ARTS

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February 1, 2002

Kill Obscurity

OK, I'm a big fan of noodles. I love it when I place a steaming, dripping-with-hot-broth batch of noodles in my mouth, to the point of scalding myself. But the best part is the tension that exists when the teeth cuts into the noodle, the integral part that is the elusive quality of the noodle. Termed "koshi" in Japanese, "song" in Cantonese, and more recognizably, "al dente" in Italian, it is the fine line between soft and hard, yin and yang — good noodle and total crap.

Big Bowl

60 East Ohio Street

(312) 951-1888

Hmm, a restaurant that hits upon the Asian theme. PF Chang's is OK, but this place tries too hard to play that game. Accordingly, their food is pseudo-Asian, which automatically turns me off. I sampled the crunchy sesame chicken, which amounted to a whopping $8.95 for a tiny dish that is not a "Big Bowl." The chicken on the top was cold, and deep fried. Deep fried! Sorry, that's why KFC isn't popular in China. But anyway, this dish was prepared more like Mongolian barbeque than anything else, which basically means everything is cooked quickly and nothing is flavorful. The noodles? They were so mushy, you could almost drink them. Thumbs down.

Matsuya

3469 North Clark Street

(773) 248-2677

From what I heard, the now-defunct next door restaurant Nagano was owned by the same establishment. Now that has closed, but Matsuya hasn't picked up the finer points of noodle cooking from its neighbor. How unfortunate. The tempura udon was OK, the tempura better than I thought since most people fry it like they do chicken — rock hard. The noodles were not al dente whatsoever, probably softened by the watery broth. Good for beginners of Japanese cuisine, but bring a connoisseur and he'll laugh at you. Ha.

Mitsuwa

100 East Algonquin Road

Arlington Heights, Illinois 60005

The Japanophile's heaven. Sells cool stuff, namely J-Pop, Pocky sticks, refrigerated ramen, and not-so-cool items such as those damn annoying put-your-picture-on-a-sticker machines. But they do have a Dance, Dance Revolution machine. Respect. But check out its food court, because almost all the food vendors there have great noodles. Especially good is the basic shoyu (soy sauce) ramen. Mind you, this is real ramen — super eggy, very yellow, and oh-so-good. Broth is simple but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Al dente? Not quite, but darn close. Try the gyoza and any of the assortment of funky Japanese drinks. My favorite? Afternoon Milk Tea (Go-Go no Ko Chya).

Seven Treasures

2138 South Archer Avenue

(312) 808-9962

Haven't actually tasted this joint, but my colleague says this is damn good. They make their own egg-based noodle, but the Chinese noodles don't retain as much egg flavor in it. The broth is good, but loaded with MSG, but this is Chinatown, so don't complain. Noodles are good, probably done in the traditional way of cooking it once, rinsing it through cold water to stop the cooking process, then reheat it once again by pouring the broth over it. Go and eat there. Buyakasha.

—Doctor Hilarious