Trendy Asian Favorites Done Well at Philly's CHeU Noodle Bar
It feels a little trite to report about another Momofuku-ish noodle joint, but the food at Philly's CHeU Noodle Bar is worth talking about. It follows an increasingly familiar track of putting its own personality behind trendy Asian dishes—dumplings, hand-pulled noodles, ramen, curry, and pork belly buns, to name a few—but the execution is top-notch and the food is tasty. Can't ask for much more than that.
The Miso Ramen ($13), for example, is stellar. I've had two other bowls of ramen since then and it's the only one I'm still thinking about. The rich, buttery broth stops shy of being cloying, and its flavor is at once clean, round, pork-y (but not funky), and complexly sweet—likely, a product of the miso and the black garlic. The liquid is filled out with tender-but-intact, deep pink slabs of shoulder meat, crisp sea beans, a perfectly soft-cooked egg half (the creamy yolk adds even more body to the broth), and squiggly alkaline noodles.
Hand Torn noodles ($13) are another keeper: wide, ribbon-y, and long enough that they had to be gently untangled with the chopsticks to get them out of the bowl, which is a plus in my book. Flavorwise, they're a clear departure from more traditional styles found in Xi'an-style noodle houses. Instead of loads of garlic, dry chiles, and vinegar, they're tossed with silky, gamy-sweet hunks of slow-cooked lamb neck, pickled mustard greens, plumped dates, and sesame seeds. The concept almost works; if the mustard weren't quite so sharp and the dates not quite so sweet, this dish would be just about flawless.
The other dish we tried, the Dumplings in Chili Oil ($5), were good, if underwhelming. The wrapper was great—thin, wrinkly, and tender, but resilient. The chili oil was rich but not especially roast-y and almost spicy enough. But the pork filling (which changes daily) needed more aromatic depth and a bit less sweetness. That said, the garnish was a game-changer and maybe the best use of quinoa I've encountered. The frilly seeds are fried, which made their natural crunch pop big time.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Senior Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.