Noodle Loft in Beijing (Mianku)
After seeing Tony Bourdain's visit to Noodle Loft, I was keen to visit this restaurant. My Chinese colleagues weren't so enthusuastic, but they wanted to respectfully accommodate their visiting American colleague and agreed to join me there for dinner. Even they agreed that despite the humble food, it was an exceptional restaurant.
The restaurant features an open kitchen where the chefs make a wide variety of noodles. You can watch them rolling out meters-long strands of green noodles (colored with spinach), or stretching long strands, or artistically cutting them with scissors and making the pieces arc across the air into pots of water. There must be a dozen different techniques, all rendered with dramatic panache. The noodles are served with your choice of sauce. We tried several and all were good. My favorite was spicy eggplant and pork sauce.
In addition to noodles, we also had a plate of pickled tofu and a plate of mixed veggies featuring lotus root, fungus, eggplant, and cucumber. I'm not usually the person who goes for seconds and thirds on the veggies, but these were absolutely fabulous.
For dinner we had some kind of starchy root (maybe manioc?) that had been doused with freshly made carmel. It was served in a pile with a cup of ice water on the side. The object is to quickly eat the stuff before it turns to a solid mass. You grab a piece with your chopsticks, dunk it in the cold water, harden the candy shell, put the piece on your plate, and then repeat the exercise until you have a plate full. The melted sugar is so hot that the individual pieces stay warm quite awhile. yum.
No. 20 Dawang Road, Chaoyang District
I almost forgot to mention another great meal I had in Beijing. We had Peking Duck at DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant at No. 3 Tuanjiehu Beikou, Chaoyang District. It was aromatic, succulent and delicious, with crispy skin and tender meat. I loved the carving and presentation. There were several accompaniments, including a small dish of sugar. I found that a surprising condiment, but it was nice with the duck. The pancakes were very nice, too, and they replenished our supply when it ran out.
The place was packed, and there were very few Westerners. I ended up at this place because it's practically across the street from my company's office in Beijing and several of my colleagues insisted on taking me to this place. I got the feeling this is where locals go for a fancy duck dinner.
We had several side dishes, including some wonderful braised green vegetables. That sounds boring, but they were terrific, with a hint of ginger in a thin glaze. We also had some kind of fish on little cucumber disks. It looked nice, but tasted a bit bland.
I would go back for the duck.
I love Mianku, and have been going there for several years. The food may be simple (Shanxi is not famous for his high-falutin' tastes) but it's nicely presented, and the range of dishes is great. Also, most new-to-the-restaurant foreigners are greatly amused by the "Shredded Ass Meat" translation of one of the dishes on the menu. Was just there this past weekend, and the food was great.
If you like the Tuanjiehu Beikou location of Da Dong, you might also like to try the new location off of Dong Si (Kuan Jie) in the old Qing Dynasty granary area. We were there this weekend for the first time and found the ducks to be excellent and the other dishes to be the equal of those at the older location. Also, you get a good view of the duck roasting ovens while you wait for your table (and the same boxes of Almaden wine to keep you lubricated while doing so).