Speaking of fancy, I got completely side tracked from the Fancy Food Show in Chicago this weekend and… didn’t attend at all. It didn’t help that I blindly trusted a coworker’s dates (who didn’t end up coming) and bought my train tickets without double checking that the actual SHOW didn’t start until Sunday evening, and it was only seminars starting Saturday. I was hurled into a noodle tangent as soon as I stepped off the train anyway.
As soon as I arrived, my now-Chicago-familiar friend (fully aware of my plans for world domination) suggested we eat at a restaurant downtown called Joy Yee’s Noodles. Excellent, a coworker suggested I eat there claiming it had the “best customer service I have ever seen at an Asian restaurant”. Good thing I didn’t believe him, because after waiting 10 minute before even being greeted at our table (which felt like I was sitting in a warehouse), wait staff would sprint by, throwing our appetizers and drinks on the table without skipping a step. When we tried to grab one to ask where our other 2 entrees were after the first was delivered under 5 minutes after it was ordered, the guy held up his finger when I was mid-sentence, and ran off. In the span of a half-hour, our three entrees were delivered one by one. The noodle soup was nothing special, something I would probably find in a Chinatown. The broth wasn’t very flavorful, and the noodles tasted starchy, but nothing horrible. (just not Momofuku!). They had an impressively large menu (both in size and quantity). I could barely hold this 12″x18″ book of a menu full of pictures, and then text descriptions. Their huge bubble tea/milk shake booth that was working none stop churning out jumbo sized green tea milk shakes, fruit smoothies, etc. (inevitably, that was the best part of the restaurant) .
Next on my list was Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi.
This destination was turning into my priority after learning Takashi was a guest speaker at the Traverse City Epicurean and was named best chef of 2000 in the midwest, blah blah… Also a previous zcobber (Brandon Mccall at Everyday Food) suggested I check him out since it was relatively new. I started to get suspicious when I found out it was on the 7th floor of a Macy’s department store downtown. Indeed, it is a counter in a food court at Macy’s.
Not the most ideal location I had in mind for an amazing noodle shop, but then again bamboo carts in Taiwanese night markets are deceivingly delicious. Alas, it was the best service I’d experienced all weekend, partly due to me arriving 15 minutes before they closed at 3pm. There were only 3 soups to choose from on the menu, and 3 fried rice dishes. I tried the Shoyu pork ramen noodle soup and the two chefs in white chef coats (don’t see that everyday in a food court), prepared it. Again, it was nothing special. The cashier said “of course!” they make their own noodles, but I should’ve asked if they did behind the counter in the 3×3 room in the back…. or off site. I could taste the difference in the noodles, but I can’t pick out how it was different or better. The broth was overly salty (soy sauce or salt?) and the meat could have been fresher and more slices. Better than Joy Yee’s though, and this would explain why there’s no website for the shop.
It looks exactly how it tasted. The tea-boiled egg was the best part. The bok choy was hard to eat in a huge chunk, there wasn’t a lot of meat and it wasn’t anything special. Everything looks like it’s floating in broth with nothing under it.
Saturday night we headed out to Schaumburg to try Yu’s Mandarin, which advertises it’s “magnificent glass backdrop” where you can watch everything going on in the kitchen- not just the chefs cooking (whoa). They had an impressive table turn over time. We walked in around dinner rush to a completely full, large waiting area, and full (bigger than the Roadhouse) dining areas, and only waiting 20 minutes at the most. My friend said the chef holds workshops to show how he makes his hand-made noodles (definitely looking into that), and there were pictures of him pulling long strands of dough into noodles on the walls. Past that, it was your normal Chinese restaurant in an American suburb. If you didn’t speak fluent Chinese (or Korean), you would expect to see deep-fried chicken nuggest, with a vat of neon colored sauces to dump on top. If you from the motherland, you got the special treatment- 3 more waiters, plastic chopsticks, and the chef’s specialty dishes (they looked delicious, but nowhere on the menu). Although my friend is Korean, and I know some Mandarin, we’re no where near fluent; hence, we got 1/4th of a non-english speaking waiter, disposable chopsticks, and the American menu. We shared 2 big bowls of noodles- both screamed Korean. One was not really a soup- but was a big bowl of noodles without broth, and a huge helping of this black bean-based sauce. The other was more of a ramen-style soup, with seafood, but had so much kim-chi spice to it, that it was BRIGHT orange. Both were borderline edible, but maybe it was because the black noodle dish looked like an octopus inked all over it, and was very visually appetizing. Through all the flavor disguise, I couldn’t really tell how the noodles themselves were, but they seemed like normal ramen-style noodles. The noodle workshops are definitely something I want to look into though, it could be a good starting point to learn how to make them.
I found a used book in a hole-in-the-wall bookstore in Wicker Park by Jacki Passmore, who traveled around China and Asia for over 30 years and studied the cuisine. It’s my new bible.