Using Your Noodles
Columbia Spot Gets You Thinking While You Eat
Have you dealt with obsession? I have. Since lunching at Columbia's Noodles Corner (8865 Stanford Blvd. #103,  312-0088), I've been filling my noodle with the subject of noodles. Believe me, that's not as simple a prospect as it sounds. Consider the wide array of noodles out there: egg noodles, udon noodles, E (soft egg) noodles, flat-rice noodles, bean-thread noodles, vermicelli. Who knew there was so much to know about noodles?
The Chinese knew, of course. You've probably heard the old chestnut about Marco Polo bringing spaghetti to Italy from China. Truth is, by the time of Polo's travels (1275-1292 A.D.), the Italians had probably been using pasta for a hundred years and rice had supplanted the noodle as the primary staple of China. The noodle itself dates from 1200 B.C. or earlier. When Polo traveled around Chinatrailing after Kublai Khan (grandson of the terrible Genghis) and marveling at the variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and spices for sale in the open-air markets, the average Chinese citizen was eating better than the richest European.
Say you're not as intrepid as Marco Polo. Say that, like me, you're more of a couch potato than an adventurer. Wouldn't you get off your butt for a chance to experience 3,000 years of culture, cuisine, and creature comfort for something less than a 10 spot? Wouldn't you like to experience just a smidgen of the wonder that old Marco feltto try victuals that speak not just to the stomach but to the soul?
That very yen pushed usByron, Smack, C.C., and Ito Noodles Corner. We felt rather like adventurers as we stepped into its cool, polished world. Ultra-white walls, black ceiling, gleaming wooden tables. Very Zen. The menu is divided among appetizers, salads, noodle dishes, noodle soups, and stir-fries (for those with a craving for rice). Some dishes are marked as spicy, but they really weren't, at least not to us. No doubt the chefs, busy at one end of the long room, will be happy to turn up the heat on request.
Here's the good thing about noodles: They're filling, they're homey, and they're dirt cheap. Dishes generally range from $5.75 to $8.75 (a few specials cost more), and the servings are generous. Noodles are vegetarian-friendly too. That's not to say they're perfect: They slide off your chopsticks, they're bland, and many of the dishes taste alike.
But everything here is served beautifully. The dishes and bowls are exquisite. The lighting is soft and relaxing. And the service is delightful, a mix of formal and friendly, attentive and unobtrusive. Our server answered our many questions gracefully and patiently. Whenever he served plates or removed them, he straightened the tablecloth or cleaned up bits of trash or spilled food. I wanted to take him home.
We started our meal with appetizers. Noodle Corner's starters are simply grand, and so cheap that you can make a meal of them or order a few to serve as a first course. We sampled a Maylasian chicken satay with cucumber salad ($3.95 for chicken or beef, $4.95 for shrimp), small skewers of nicely spiced meat with a dynamite peanut sauce. The vegetable spring rolls ($1.95) were delicate and full of fresh flavor. Noodles Corner potstickers ($2.50), steamed or fried chicken dumplings with a ginger sauce, were generously sized, yet subtly spiced. The most extravagant of the appetizers was the crispy shrimp ball ($2.95), three baseball-sized servings of chopped shrimp coated with sliced, toasted almonds. Sublime. Smack and I agreed on the spot to return for the golden calamari ($4.95) and the spicy chicken won ton ($2.95). In fact, for less than 30 bucks, you and a pal could order every one of the nine appetizers and go away happy.
For the main course, Smack ordered Malaysian-style kwau teu ($7.95), a dish matching rice noodles, shrimp, and chicken with bean sprouts, scallions, mushrooms, eggs, and fried shallots. The Kwau Teu was nicely smoky, but it was difficult to distinguish the flavors of the individual ingredients. C.C.'s pad Thai ($7.95), a traditional offering of rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, chicken, bean sprouts, scallion, basil, and crushed peanuts, had little of the zest we enjoy in other renditions of this classic. (Too little peanut taste, I thought.) Byron enjoyed his pine-nut shrimp ($8.25), fat, honey-glazed beauties tossed with pine nuts and served with steamed rice. It was a sweet treat, but he much preferred my selection, the day's special: pan-fried noodles with seafood ($9.95). Shrimp, scallops, and too much fake crab nestled with the noodles in a thick chicken broth. Like our other noodle dishes, it was hearty and wholesome.
We ended our experience feeling dreamy, full, and determined to return. And why not? With its good food, soothing surroundings, and excellent service, making the choice to visit Noodles Corner doesn't require too much noodling.
Open 11 A.M.-10 P.M. Monday-Thursday, 11 A.M.-10:30 P.M. Friday and Saturday, noon-9:30 P.M. Sunday.