Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Fresh ingredients and generous portions highlight this noodle bar
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., June 15, 2012
Chen Z Hot Pot and Noodle Bar2700 Anderson Ln. #212; 336-8888
For those thinking Chen Z Hot Pot and Noodle Bar is just a second location of the popular and tiny Chen's Noodle House up north, think again. The Hot Pot was opened as a collaboration between Zhao "George" Chen of Chen's Noodle House fame, Johnson Ngo of Musashino Sushi Dokoro, and Chen's brother-in-law Henry Wong, former owner of Mikado Ryotei. The executive chefs are Mr. Chen, the knife-shaved noodle king who brings dishes from Northern China, and Keung Chan, who specializes in Hong Kong dishes. They ride herd on a staff of cooks behind the open cooking line, with a menu that features small-plate appetizers – noodles (stir-fried and in broth) – and hot pots (think shabu-shabu or sukiyaki).
Chen Z Hot Pot and Noodle Bar sits facing Anderson Lane, in the Village Shopping Center. It's a sophisticated and comfortable space, accented by warm wood and brown leather, with cool limestone accents. With hip, urban music playing in the background, it's apparent who their hoped-for demographic is. Service is efficient and friendly without being smothering.
A couple of things that stand out at first glance are the freshness and quality of the ingredients, as well as the generosity of the portions. For those who think the prices are a little steep, you do get value for the tab. We started with the appetizer section, always one of our faves on a menu. Red Chili Won Ton ($7.50) is a large bowl of pork- and shrimp-filled wontons with tender skins, bathed in peanut sauce and chile oil; with a dab of soy and chile paste, they were superb. A minor rant here: The gorgeous iron pots that hold the soy sauce are impossible to pour from; more function, less form, please. The Grilled Lamb Skewers ($9) are fantastic. Eight long skewers hold wood-grilled lamb chunks covered with a paste of chile and cumin; a perfect example of Northern China street food at its best.
We couldn't pass up the dumplings ($7), opting for traditional dough, pork filling, and panfried. A platter arrived bearing 15 small, nicely browned potstickers that we ate with abandon. The dipping sauce needs some work; building complexity with scallions, ginger, red vinegar, and a touch of sugar would do it a world of good. The Green Onion Crepes ($4.50) are as good as ever – golden-brown flaky discs encapsulating a generous scallion filling. The best in town.
Next came noodles in broth, from a selection of eight options, using five different noodles. The Chen Z Original ($8.50) is a must. Rich chicken broth holds thin slices of tender beef, baby bok choy, onion, and cilantro with the knife-shaved noodles. They're as good as ever, but the texture of the noodles is more uniform than before, leading us to believe they are being cut differently. For wok-fried noodles (14 options, 4 noodles), we went for the Chen Z ($9), substituting wide, flat, chow fun rice noodles – kissed by the dragon fire of the wok – with ribeye, chicken, shrimp, Asian greens, shitake, and beech mushrooms. A big favorite of the visit.
Hot pots can now be shared, and after tasting all four broth options ($6 each), we decided that the tomato (a North China thing) was the most complex and delicious. The pot arrives with a burner underneath and three dipping sauces: chile oil and oyster sauce, an assertive fermented mung bean, and sesame oil-garlic. You have 39 options of meat, seafood, and vegetables to choose from, ranging between $3 and $9.50 each (they recommend a combo of two per pot; you can add noodles later if you like). The goal is to add or dip the items into the boiling broth to cook them at the table, cooking the densest items the longest. You can then dip them in the sauce. Add the noodles to heat them up, and when the noodles are eaten, drink the broth like a soup. It's a fun, hands-on, leisurely eating experience. We love the new Chen Z experience, and will definitely return often.