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The Toronto Star

Dining Out Section
Friday, April 15 1988

Chinese chain uses its noodles to solve fast foodies' dilemma

What's known as "fast food" - and that includes ever-increasing variety of evils - has seldom figured in this column. Rightly so: "Dine in haste, repent at leisure" is the byword.

But from time to time, it's necessary to eat rather than dine. And then the question isn't whether but just how best to do it.

There's the obvious - burgers and burgers and burgers, of course in abundance. But as far as what the larger chains provide, I confess I'm as charmed by the squeak and feel of the sytrofoam containers as I am by the damp, insincere blandness of what's inside them (in other words, not very).

Noodle Delight, on the other hand, lives up to its name. The notion of Chinese fast food is attractive enough, and the results - considered for what they are - are surprisingly good.

Four years ago, a group of businessmen got together on the idea of applying modern marketing methods to traditional Chinese food. Now, in addition to corporate-owned store on Victoria Park Ave., there are four franchised locations (600 Burnhamthorpe Rd W., 1054 Finch Ave. W., 900 Don Mills Rd).

All of them are variations on the standard, sterile, fluorescently lit combination of tiles and glass and vinyl that typifies quick cuisine. You walk up to the counter, order your food and carry it back on a tray to the sitting area. Nevertheless, there is some grace in the design. The green-and-yellow colour scheme is jauntier than the more conventional Chinese red-and-gold. The kitchen is open and provides a charming view of a half-dozen cooks tossing noodles in huge woks.

The lit-up menu on the wall behind the service counter is bilingual. The Chinese names are written in a version of small-seal characters (spare and rounded, rather different from the standard brush-stroke forms), and while it's an old form of writing (about 20 centries or so), it looks oddly new and innovative.

The same is true of the whole idea of "authentic Chinese fast food", which the chain advertises itself as offering. In the Orient, noodle shops and street vendors are standard fixtures in a society where much eating is done outside the home. Fast food outlets fulfill the same function.

While it's fast food - by virtue of being prepared quickly - this is also real food, made to order from real ingredients. Nothing sits around in plastic coffins under heat lamps, and there's nothing a foodie should feel guilty about being caught eating. (Another, rather stranger sign of the times is that it's possible to order veer or wine here - which is something you can't do in burger chains; though maybe McBeer isn't far away.)

The noodle dishes are labeled after various place names. While some dishes are obviously confabulations, others are close copies of traditional regional cuisines.

Singapore noodles ($3.75) are exactly what they should be: thing vermicelli - vividly yellow, with moderately spicy curry - fried with bits of pork and shrimp, onion, bean sprouts, red and green pepper. Shanghai noodles ($3.75) are thick and fat, cooked with pork, shrimp and crunchy cabbage.

Despite the corporate desire for consistency, there's a human element to the cooking which means that while it may not exactly soar, the cooking can flutter from middling to better.

Kwung Tung ($4) is the most elaborate of the noodle dishes and it's classical Cantonese. A tangle of very thin noodles is stir-fried with a rather rich array of squid, shrimp and rather sweet barbecue pork, along with hefty, whole black mushrooms and the green-and-white crunch of bok choy.

The sauce is cornstarch-thick and too much like glue, but otherwise the dish is the equal of what any number of more elaborate restaurants might provide. It's not superb, but it's surprisingly good and the portions are remarkably large for the price.

Four dishes - quite sufficient for four hearty appetites - cost $16.96 with tax. Expect to spend no more than five or six bucks per person.

- Peeter Tammea

The Weekender
Good Eats
Sunday May 8 2005

Great Service adds to delight of noodles

I didn't know what to I wanted to eat. I just knew what I didn't want. I wasn't in the mood for Italian food or burgers. I didn't feel like Greek food or deli fare. I wasn't into chicken wings or Indian food, and I couldn't get into sushi either. I drove around hoping something would strike my fancy.

That's when I saw it. Noodle Delight called me, beckoning me to take a closer look.

When I did, I saw a busy restaurant, with lots of action in the kitchen, and lots of customers coming and going. That was enough to convince me.

Inside, it look remarkably like a fast-food chain restaurant. Plastic molded seats, a counter with a cash register and microphone into which orders were placed, and a menu posted over the wall behind the counter reminded me of the North American takeout restaurants I've visited too many times.

The only difference were the Chinese characters on the menu and the lack of anything "super-sized".

Although I was enchanted by the divine aromas in the air, I must have seem entranced as I studied the menu,
because the manager came from behind the counter with a menu that included photos

He kindly offered his assistance, I eagerly accepted it.

He asked about my preferences, pointed out the specials, made a few suggestions and together, we came up with the beef brisket and rice noodle soup ($4) and a large cup of hot green tea (50 cents).

Although there were many dishes to choose from, such as the black-bean chicken, the Szechuen tofu, the Kwung Tung (egg noodles with seafood, pork and vegetables), and the minced beef fried rice, I was absolutely thrilled with my choice.

The large serving of savory beef broth, which was garnished with sliced green onion, contained delicate flat rice noodles and many hefty chunks of beef that were as tender as can be. This delectable soup was a combination of fine dining and comfort food. I was in soup heaven.

And even though the Styrofoam cup that housed my tea gave it a bit of an odd taste, its mellow but full-bodies flavour was still able to come through, rounding out my meal perfectly.

My friend the manager glanced my way occasionally, smiling and making sure i was enjoying my meal.

I assured him, by way of a a noodle-stuffed smile, that I was.

It was then that I noticed him extending the same menu courtesy to other novice Noodle Delight patrons that he offered me earlier.

Although I couldn't help but feel a little less special, I was pleased to see that great service was just as much a part of the menu as fantastic food.

- Jeanette McCurdy