnuts, and broccoli florets; all crunchy, were offset by the very tender beef slices. A generous portion of white rice and an eggroll filled the entire oval plate. This dish was not disappointing.
I began my Sunday evening visit with an appetizer of crab rangoon. The six deep-fried pieces were appealingly hot and filled with generous amounts of cream cheese and imitation crab bits. These were like the bad parts of a Rembrandt painting: didn’t bother me. They were served with a fingerbowl of sweet and sour sauce with a dollop of hot mustard sauce on top. Swirling a piece of crab rangoon in this mixture provided the perfect bridge to an entrée of cashew chicken.
I continued my Sunday night with an order of cashew chicken. The usual suspect vegetables were present, celery, carrots and water chestnuts. But this time, they were cubed. Plenty of tender chicken slices were accompanied by a different brown sauce with bits of garlic that shouted in my mouth. Vegetable fried rice replaced the typical white rice. The ample supply of toasted cashew nuts on top made my last dish simply awesome.
A couple of additional notes; Peggy Hou is a generous person who offered a free bowl of hot and sour soup to the people waiting for their takeout orders. Her generosity is also evidenced by the large portion sizes.
I also noticed the basic assortments of four vegetables in each dish were cut in different ways to give each dish its own life. What a simple idea. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the hardest to do, but this has definitely been accomplished at Chinese Noodle Café.
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