*** UPDATE 2: The original Chef and staff have moved to open up a new restaurant: Fu Fang Yuan (Noodle House)! Reviewed here.
*** UPDATE: Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan) was sold to new ownership sometime around the end of Dec. '08 / Jan. '09. Currently, their original chef and entire kitchen staff have left and been replaced. This review is no longer valid. :(
Current Rating: 6.9 (out of 10.0)
This past weekend, after visiting a Hound out in the San Gabriel Valley, I found myself driving down Garvey Avenue in search of something to eat before heading back home. I quickly drove past the deluge of disappointing, new Dumpling restaurants near Garfield, and then a simple sign caught my eye: "Noodle House." I figured I might as well see what the menu was all about, and walked into the restaurant to take a peek. Nothing could've prepared me for what was coming next.
I was greeted by the waitress and took a look at their menu: They offered a variety of fresh Steamed Stuffed Buns and Dumplings, and a few Noodle dishes and Pastries. Seemed like a standard offering until my eyes casually looked over at the open kitchen and saw what seemed like the impossible:
Noodle House's Steamed Buns (Baozi) and Dumplings are HAND-MADE, MADE-TO-ORDER! (O_O)
The waitress confirmed my disbelief telling me they make ALL their Baozi (Steamed Buns) and Jiaozi (Dumplings) on the spot, WHEN the customer orders it! "No way!" I thought to myself.
I quickly sat down, and ordered a couple items to test this out. :) Sure enough, as soon as I ordered, I walked up and looked at the open kitchen and the staff started *kneading the dough* for my order of Steamed Buns (Baozi) ON THE SPOT! (And they started rolling out the skin for my Dumplings on the spot as well!)
To put some perspective on this, it's somewhat like ordering a Croissant at a restaurant, and then watching the Pastry Chef make your Croissant from scratch, *just for you*! I'd never been to a restaurant that actually made their Baozi and Dumplings *from scratch* (including the skin) just for your order. I was excited. (^_^)
(On a side note: the new Kingburg claims they make their Dumplings to order (and they may), but their lack of execution and MSG-laden fillings disappoint greatly (that's a story for another day).)
The first dish to arrive was their Yu Ruo Shwei Jiao (Fish, Pork with Vegetables Dumplings). They already looked different from the usual Dumplings you see at most restaurants, even different than handmade Dumpling Houses like 101 Noodle and Dumpling 10053, since these were made-to-order, and then immediately cooked. The Dumplings were puffier, and the Dumpling skin was SO soft and supple to the touch, but still "firm" in a way I'd not seen before.
And then I took a bite: TRANSCENDENT.
The beautiful, SO fresh and distinct, just-made Dumpling Skin gave way to an extremely tender, melt-in-your-mouth filling of minced Grey Sole Fish (Lohng Li) with marinated Ground Pork and diced Yellow Leeks. It was perfectly seasoned (not too salty), with the Grey Sole Fish and Ground Pork complementing each other wonderfully, along with the light herbal notes from the Yellow Leeks. These are the best Dumplings I've ever had.
Note: Feel free to add some Soy Sauce and/or Vinegar (ask for Vinegar if it's not on your table) to a little plate and dab your Dumplings in it before eating (I prefer just a little bit of Vinegar :).
Also, Dumplings, in general, should be eaten immediately. The longer they sit on the plate, the thicker and firmer they get.
The other item I ordered that day was their Shuang Gu Bao (Double Mushroom Bun), which includes Marinated Ground Pork. I eagerly awaited this with even more anticipation than the Dumplings since, I've never been to a restaurant that actually made everything from scratch, on the spot, for an order of Baozi.
And then it arrived: In a classic, rustic Bamboo steamer, a beautiful arrangement of 8 fresh-steamed Baozi! The look of it was already different from the usual pre-made Buns you find everywhere else. It was slightly rougher, and looked delectable!
I gently picked it up and took a bite: ...
SO fresh, SO outstanding in its texture. The Steamed Baozi were moist, yet also had a nice, light chew/bite to them, unlike any Steamed Buns I've ever had before. For reference, oftentimes the Charsiu Bao at Dim Sum restaurants can be slightly mealy, dry, or crumbly (or just too thick). Even comparable Buns from Northern or Taiwanese eateries can be this way (too thick, dry, mealy, with way more Dough than Filling, etc.). Not so here. It was simply wonderful.
The fragrant Dohng Gu Mushroom with the Mu Ehr (Wood Ear) Mushroom added a beautiful aroma to the Marinated Ground Pork and was truly a Mushroom Lover's dream! Further, the nice crunch inherent in Mu Ehr Mushrooms were softened a bit, but still added the perfect texture to each bite of these Steamed Buns.
It should be noted that fresh, made-from-scratch / made-to-order Baozi (Steamed Buns) needs some time to prepare (about ~20-25 minutes), so plan accordingly.
Important Note: The manager proudly proclaimed that they use No MSG and was insulted by me even mentioning it. Their main Chef is from Tianjing, and learned his craft there. And I can verify that after three visits, there was never a hint of MSG in anything I ate. Just great ingredients and recipes without the crutch that so many Chinese restaurants use.
I was so blown away by this visit, that I quickly summoned some of my Chinese Cuisine Hounds and dragged them off to return for Dinner! (^_^)v They wouldn't believe me when I talked about Noodle House's made-from-scratch, made-to-order Steamed Buns and Dumplings, as even they had never heard of a restaurant in L.A. that would make everything from scratch, just for your order.
We started off with their Nio Jing Tahng Mien (Beef Tendon Noodle Soup). The manager also stated that while their Noodles weren't Sho La (Hand-Pulled), the Noodles were made from scratch, in-house, and Machine Cut instead (which was fine). The giant bowl of Beef Noodles arrived and it smelled *amazing*!
The Noodles were really soft (I didn't mind), but definitely fresh. It had a delicate texture and almost no chew, but it paired superbly with this gorgeous broth. The Beef Tendon was cooked perfectly (wonderfully tender), and the Beef Broth itself was *outstanding.* It had a wonderful, mesmerizing Beefy taste in every sip, something only possible with slow-cooking: I had the pleasure of having home-cooked Chinese Beef Soup Noodles from a friend's family - their grandmother made the recipe and that Beef Soup took about half a day+ to make and slowly cook. This broth was comparable; it was that good! I greedily drank all the extra soup after we split up the noodles amongst ourselves, something I've *never* done in years because just about every place I've been to in the SGV uses MSG, or is too salty, overseasoned, or not cooked long enough. Not so here: They could serve this Beef Broth as an Appetizer and I'd order it just to drink this ambrosia. :)
It should be noted that those used to the more commonly found Chinese Beef Noodle Soups around L.A., may not like this soup: It's definitely less salty, with No MSG, and has a purity that only comes from long, slow cooking of the Beef Soup. Also, they offer a standard Stewed Beef Noodle Soup if Tendon isn't your thing. (^_~)
Next up, we ordered the Nan Gua Hsia Ren Shwei Jiao (Pumpkin with Shrimp Dumplings). Just like the last visit I had, the Dumplings arrived with a wonderful, supple Dumpling skin, and my Hounds were amazed. We took a bite and it was wonderful (again): The perfectly cooked Dumpling skin was something none of them had outside of a rare family gathering / event; definitely not in a restaurant.
The Pumpkin and Shrimp were fresh and it was tasty, but I'm not a Pumpkin fan, so the flavors were lost to me. I still enjoyed the Dumplings just on the amazing fresh skin alone.
Next up, we ordered one of their Steamed Buns to try: Zhu Ruo Jio Tsai Bao (Pork with Leeks Steamed Bun). Just like before, it was an amazing fresh dough that was transformed into the magnificence that is their Baozi: The Marinated Ground Pork and Green Leeks were just as before, perfectly seasoned, not too salty, with the rich Pork flavors combining perfectly with the chopped Leeks. I enjoyed this one more than the Double Mushroom, but both were great!
On another visit, we ordered a few more items to sample, starting with a made-from-scratch Chong Yoh Bing (Green Onion Pan Cake). This dish can be found all over the San Gabriel Valley, but what caught my eye each time I visited was how NON-oily it looked when people ordered it. And when it arrived, it was wonderfully fragrant with the Green Onions and piping hot "bread." Unlike most incarnations of this dish, Noodle House's Green Onion Pancake was *not* dripping in oil, or over-fried, etc. The outside looked more like a freshly toasted tortilla than something deep fried. And the taste was wonderful! I really enjoyed this healthier version, and you could taste the made-from-scratch goodness.
We then ordered the Hsien Bei Zhu Ruo Shwei Jiao (Scallop with Pork Dumplings), and just like the last two visits, the freshly made Dumpling skin shone through, perfectly supple again. The Scallops and Marinated Ground Pork made for a beautiful pairing. The broth inside each Dumpling was divine: A pure meaty broth blending in each bite with the Scallops and Ground Pork (it's not a "soup" like a Xiao Long Bao, but the inherent broth that comes from using Marinated Ground Pork, Scallops and seasonings when cooked together). Delicious!
We then ventured off to try their Nio Ruo Jhuen Bing (Simmered Beef Wrap w/ House Pan Cake). Considering their Green Onion Pancake was so fragrant and not oily, we wanted to see how this compared as well. Sure enough, Noodle House's interpretation of the Nio Ruo Jhuen Bing (essentially the "Beef Roll" seen at places like 101 Noodle Express, Mandarin Deli, etc.) was a really clean, much healthier version of the classic. Instead of sporting the typical fried exterior, it resembled a toasted tortilla-like exterior, not oily at all.
The combination of long-simmered Beef with Green Onions and Cilantro along with the Tianmien Jiang Sauce was very good, but it didn't exceed the deliciousness of the Beef (and Chicken) Rolls at 101 Noodle Express. But at the same time, this was much healthier and not covered in oil as most versions usually are. We'd definitely order this healthier version again.
The final dish we tried were their San Hsien Bao (Combination Seafood Bun), made up of Shrimp, Marinated Ground Pork and Sea Cucumber. I've enjoyed all the flavors so far, and this was no exception. Once again, the Steamed Buns came out freshly made and cooked, and these Bao had more broth to them than the previous ones, probably due to the Sea Cucumber. The Shrimp, Marinated Ground Pork and the Sea Cucumber matched very well, along with Green Onions. Another excellent flavor.
Being a simple, mom-and-pop restaurant, there is no ambiance or decor to speak of. You come here for one thing only: The fresh, made-from-scratch food. (^_~) On average we spent ~$7.50 per person (*including* tax and tip already). Their prices are so low for the legendary quality of their food, it's ridiculous.
Ordering Tip: If you're ordering more than 1 type of Dumpling and Bao (Steamed Bun), stagger your order a bit - After ordering 1 type of Dumpling / Bun, wait 5-10 minutes before adding another type of Dumpling / Bun to your order, to buffer enough time to eat the first type of Dumpling, before moving on to the freshly-cooked, out-of-the-kitchen second flavor. :)
Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan)'s philosophy of serving only made-from-scratch, made-to-order, fresh Steamed Buns (Baozi) and Dumplings (Jiaozi) is unrivaled in L.A. The fact that you can walk in, order, and watch the cooks make Steamed Buns and Dumplings just for you, and the fact that it has a wonderful, homemade taste with NO MSG (unlike too many of the new Dumpling Houses that've opened up), is nothing short of amazing.
Note that I should temper this review by saying that Baozi (Steamed Buns) and Jiaozi (Dumplings) are simple foods. This isn't a complex, Michelin-Starred dish at Providence or Urasawa, but it is SO good because it's completely made-from-scratch, made just for your order. While I'll still go back to 101 Noodle Express for their *variety* of handmade Dumplings (and Dumpling 10053), Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan) has shot up to the top of the Dumpling and Steamed Bun rankings in L.A.
Excellence in Cooking should always be celebrated, and this is nothing short of another L.A. Treasure that needs to be tried as soon as possible. Highly Recommended.
Rating: 9.2 (out of 10.0) (Update: No longer valid with New Ownership and New Kitchen Staff.)
Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan)
958 E. Garvey Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91755
Tel: (626) 280-0831
* Cash Only *
Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Sat - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Legendary, Made-To-Order, Fresh Steamed Buns and Dumplings! (or "Are You Kidding Me?!") - NOODLE HOUSE (Mian Hsiang Yuan)
*** UPDATE 2: The original Chef and staff have moved to open up a new restaurant: Fu Fang Yuan (Noodle House)! Reviewed here.