L.A.'s Newest Bamboo-made(!) Noodle Restaurant (or, Home of the Amazing Green Tea Pork Noodles!) - Bamboodles (Lian Hsiang Zhu Shen Mian) [Review] w/ Pics!
(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.
Okay, got to try out this place last weekend. First I wanna point out something that most do not know, and that's about their promotion. On Sat and Sun, if you order any one single item on the menu, even just a drink for $2, you can get a bowl of 'dan-dan' noodle for $1. During the weekday, you just need to order one item from their menu and you can order one 'dan-dan' noodle per person. If 2 people go on Sat, you need to spend at least $3 per person. If 2 people go during the weekday, then you can get a drink for $2 and 2 'dan-dan' noodle for $1 each. So if you have 10 people going, then technically the meal can cost only $11 if that's all you ordered.
Anyhow, we ended up spending $7 per person and the food was just okay for me. There's a place right across the street next to the bowling place that serves way better noodle than Bamboodles. However, I gotta give a 8.5 for their fried dumplings.
This recommendation was so dissapointing that I had to create an account and express it.I was really excited after reading some of the posts and reviews. 45 min wait til somebody came over took our drink and appetizer order. Another 35 min to tell us they were out of the bean sprouts and bean curd appetizer. We ordered 4 main dishes, and 2 came out in 20 min. The waiter tried to clear the table when I told him we were still missing a noodles dish and the daily fresh vegetables dish. Total time at restaurant= 3.25hrs. Crazy! And the food was not worth the wait, if you're really a Chinese foodie.
I've been 5 or 6 times since your great post (THANKS!!!) and only experienced friendly and prompt service. Everything from beverages to appetizers to soup noodles and dry noodles have been spectacular! If it were not such a long drive, I would have been there a dozen times by now! Silly English name but great chow from people who care about their specialty. I hope Anthony Bourdain has a chance to try it, bamboo noodles are not a lost art in the SGV!
My husband and I went a few months ago (hadn't read your review yet), enjoyed the spicy beef noodle soup--very intensely flavored broth, and the beef was cooked until falling-apart tender. Today, faced with a cancelled lunch date and a craving for soup, I read your review and had to head right out the door :)
I ordered the green tea pork noodle soup w/ spinach noodles and the potato-seaweed salad, with hot honey chrysanthemum tea to drink. And since they've been running monthly one-dollar noodle specials, I ordered that too, somewhat against my better judgement (in very non-Chinese fashion, I was dining alone, and was afraid of ordering too much...and noodles don't save well as take-out).
The dollar special was billed "spicy pork noodles"--a big bowl of noodles topped with seasoned ground pork, scallions, ground peanuts, and a sesame-paste-based sauce. Tasty in a comforting way, but not the least bit spicy and generally lacking pizzazz. Very rich, good for dulling a big appetite...unfortunately also dulled my more modest appetite for the wonderful pork noodle soup, which was just as described. The potato salad was refreshing and not egregiously garlicky (though I adore garlic and rarely find it too much), and the tea was lovely.
You can now buy uncooked noodles ($1.50-$1.95 for 6 oz) and dumplings ($3.50-$3.95 for 10), as well as wonton wrappers ($3.50 for 4 oz.) to take home!
One thing I'd like to know is how the noodle dough is *actually* made in the kitchen. We see someone bouncing on bamboo a few times in the display window, but he starts with fully-mixed dough and we see nothing of the majority of the manufacturing process.
Also, what's that "C" rating all about? This place doesn't seem like the type to be so "traditional" as to earn less than a "B" from the Health Department, which makes me wonder about other, more mundane, reasons for that rating...
Good to hear you enjoyed the 2 noodle dishes. That Spicy Pork Noodles is a new item (it wasn't there the last I visited them). Thanks for your thoughts on that dish (and at $1 that's a great promotional price :). Wow, they didn't have a C when I went. Very interesting...
I haven't checked this thread in a while hence a tardy reply, exilekiss, but either I was mistaken about the C rating (it may have been displayed in the window of the Taiwanese place next door) or they've cleaned up their act, because when we went to Lu Gi the other night I saw an A rating in Bamboodles' window (and a B next door, so *somebody* improved).
My hubby and I made it to Bamboodles today and I have to say we LOVED the green tea pork noodles. Did you know they have 5 different kinds of noodles now. Regular, spinach, carrot, sesame (black) and extra egg. I had the extra egg and hubby had the spinach. We loved the broth and the pork was so good! My noodles were extra chewy which I loved. We also tried the dumplings and I have to say we liked them. I agree that the skin was a bit thick but they were really fresh and the filling was really good.
Thank you again for another great recommendation. We read your blog religiously and have tried great food in LA based on your recs. Thanks!
Thank you for the great report back! :) Wow, they have 5 different types of fresh-made Noodles now? That's impressive. I'm glad they're focusing on their strengths and knowing their previous types, that must mean the Carrot, Sesame and Extra Egg Noodles are made with fresh ingredients distilled down (and not pre-manufactured concentrate).
Like you, I love the Green Tea Pork Noodles... I'll have to bug some of my SGV Hounds and see if they want to go again to try these new types of Noodles soon. :)
We were there yesterday too and there was hardly anyone there, guess we missed Carlie! We tried the carrot and the spinach noodles -- carrot went well with the spicy beef, but didn't have much discernable carrot flavor. I wanted to try the black sesame but we didn't have enough people. Great place, although you'd think that since they have nice china plates and bowls they could put the drinks in something besides styrofoam.
Anyway thanks again Exile!
We liked the Green Tea Pork Noodles and the Wonton Noodles -- we liked the broth, the regular noodles and the spinach noodles. We would've liked the seaweed and potato appetizer if the garlic wasn't so overwhelming! They should've named it Seaweed Potato & Garlic appetizer; there's no mention (or warning) that there's any garlic in this appetizer.
Service was very good. But one guy (I assume the manager?) would bring his face close to yours to ask how you're enjoying the food -- a bit much.
Anyway, everything tasted really fresh and homemade. It's refreshing to eat Chinese food without msg!
Thanks for the report on your visit. I'm glad you enjoyed the Green Tea Pork Noodles and Wonton Noodles (although I wasn't a big fan of the Wonton Noodles personally ;).
That's weird: On my Seaweed & Potato Appetizer there was very little garlic, not too much. Maybe it was an unlucky batch (not mixed well enough) and you got too many chunks of Garlic (or I was lucky and didn't get that much).
That might've been Chef-Owner Chuck Lew. Was he a 30-40 something, medium-build man? When he asked us our thoughts he didn't get too close.
Overall, I'm glad you liked it. Hopefully they improve their other dishes soon.
I know you didn't care for the Wonton Noodles, but we thought the wontons had good flavor.
The garlic was very visible on the Seaweed & Potato appetizer, maybe we had a bad batch as you said.
That guy brought his face a bit close to us on two different days! Yes, he's just like how you described him.
I live in SG so I'm very familiar with all the different noodle shops and eats in the area. I would rate this place a 5 out of 10 at best. I had the most basic of eats, thats how I can tell if it is good or not, wonton noodle soup. The wonton were a tad on the small size, decent flavor cooked correctly nothing special. The noodles which supposedly is their specialty I saw nothing special, very ramen like, no chewy tender consistency.
I was pretty disappointed in this place based on seeing some actual bamboo masters make noodles before. I even saw the supposed bamboo master at work, all the guy did was press the noodles down 12 times (I counted) with the bamboo pole, mostly just creating noise and not accomplishing much. It seemed all just for show with no technic or mastery. Then quickly leaving to the back with his sad looking pile of noodle dough.
I also had some pan fried dumplings which were not bad, and the bamboo appetizer marinated in garlic (too much if you ask me). The dumplings were decent, tender skin good filling.
The overall service was good, but this place is very disappointing and quite frankly overpriced. There are plenty of noodle shops in the area that serve a better bowl of noodles that don't have this very fake show.
After leaving Bamboodles, I felt more like I had been BAMBOOZLED.
Looks like you tried a few of the items I felt were disappointing as well (as noted above). Like you, I thought their Pan Fried Dumplings were decent at best. Their Wontons were... not so good for me as well.
However, for my 3 visits, their Noodles were consistently good; springy, good "chew" on them, and the No MSG, Long-Stewed Broth had a good clarity and pureness.
The one thing that has me interested in this place is their Green Tea Pork Noodles (if you find yourself back, give that a try, maybe w/ the Spinach-infused Noodles as well). Thanks for your thoughts.
I am a loyal follower! You have proved yourself amazing with your many finds and your write-ups are engaging. Like many Hounds who have posted here, I don't know how you have the time or the stomach to consume so much deliciousness...but I am most appreciative that you do it and continue to do it!
I look forward to visiting Bamboodles this coming weekend.