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May 8, 2012 08:00 PM

Chowdown at Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

Despite a long rush hour slog in rainy weather for some, the 9 hounds who met at this 5 month old Chelmsford restaurant tonight were happy to have made the trip. The 5 no-shows missed out on a fine feast, of which the more tech-savvy diners will post photos. We had several orders of most of the dishes, which we divvied up using a knife, tongs, and a ladle. The huge platter of chicken and vegetables, a very spicy dish, is a non-menu item, as was a non-menu, tasty dish of shredded lamb over the handpulled noodles which are made in-house, as are the thinner noodles in the pork soup. Everyone loved the small lamb skewers, which are soon to be added to the menu. Though the lamb is grilled, and thoroughly cooked through, it is sublimely tender.

As mentioned in other posts about this tiny, no-frills jewel, the hand-pulled noodles with garlic and cilantro, bathed in chili oil, were the winner and still champion.

I've participated in CH for several years - it was nice to finally put faces and real names to screen names.

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  1. Sorry I missed this one, but here's another few photos from Gene's two days earlier. The off-menu items sound delicious!

    1. I second what Greygarious says above so beautifully. And you know how Anthony Bourdain jets to some corner of the globe to sample a cuisine you've never tasted? At the Chowdown I felt like I got to have that sort of adventure in the good company of other 'Hounds, Well, except I drove. And um, Gene's has been under my nose for a few months just daring me to stop by.

      What blew me away about Gene's food is the use of spices, which I tasted as bold but still complex and subtle. For example, the group's favorite dish of hand-pulled noodles with chili oil had a rounded, sort of smoky chili note. (The closest flavor to it in my past experience is Spanish smoked paprika.)

      The shredded lamb over noodles--which isn't a menu item at present--had a big flavor of cumin I enjoyed a lot. (The flavor profile of this recalled Indian cuisine for me. Although again, Gene's dish is very much its own thing.)

      Even the very spicy chicken and vegetable dish (off-menu) was not all about the heat. After the first sensation of hot, other spices like star anise balanced things out for my palate. Full disclosure on this one: I am a heat-seeker.

      A huge thank you to Greygarious for organizing last night's Chowdown and the fellow adventurous 'Hounds who joined in.

      1. It was an amazing, rainy night at Gene's. yes, it was so good to put faces to hounds - and to see a hound I had met for the first (and only) time at the chowdown at Mittaheap in Lynn!
        The food is - extraordinary. And Gene's pride in cooking, and creating for us was as wonderful as his food (heck, I'm gushing, but it's genuine). He came out and talked with us for about 20 min about his grandfather's restaurant, cooking, future plans.

        I liked the pork sandwich better than the beef - thought the bread was chewier. This is a dish my allergic-to-spice husband can eat. I loved the lamb and noodles, and the lamb skewers. And nearly passed out when Gene came out of the kitchen with about a 24" pan heaped with chicken and vegetables, with those noodles underneath. We asked about the spices - and he said "everything." I got cinnamon, too - along with the fistfuls of bird chilis to open up the flavor and warm this spice-head.
        It was not quite like anything I've ever had before, interesting and probably addictive.
        Thanks Grey - wonderful job putting this together!

        1. Thanks for the report! I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures.

          Are there plans to put these non-menu items on the menu?

          1. before I post pictures, is anyone opposed to me posting photos of 'Hounds? (just making sure ... I really like having people subjects in my photos.)

            11 Replies
            1. re: tammyh

              It;s fine by me, but I don;t think you should identify people by name.

                1. re: tammyh

                  alright, sorry for the wait. can't figure out how to add captions (is it possible??) so here's a rundown, L-R, T-B:

                  1 & 2: the #5 house noodle soup. very light flavors IMO. slightly tangy/sour. barely spicy (was it supposed to be?). thin noodles.

                  3: the #4 biang biang hand-pulled noodles. garlicky, yes. tasty, indeed. my favorite.

                  4: the beef and peppers flatbread (#1). I forgot to take a picture of the pork flatbread (#3), but probably because my hands were covered in grease from holding it (and therefore was hesitant to pick up the camera). I believe the group was split over which we liked better. be warned--it is indeed messy to eat!

                  5: a giant dish of something spicy (with more biang biang noodles, chicken, and potatoes). not on the menu, and I think you have to request it ahead of time. too much heat for me personally, but if you're a heat seeker like tomatotomato ... by all means go at it! (FYI, this is the dish in which cocoabrioche picked up hints of cinnamon.)

                  6: my personal mess. the lamb w/ biang biang noodles (mentioned by greygarious and tomatotomato) is on the plate at the bottom left. a very mild and still-flavorful dish that's not on the menu. this was my fave along with the garlicky biang biang noodles, and I hope Gene adds it to the rotation. the other dishes here are the garlicky biang biang noodles at the top, and the spicy chicken biang biang noodles at the right.

                  7: Gene!

                  8: the lamb skewers, not on the menu. definitely moist and tender. slightly sweet, somewhat spicy. really really well made.

                  1. re: tammyh

                    looks great. just curious, the noodles in picture #3 look like hand shaved rather than hand pulled, is that possible? or are they the same noodles as in pictures #1&2?

                    1. re: qianning

                      believe it or not, they're pulled! I thought they were shaved, too, but Gene says they're pulled. I wanted to catch photos of them making the noodles, but alas, I was distracted chatting it up with the other Hounds. :)

                      1. re: tammyh

                        does he have shaved noodles on the menu?

                        1. re: qianning

                          nope. didn't get to ask him if he plans on putting it on the menu either.

                          from what I gathered, there are only three kinds of noodles that he makes:
                          - the thinner ones from the house noodle soup (I forget the process ... )
                          - the biang biang noodles (hand-pulled, super long, thick and wide) from the You Po dish.
                          - the cold liang pi noodles that are available only on weekends (starch water/paste that's steamed as flat sheets)

                          all noodles are made from wheat flour. no rice flour used.

                          1. re: tammyh

                            Many thanks! You Po Shaved Noodles are one of my favorite foods....but I guess I'll have to get there and try the hand pulled version, which really does look great in your picture.

                            1. re: qianning

                              I did not attend, but I know Gene prefers to say "ripped" noodle for the You Po. He "rips" a chunk of dough off the daily batch and then pulls it out. I have seen videos of cooks do the shaved noodle trick, but I believe it was in either Beijing or Shanghai. Perhaps it's not a Xi'an specialty?

                              1. re: tatsu

                                You can readily get shaved noodles in Beijing. But I believe they are most associated with Shanxi which is the province just to the east of Shaanxi --that's not a typo, these two provinces have very similar looking names in English--, of which Xi'an is the capital. So you have a good point in that they aren't exactly a Xi'an specialty.

                                But then again, "pulled" noodles are most associated with Lanzhou, which is the capital of Gansu, the province just to the west of Shaanxi. And I used to frequent a Xi'an restaurant in Beijing that made great you po shaved noodles; have never found them in the U.S. including in Flushing chinatown, which is why I'm craving them!

                    2. re: tammyh

                      For fans of the lamb skewers: These are usually available on weekends. Gene posts a handwritten sign in Chinese with the price ($1.50 per skewer). Or simply ask, which is what we did last Friday night. A few skewers paired great with the biang biang hand-pulled noodles in chili oil. If you take your dinner to-go like we did, then you can sip a nice pinot noir at home along with these dishes.Happiness.