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Jonathan's Worldly Eats: Confessions of a Foodie - Great NY Noodle Town

JonathansWorldlyEats Jan 5, 2010 09:02 AM

I can think of no better introduction to my Foodie adventures than with a declaration of what I believe to be the single greatest restaurant in the United States; the Great NY Noodle Town. This Cantonese gem of Chinatown was once one of New York’s best kept secrets. But being the Mecca of Chinese restaurants for self-proclaimed Foodies, government elite, glitzy celebrities, and snooty locals alike, the wonders of the Great NY Noodle Town are quickly becoming more widely known. Unfortunately, this means you will typically have to wait in line. But no worries, the queue moves quickly and it is certainly worth the wait. It is also important to note that this is real Chinese food... Chinese food like you (probably) have never experienced before. They do not serve Mongolian Beef or Kung Pao Chicken, so spare yourself the embarrassment and don’t ask…

With the gusto of a lion examining his pride, I enter the neon-lighted doorway of my favorite eatery and scan the dining room in hopes of making eye contact with a waiter. Once our eyes meet, the connection is made. I raise my hand, four fingers extended: the Ross Family has arrived. As we sit down, we fool ourselves by scrutinizing the menu; what a silly charade. We have no need for a menu. The four of us have a standing order at Noodle Town that encompasses a spectacularly balanced variety of the most mouth-watering offerings of this renowned Foodie paradise.

Winter, spring, summer, and fall; regardless of the temperature or the season, the meal must always begin with a piping hot bowl of roast pork wonton soup. The handmade wontons are tenderly stuffed with plump shrimp and perfectly complimented with a hint of ginger. The broth is rich and flavorful with a taste that is evident of hours of work and decades of experience. The bowl is crowned with a generous portion of decadently succulent char sui that is, of course, expertly roasted in house and chopped to order. The vegetable dishes are next: sautéed pea shoots with garlic, steamed Chinese broccoli stems and leaves with pungent oyster sauce, and Chinese eggplant in a savory (NOT sweet!) garlic sauce. I cannot possibly explain the flavors occurring in these oriental treats other than to say that you will never be able to eat a humble vegetable in your life without going back in time and savoring this moment. Next comes the subject of salt-bakes. The question is not whether to order the perfectly fried seafood morsels; rather it is a debate between Mom and Dad’s choice, salt-baked shrimp, versus my personal favorite, salt-baked squid. Alex loves them both and has been known to stealthily eat the last shrimp/squid slice on the plate without asking permission, so you would be well advised to forget your good-manners in addition to any regard for pain and consume as many sizzling pieces as possible while you have the chance. All of NY Noodle Town’s salt-bakes are flawlessly fried and served with thinly sliced hot peppers. The heat from the peppers melds with the saltiness of the fish to provide a deep-fried experience so rich and rewarding that you’ll consider it sinful. If soft-shell crabs are in season, go with them and forget the shrimp/squid, it is a sacrifice worth making for this rare treat. By this time, Alex is enjoying the most brilliant Sweet and Sour Chicken known to mankind. Noodle Town prepares this dish using a homemade sauce that packs a vinegary punch with a nursing sweetness that makes eating more than one of the crispy, sheet-like pieces of white meat chicken an irresistible temptation. Pace yourself because the climax of the meal is imminently approaching. Every single offering served up at NY Noodle Town will make your toes curl with pleasure, but nothing brings me closer to tears than their famous Ginger and Scallion Lobster. Noodle Town’s master chefs utilize a seemingly illicit medley of wok-sorcery paired with an ancient Chinese understanding of flavor combinations to take a simple crustacean and transform it into an intoxicatingly scrumptious shellfish banquet. The entrée casts a spell that will mesmerize you even after the last chunk of glorious lobster is long gone. What may seem like an institutionalized man’s way of combating separation anxiety, I end the meal by chewing on the empty lobster shell fragments to fully savor the dish’s magnificent sauce. It only gets worse when the waiter removes the plates from the table, returning with ice cold orange slices to cleanse the palate. They are refreshing, but by no means adequate substitutes for the copious amounts of Chinese soul food in which you just indulged. With this, the symphony that is dining at the Great NY Noodle Town is complete. I’d like to be cliché and say that you will have sweet dreams later in the evening but the truth is you will probably be lying in bed later; fervently craving one last wonton or a fragment of salt-baked squid. I’m just warning you in advance.

The Great NY Noodle Town is located at 28½ Bowery Street between Canal and Bayard, across from the Manhattan Bridge. They serve up the best Chinese food outside of China from 9 AM to 4 AM (yes, that's eighteen hours a day, seven days a week~) and can be reached at (212) 349-0923. Our favorite server is Bonzai, but once you get to know the waiters, they are all pleasant. Prices are extremely reasonable, so go hungry! It's a meal worth the life-long addiction...

*A version of this article was published on worldlyeats.blogspot.com on November 1, 2008

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Great Ny Noodle Town
28 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

 
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    fourunder RE: JonathansWorldlyEats Jan 5, 2010 09:08 AM

    Nice review, but I would argue New York NoodleTown has not been a secret for the last 40 years. Also, you made these mistakes by not ordering the following:

    Steamed Sea Bass w/ Ginger and Scallions
    Roast Suckling Pig or Roast Pig
    A separate plate of Red Roast Pork.....it doesn't count in the Won Ton soup alone.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fourunder
      JonathansWorldlyEats RE: fourunder Jan 5, 2010 09:19 AM

      Hahaha! Yes, it is true that among New Yorkers, Noodle Town is no secret. While I am originally from the City, down here in North Cackalacky I am frequently asked where to get the best Chinese. Surprisingly, many people do not know of the all-mighty woks of this historic Foodie haven. A shame!

      Since originally reviewing Noodle Town, I have added all three of those dishes to my list of regulars. If fact, the roast sucking pig (the mother is in fact the suckling) was so delicious I decided to prepare one myself at home. It wasn't as good as theirs, but it fulfilled my need for rendered pork fat at the time! I have pictures of the little cutie at http://worldlyeats.blogspot.com/2009/...

    2. g
      gutsofsteel RE: JonathansWorldlyEats Jan 5, 2010 09:36 AM

      "the best Chinese food outside of China?" Young man, you need to get out more. For starters, try the salt baked squid at Congee, a restaurant on the west side of Bowery, a block or two north of Canal.

      I would also recommend that you experience some of the fine Sichuan food around NYC, the quality of which is superior to the Cantonese food found in NYC.

      1. erica RE: JonathansWorldlyEats Jan 5, 2010 12:41 PM

        Jonathan: The reason that they do not serve King Pao chicken is not because this dish is not "real Chinese food." Kung Pao chicken, often spelled Gong Bao, is a Sichuan dish and NYN is a Cantonese roast meat place.

        10 Replies
        1. re: erica
          JonathansWorldlyEats RE: erica Jan 5, 2010 09:39 PM

          I have spent years living in China and Japan and my experiences confirm that Noodle Town is top notch. Having dined in Sichuan Province, I am unimpressed with New York's offerings. I am sorry if you disagree.

          Erica, I mentioned that Noodle Town is Cantonese and I am quite familiar with Gong Bao. The statement was directed towards followers of P.F. Chang's who do not recognize the significant provincial variations in Chinese cuisine.

          Thank you for your input.

          1. re: JonathansWorldlyEats
            squid kun RE: JonathansWorldlyEats Jan 6, 2010 12:35 AM

            Thank you for your input, too. Appreciate the update on Noodletown. Even if it dates from 2008, it might give newcomers a sense of this perennial Chowhound favorite.

            But judging from the level of Chinese food knowledge I see on this site daily, I think you may have misjudged your readers ("They do not serve Mongolian Beef or Kung Pao Chicken, so spare yourself the embarrassment and don’t ask…"). Recent case in point: Have you checked out the Xian place that just opened its first Manhattan location? New York hounds know it from its original Queens locations and are all over it ... http://www.chow.com/digest/2010/01/xi...

            Speaking of Sichuan, I agree with gutsofsteel that it's one of the better-represented Chinese cuisines in Manhattan. What's been your experience at the board favorites, especially Szechuan Gourmet on 39th, probably the best in the borough? And, farther afield, Spicy & Tasty and Little Pepper in Flushing?

            -----
            Szechuan Gourmet
            21 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018

            Xi'an Famous Foods
            88 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

            1. re: squid kun
              g
              gutsofsteel RE: squid kun Jan 6, 2010 01:34 AM

              I'd be curious to hear of your experiences with Sichuan food in NYC which lead you to be unimpressed. How about Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge, and any of the Grand Sichuans in Manhattan (my favorite being the one on 2nd Ave/55th St)? Or Wu Liang Ye on 48th St?

              (And although you don't live in NYC, Jonathan, do check out the newly opened restaurants Wa Jeal and Szechuan Chalet on the upper east side when you have an opportunity)

              I note that you declare Noodletown "the best Chinese food outside of China." I'm curious as to what other Chinese food experiences you've had outside of China which lead you to that conclusion. Have you eaten in the great Chinese restaurants of Vancouver, for example? And what other Cantonese restaurants have you visited in NYC?

              1. re: gutsofsteel
                d
                deabot RE: gutsofsteel Jan 6, 2010 05:55 AM

                I tried Great NY Noodletown on New Years Eve for a late dinner, love the hours. I had the beef chow fun with veggies, it was passable but I think any respectable noodle house joint in Toronto or Vancouver would have put forth a better version.

                I will have to give their salt baked dishes a try sometime though, thanks for the review.

                1. re: gutsofsteel
                  l
                  Lau RE: gutsofsteel Jan 6, 2010 01:24 PM

                  not to bash, but i agree with the above posters about the sichuan cuisine in NY. It's clearly not up to the food in chengdu (i spent several weeks just eating there...amazing food), but its actually pretty decent, not sure where you went in NY to try it. I suggest going to flushing (i think Spicy & Tasty and Little Pepper are the best although the good places in the city like szechuan gourmet are good, but i think S&G and LP are better)

                  as far as "the best Chinese food outside of China" agree with gutsofsteel. I mean its good, but "the best Chinese food outside of China" i don't think thats the case at all. Chinese food is clearly better in canada, LA and SF (i'm from LA). I mean even in NY at least for bbq (one of great NY Noodletown's specialities) Big Wong's is arguably as good (or better), salt baked squid is better at Cantoon Garden and while they have good wonton noodle soup their competition is pretty much non-existent b/c everywhere makes it awful. Great NY Noodletown would be a C or D grade place in hong kong.

                  i like Great NY Noodletown and i'm not saying that its not good b/c it is, but managing expectations here a bit for someone who's never been there

                  1. re: Lau
                    Miss Needle RE: Lau Jan 6, 2010 02:09 PM

                    I'm wondering if he tried Szechuan food at Cantonese restaurants. A lot of Cantonese places have their own spin on Szechuan food. Personally I'm not a fan of it, preferring to have stuff like mabo tofu at a Szechuan place. I'm thinking an outsider would probably assume the most "authentic" Chinese restaurant would be in Chinatown. While that theory may hold for Cantonese cuisine, it isn't the case for Szechuan as the best places are located outside of Chinatown -- something that is probably counterintuitive to most folks.

                    Your Chengdu trip sounds awesome! I haven't been to the Szechuan province, but the best Szechuan food I've had was in Hong Kong -- definitely in a different league than the best in Manhattan. But I'll bet the food you've had was a lot better.

                    1. re: Miss Needle
                      l
                      Lau RE: Miss Needle Jan 6, 2010 03:14 PM

                      that could be the case. cantonese people dont really like truly spicy food generally

                      food in sichuan is amazing although it unreal how spicy it is (india and chengdu were the spiciest food ive ever eate), its been a long time though 7 years to be exact.

                2. re: squid kun
                  Miss Needle RE: squid kun Jan 6, 2010 06:48 AM

                  "But judging from the level of Chinese food knowledge I see on this site daily, I think you may have misjudged your readers "

                  What the OP wrote is a cut and paste from his blog. So the OP wasn't really addressing the CH community with his comments. I agree with you that there are a lot of well-informed members here on this board and impressed with their breadth of knowledge.

                3. re: JonathansWorldlyEats
                  erica RE: JonathansWorldlyEats Jan 6, 2010 03:37 AM

                  Jonathan it is a nice effort although I do agree that perhaps you are not yet familiar with some of our better Sichuan eateries. I am curious about your experiences eating Sichuan food in China. Where did you live--in Chengdu?

                  1. re: erica
                    Lightsuprooms RE: erica Jan 6, 2010 06:01 AM

                    He probably lived in Canton.. or TienJin.. I wonder if he's tried SF or LA Chinese (MP has the best chinese IMHO, and I grew up in Taiwan and HK)

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