With all the bars and restaurants lining Manchester’s Elm Street, a newcomer needs a little something to stand out. With a catchy name, bright lighting and a hot pink neon sign, Noodz does just that.
Situated between a cigar bar and Bonfire opposite Amherst Street in space formely occupied by Finesse Bakery, Noodz offers “Asian Fusion” with a decidedly hipster vibe. Opened by the folks at The Birch on Elm across the street, its focus is on ramen and bao, two trends well established elsewhere but just gaining a foothold in the Queen City. After giving the place several weeks to get out any kinks, Our Gourmet (OG), the Dining Companion (DC) and the 9-year-old Fussbudget (FB) gave Noodz a try one recent weeknight.
Inside, Noodz conjures an industrial, sparse, youngish feel. Gray floor tiles evoke slate. Tables and bar seating are all butcher block and black, with open space in the middle of the room. The ceiling is exposed beams and ductwork. About a dozen Bose speakers pump out techno at a noticeable volume just short of loud. One wall is devoted to shirts and hats for sale, the back wall to the menu, where orders are taken at a counter. Other walls are beige and devoid of art or signage. Food, a tad on the high side price-wise but ultimately fair for the portions, is brought to your table.
Although there’s a fairly extensive list of craft beers, sake and wine, only the DC ordered an adult beverage, a can of Citizen Ginger Cider from Vermont ($5.50). OG opted for a Coke ($2.50), which here is the Mexican variety that uses real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, served in an old-school glass bottle. The FB was drawn to a Yoohoo ($2.50) and loved it.
Noodz has an all-vegetable option in each menu category, a nice touch for those who opt for meatless. At the vegan(ish) DC’s prompting, we ordered several appetizers, although all our food was served at about the same time. General Tso Cauliflower ($12) was a hit with the adults. Served in a long basket, chunks of cauliflower had been crisply fried, slathered in a tasty barbecue-like sauce that wasn’t too sticky, nor too spicy or sweet, topped with pickled corn kernels, green onion and toasted sesame seeds. This was quite tasty, even addictive. There was more than enough for the two of us and much of this went home to become next day’s lunch.
Shiitake and Kimchi dumplings ($11) was a hit with OG, less so with the DC, who learned that kimchi — basically pickled cabbage — has a kick. A half dozen dumplings came on a small tray, delicately cooked and topped with a drizzle of house chili sauce and green onion. OG thought the sauce a bit bland, but the crunchy, zesty kimchi made up for it.
A Tempura Sweet Potato Bao ($10), rounded out DC’s meal. She raved as she ate it. The soft, steamed bun — like a pillowy taco shell — harbored sweet potato patty fried crisp with a creamy, mashed inside she discerned was seasoned with basil and a touch of hoisin. There were no leftovers.
OG and the FB had our sights set on ramen. Noodz offers four ramen bowls featuring pork, chicken, brisket or veggies, as well as chilled kimchi noodles. OG opted for Brisket Shoyu ($15), featuring a dark beef and soy broth, black garlic, an egg, crisp Chinese cabbage and roasted tomato. This dish was stellar: the broth reminiscent of pot roast drippings tinged with garlic and the brisket shredded, tender and juicy in the broth. Our egg was perfectly soft boiled and the ramen chewy and ample, though we had to search for the tomato. We’ll be going back for more.
Fearing he’d spurn any of the more exotic toppings, we got the FB the Miso Chicken Sapporo ($14), without corn kernels, shiitake mushrooms and egg normally served with it and leaving him with what we hoped would be as close to a chicken noodle soup as possible. It didn’t work. The FB gobbled the tender bits of chicken atop his bowl, snubbing the baby bok choy — which he usually enjoys. He said the broth, seasoned with miso, was too spicy, which it might have been for a kid.
That’s not the clientele Noodz is shooting for, but some kid-friendly options for less-adventurous eaters might do well. This is not to knock the ramen. OG ate the leftovers cold the next day. The broth had thickened and sweetened and was awesome, clinging to noodles, which had swelled up from soaking up the goodness.
We’re long past the days of carousing downtown, but if we were still young enough, you’d likely see us breaking up or ending a night of beer drinking at Noodz.