Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Woo Hoo! The Return of the Legendary, Made-To-Order, Fresh Steamed Buns and Dumplings! Noodle House Reopens as Noodle House (Fu Fang Yuan)!

Probably one of the saddest days of 2009 was the day I learned that the simple, humble Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan) on Garvey Avenue was sold to new ownership, with the entire kitchen staff replaced. Long gone were the wonderful, made-to-order Steamed Buns (Baozi) and Dumplings (Jiaozi), replaced by a solid product, but much different from the original Noodle House's offerings. I had figured they cashed in and moved on to other things, but thanks to the update from yangster, it seems that the original Chef and staff of Noodle House have moved to a new location in Rowland Heights. Ecstatic, I quickly wrangled one of my SGV Hounds and off we went in search of this new incarnation. :)

While Noodle House has kept their English name, their Chinese name has been changed to Fu Fang Yuan. Stepping inside, and it's a huge, clean, well-lit space. The kitchen is about 4 times the size of their old location, with a nice glass window to see their cooking in action. We recognize the servers and spot Chef-Owner Hua Shu Qi and her staff, focused and hard at work making more Steamed Buns and Dumplings.

For those that have never been to the original Noodle House (Mian Hsiang Yuan) on Garvey Avenue, its standout characteristic was their fantastic, made-from-scratch, *made-to-order* Tianjin Baozi (Steamed Buns, Tianjin style) and Jiaozi (Dumplings). Most Baozi that you find around town, even at the great Dim Sum palaces in the San Gabriel Valley (or at specialty shops selling Baozi by the bagful) have been made in large batches earlier in the day (or the previous night) and usually turn out a bit mealy, dried out or too thick and rubbery. Not so at Noodle House (early on), when, as you ordered your Baozi, they would take out the dough and start rolling it out and making your Steamed Buns from scratch when you ordered it! The difference in texture compared to most found in L.A. was truly like night and day.

Thankfully, the new Noodle House (Fu Fang Yuan) (with all the original kitchen staff and Chef Hua back at the helm) continue their original tradition, which is simply fantastic! :)

(Note: All Chinese names are listed phonetically to help for ordering. Thanks again to my SGV Hounds for the pronunciation guide. :)

(Note 2: Noodle House adds No MSG in any of their offerings (there may be trace amounts in the dishes using Soy / Hoisin Sauce). According to our server, that's one of Chef Hua's cooking philosophies: She's had an allergic reaction to MSG ever since she was a little girl growing up in China, and over the 20+ years of making Steamed Buns and Dumplings in Tianjin, China and now here in the U.S., she refuses to use the flavor crystals.)

We begin with a simple appetizer of Ban Fu Pi (Soy Bean Skin in Garlic Sauce), which takes Tofu Skin and mixes it with Garlic, Cilantro and Carrot slivers for a light starter.

Their Jiang Nio Rou (Simmered Beef Shank) is another good starter (of the 3 times we've ordered it, it's been consistently good). A long-stewed, marinated Beef Shank is chilled and sliced thin, and served with Cilantro and Green Onions. The Soy Sauce marinade and natural Beef flavors come shining through.

One thing to note for long-time fans of Noodle House is that Chef Hua has greatly expanded the menu: There are quite a few more flavors of Steamed Buns and Dumplings and they've even added in Shao Mai and Wontons (though the Wontons won't be ready until they settle in a bit more, according to our server).

Their San Hsien Shao Mai (Combination Seafood Shao Mai) is made with Shrimp, Marinated Ground Pork and Sea Cucumber, steamed in a freshly-made Dumpling skin.

The Marinated Ground Pork is so savory and juicy, and the nice large chunks of Shrimp and Sea Cucumber and bits of Chinese Chives makes this a wonderful flavor explosion! :) The thicker Dumpling skin for this Shao Mai (compared to their Dumplings) is just fine, still very pliable and a good counterpoint to the filling. It's a nice change from the more commonly found Cantonese-style Shao Mai at Dim Sum restaurants.

For those that found the original Noodle House a bit too light on the seasoning will be happy to know that they've seasoned their fillings just a touch more (if you could put a number on it, it feels like about a 5% - 10% increase in seasonings, nothing to overpower or overseason).

Then our Ji Rou Bao (Chicken with Mushrooms Bun) arrives.

Like the very first time I went to the original Noodle House, I had wandered over to see the kitchen staff rolling out the dough as my order was placed and then making the Baozi (Steamed Buns) from scratch and stuffing them. This is definitely a rarity in So Cal and taking a bite...

Just as fluffy, moist and outstanding as before, but even more so! (^_^)

This Chicken with Mushroom Steamed Bun is a new menu item at this new location, using liberal amounts of Dohng Gu (Chinese Black Mushrooms) with marinated Chicken to create a very woodsy, earthy, and fragrant Steamed Bun flavor. This is probably their boldest flavor offering, a bit more salty than the other flavors, but still enjoyable.

Finally, for this first visit I couldn't leave without trying my long-time favorite Fish Dumplings and seeing how they fared with the change to the new location. Their Yu Rou Shwei Jiao (Fish with Vegetable (Boiled) Dumplings) arrive, looking just as plump and tender as before.

The first nibble answers all my questions and quells any worries I might've had: Light, pillowy and airy, the fresh ground Lohng Li (Grey Sole) is mixed with Jio Tsai Huang (Yellow Chinese Chives) and it's simply outstanding! :) A must order.

Note: If you're new to eating Chinese Dumplings (Boiled, Steamed or Pan-Fried), it's perfectly fine to use the condiments found on every table, creating your own dipping sauce with the Vinegar, Soy Sauce and Hot Sauce. I prefer just a dab of Vinegar for my Dumplings.

On my 2nd visit, we arrive bright and early and find the restaurant is already ~50% full despite it being open for only about ~1.5 weeks.

We begin with another new flavor offering on their Dumpling side: Yang Rou Goqi Shwei Jiao (mistranslated as "Mutton with Medlar Dumpling" on the menu), a mixture of real Mutton (older Sheep) with Wolfberries (Goji Berries).

The Mutton is unmistakable in its intense, in-your-face pungency (which my guest and I love), but the Goji Berries are just a bit too sweet for this filling, giving this Dumpling an almost dessert-like quality and feeling it bit out-of-place.

Curious about how their Noodles have changed since the move, we order their Hohng Shao Nio Jing Mian (Stewed Beef Tendon Noodle Soup).

Starting with a sip, there's a very light, beefy Broth with a subtle hand on the Soy Sauce usage and quiet notes of Star Anise. The bits of Green Onions add the perfect herbal counterpoint. The Beef Broth could use another hour or two of stewing to intensify the flavors, but it's just fine for anyone looking for a lighter Beef Noodle Soup.

Noodle House makes all their Noodles from scratch as well, but these are Hand-Kneaded, Machine Cut Noodles (not Hand-Pulled "Sho La" style). It's a soft, competent Noodle, with just a touch of chew, but there are better Noodles out there depending on one's preference. The Beef Tendon is perfect, though, wonderful in its soft, gelatinous, silky and savory taste.

Trying another classic Chinese Noodle dish, their Zha Jiang Mian (listed as "Pork Soybean Pasta Noodle") serves their Sauteed Ground Pork and Bean Paste Sauce on the side (for the customer to choose how much they want to add in).

The Noodle used in this dish is a wider style Noodle than the Beef Soup version, a touch too doughy, but a fine pairing with their obsidian-colored Sauce. When mixed together with the Cucumber, Cilantro, Green Onions, Carrots, Bean Sprouts and Bean Paste Sauce, it creates a lightly coated Noodle dish with a nice balance of crunch and chew, a good Vegetable balance with notes of sweet and salty. It's a good Zha Jiang Mian, but there are better.

On my 3rd visit, I bring a dear guest from Shanghai to try out the offerings at Noodle House (Fu Fang Yuan) (they ended really enjoying this meal). We start with their Liang Bahn Hai Dai Hsi (Cold Shredded Seaweed).

This is a great incarnation of this Chinese appetizer, with a nice brininess mixed in with the fragrant Cilantro, Carrots and Onions.

Their Jiang Nio Jing (Simmered Beef Tendon) appetizer is stewed to the point that the Beef Tendon still has a good bite with each piece (not overly soft), and enjoyable with bits of fresh Cilantro. Spicy fans should ask for some Chili Oil to dab each piece in.

Our first order arrives, and I'm secretly hoping this classic original Noodle House dish remains the same, and thankfully it does: Tuh Suh Cong Yoh Bing (Green Onion Pancake).

In line with Chef Hua's original cooking style (seen in the Steamed Buns and Dumplings), Noodle House's Green Onion Pancakes are very light and not oily at all compared to the majority of Cong Yoh Bings around L.A. Instead of being drenched in oil, these are so light and fragrant, with only a touch of oiliness (and a very clean tasting oil as well), it's a must order for those enjoying a lighter version of this classic.

Then our Zhu Rou Hsi Ji Doh Bao (Pork with String Bean Buns) arrive next.

Digging into the Baozi (Steamed Bun), it's just as moist and pillowy as I had hoped, and the filling has consistently been my favorite for their Baozi: The Marinated Ground Pork is simply a brilliant complement to the String Beans, a very even-keeled vegetal undertone that gives this Baozi a real succulence. Delicious! :)

Noodle House's Nio Rou Jhuen Bing (Beef Roll) follows a similar approach as the rest of the dishes with a very light, non-oily preparation.

I can appreciate their Beef Roll, but today's version is undercooked: The Simmered Beef hasn't been cooked long enough resulting in a very chewy, tougher filling with some gristle as well that hasn't broken down. It's basted with a little bit of the sweet Hoisin Sauce and Cilantro. The flavors are good, but it just needs a little more cooking for the Beef.

Thankfully it seems like it was a fluke as other orders (before and after this visit) have had a more tender, edible cut.

Noodle House offers all of their Dumplings in 3 preparation methods: Zhen Jiao (Steamed Dumplings), Shwei Jiao (Boiled Dumplings) and Guo Tieh (Potsticker (although it's more of a Jien Jiao (Pan Seared) than a more traditional Guo Tieh)). And people will be happy to know that with the expanded kitchen and more staff, they are making the Potsticker version of their Dumplings with no restrictions now (at their original location, when they were overwhelmed with orders at times, they would stop making them because they took longer and backed up the limited cookers).

Looking over their options, we settle on their Hsia Ren Doh Fu Guo Tieh (Shrimp with Tofu Dumpling, Potsticker style).

The Pan Seared Dumpling has a nice sear and adds a heartier aspect to the usual light Dumplings, but it's the filling that really shines: The nice chunks of medium-sized Shrimp completely works with the Tofu and Chinese Chives filling, creating this creaminess and giving the usual Shrimp Dumpling a boost in airiness. Wonderful!

For something even lighter than normal, give their Hwa Soo Zhun Jiao ("Vegetable Dumpling", Steamed style) a try.

Chef Hua combines Egg, Cabbage, Rice Vermicelli, Green Onions and Baby Shrimp and steams the Dumplings. The Steaming method gives the Dumplings a bit more of a drier pasta mouthfeel. It has more of a chew to the Dumpling skin (in comparison to the Boiled version). The filling is fragrant, oceany and pretty light.

The kitchen has just finished up a batch of Chilled Vinegar Cucumbers and are putting them out in their display case, so we decide to try some. They're crisp, refreshing and lightly seasoned with a little Sesame Oil and Vinegar and some Garlic.

On my 4th visit, I quickly place an order for some Baozi when we sit down to mitigate some of the waiting time. (Note: Patience is the key at Noodle House. They make all their Baozi (Steamed Buns) and Jiaozi (Dumplings) from scratch, when you order, including rolling out the skin itself, which is really nice. As a result it takes a bit more time than what one might be accustomed to, but it's worth it. :)

Their Zhu Rou Jio Tsai Bao ("Pork with Leek Bun") arrives first.

The Steamed Buns are thankfully just as consistently moist and delicious as always, the delightful smell of freshly-made Baozi brings a smile to your face. :) The Jio Tsai (Chinese Chives) give the Marinated Ground Pork a grassy, fields of green aroma and is a classic combination.

Next up is the Shuang Gu Zhu Rou Shwei Jiao (Double Mushroom with Pork Dumplings, Boiled style).

Chef Hua uses 2 types of Chinese Mushrooms mixed in with the Marinated Ground Pork. If you love Mushrooms, this is the must order item. It's so fragrant and woodsy and has many of the qualities of a long-cooked, Shiitake-infused creation.

Their Zhu Rou Gao Li Tsai Shwei Jiao (mistranslated as "Pork w/ Cole Dumpling") is actually Marinated Ground Pork with Cabbage Boiled Dumplings.

Cabbage seems like a boring vegetable to cook with but it makes for a nice variation of the usual fillings, giving a good crunch and textural contrast with the soft, supple and pliable Dumpling skin.

Another new item is their Hsien Bei Zhu Rou Guo Tieh (Pork with Scallop Dumplings, Potsticker style).

The kitchen staff seems to be settling in more and more over time, as these Guo Tieh feature a beautiful golden crisp crust outside, really adding a nice crunch to the Dumplings as you work your way through each bite. The Marinated Ground Pork is still fine, but the Scallops reveal too much of their age; they taste a touch too briny but in principle the combination seems fine.

One of the more under appreciated aspects of Noodle House is that, like their other items, they make their Soups to order, when you order it; there's no giant vat of Soup Du Jour that's been sitting all day. And one of the simplest soups that shines the brightest would have to their Suan La Tahng (Hot & Sour Soup).

This often overlooked, much-maligned style of Soup has taken its fair share of criticism and understandably so: It's usually given away as a throwaway free Soup of the Day with takeout Chinese food, seen as "Americanized" or "Poor People's Food," etc. And while Noodle House's version of Hot & Sour Soup isn't anything grand or showy, this made-to-order, made-from-scratch version is probably the best Hot & Sour Soup I've ever eaten, anywhere.

Instead of the commonplace gloopy, corn starch-laden versions, Chef Hua's creation glides along the perfect edge of tantalizing tartness from the Chinese Black Vinegar and sexy spiciness from the White Pepper. Mix in the satisfying crunch of Bamboo Shoots, the silky Tofu, Egg, Cilantro, Green Onions and Mushrooms and there's just something really soul-warming about this fresh-made version. :)

Their Yang Rou Dohng Gua Shwei Jiao (Mutton with White Gourd Boiled Dumplings) fare much better than the Goji Berry version, with a very bold, strong Mutton gaminess coming through (in a good way). It's much more savory than the other Mutton Dumpling, with a good, rustic chunky quality being the best part of this dish.

We finish off with their simply named Yu Wan Tahng (Fish Ball Soup). Like their Fish Dumplings, Noodle House uses the same in-house made Fish mixture, with Grey Sole and Egg Whites. Taking a bite of the made-from-scratch Fish Balls is like biting into a cloud: It's *so* airy, fluffy and light, nearly rivaling Torihei's Kyoto-style Hanpen (Fish Cake) for the most delectable Fish dish I've tried this year.

Add to that, the very light Chicken Broth with bits of Cilantro to accompany this Fish Ball Soup and it's the perfect cold weather friend. Simply lovely.

While they now have ~3 or 4 servers covering the much larger location, service is still the standard, informal Chinese restaurant service you come to expect at many mom-and-pop shops around the area: You just flag down any roaming server if you want refills on drinks or need anything else. Prices have increased slightly from their original location (which was beyond fair), ranging from $1.99 - $6.99 for Appetizers; and $1.99 - $9.25 for the various Soups, Dumplings and Steamed Buns. They now accept Credit Cards as well. We averaged about ~$12 per person (including tax and tip)(!), a very fair price for the wonderful, freshly made dishes.

With the original chef and staff of the old Noodle House finally opening Fu Fang Yuan (Noodle House), L.A. has gotten back one of its little treasures, with a Baozi (Steamed Buns) and Jiaozi (Dumplings) Specialist that focuses on lighter flavors without adding MSG. While orders still take a little while to get out (since they make everything from scratch, when you order it), with some patience, this new Noodle House is just about as good as before, a bit more savory, a bit stronger and more focused in its creations, with some rough edges they still have to work out.

With their delicious Pork with String Bean Baozi, the Fish (Grey Sole) Boiled Dumplings, Shrimp with Tofu Dumplings, Double Mushroom with Pork, their Green Onion Pancakes, wonderful Hot & Sour Soup and Fish Ball Soup (and so many more choices), Fu Fang Yuan (Noodle House) is off to a spectacular start. Recommended.

(Note: In general, the half-life of fresh Dumplings and Steamed Buns is ridiculously short (minutes). If you're planning on ordering a bunch of flavors, it's best to place an order first (just 1 or 2 items) and then wait a bit before placing a follow-up order with more items. That way you ensure you're getting fresh, just-out-of-the-kitchen goodness. Otherwise the Dumplings and Buns erode really fast (skin get tougher and the vibrancy disappears).)

Rating: 8.2 (out of 10.0)

Noodle House (Fu Fang Yuan)
18219 E. Gale Avenue, #A
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
Tel: (626) 839-8806

Hours: [Lunch] Tues - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Sat - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
[Dinner] Tues - Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays.


Banana Wonder said...

Wow! These dumplings look amazing! I like the shrimp and tofu one best I think... hmmm I must go here. Thanks for your post!

weezermonkey said...

I must go here! I looooove baozi! I really liked your photo of all those people making the stuff. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna A.,

Thanks. :) I loved the Shrimp and Tofu Dumplings. If you get a chance to go, let me know how the visit goes. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi weezermonkey,

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this place. :) I hope you enjoy your visit.

Right Way to Eat said...

Exile Kiss, buddy...you didn't hit me up. I'm so close to this place!! LOL

Funniest thing was that a few of us bloggers actually worked down the street from this place. I usually go to Jack in the Box around the corner from here for lunch three times a week. LOL

Just for you, I'm going back and try it out. Who knows, it'll probably be way better than Garvey location (I'm so sure it will be). Thanks for the tip!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pepsi Monster,

I had no idea you were that close to this new Noodle House. I hope you find the dishes here better than the "changed ownership" version of the old Noodle House you tried on Garvey. Let me know how it turns out. :)

Gastronomer said...

As always, thank you for your thorough report. The place looks and sounds amazing!!! Looks like I need to gather up a posse and fill up on delectable buns and noodles!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Gastronomer,

Thanks. :) There are definitely some big hits on the menu that we enjoyed. If you get a chance, let me know how your visit went! :)

Pink Foodie said...

I'm so glad they're back! I can't wait to try this place. I've had a serious craving for GOOD baozi. I might need to stop by tonight because I won't be able to stop thinking about this place after having read your review.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pinkfoodie,

Thanks. :) Can't wait to hear your report of the place.

Hobson's Choice said...

Great post. Great find (the first time). This time it is all the better now that we know what we were missing when they went away.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Hobson's Choice,

Thank you. :) Look forward to your thoughts on it in detail if you get a chance. :)

IR said...

Based on your review, cruised out there last night for a late dinner and got a seat next to the kitchen. Watching them work was mesmerizing! We tried three: the pork and cabbage, shrimp and pumpkin and the mutton and white gourd -- all steamed. Pork and cabbage was my favorite but all three were good. Thanks for the review!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Ian,

Thanks for the report back. :) Those are some good flavors.

If you get a chance next time, give their Water-Boiled Dumplings a try (a different texture than the Steamed), and definitely try their made-to-order Baozi (Steamed Buns) which is rarer to find than the Dumplings. :)

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