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There's no doubt Wong knows his noodles. This is his first U.S. restaurant, on the heels of nine successful cafes in Australia. He and his Australian-native partner Oiyee Lee met in India five years ago, traveled all across the Orient collecting recipes, and present them here unchanged. His operation builds on a very recent local trend of noodle worship, following the opening of two other pasta places, Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe at Ninth Street and Camelback in Phoenix, and Nothing but Noodles, on 90th Street and Via Linda in Scottsdale (the difference is those two places emphasize Italian noodles along with Asian specialties, and have a wide selection of non-noodle dishes as well).
Yet the only real flavor I find here is in the spicy dishes, and then, it's almost insane. "Emperor SunZu's ancient pearl chicken" (its full description) falls under the traditionally mild Japanese category. But there's so much red chile I literally can't eat the hokkien tossed with big slabs of breast meat, julienne carrot, white onion, bok choy, domestic mushrooms, shallot and snow pea slivers.
The menu's mysterious "garlic shrimp and chicken in green garden" turns out to be skinny, al dente egg noodles, tossed with big slabs of breast meat, meaty shrimp, julienne carrot, white onion, bok choy, shallot and snow pea slivers. The only hint of garlic is a timid sweetness clinging to the noodles. "Hong Kong flat rice noodles and shrimp and chicken" is thick ribbons of tender-chewy pasta tumbled with -- surprise -- meat and vegetables. The smidgen of sauce is, well, brown.
1236 E. Baseline Road
Mesa, AZ 85204
480-892-0688. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.
By the time I get to "satay beef and thin egg noodles (Malaysia)," I know the routine. The dish is a mound of ramen-like pasta, stocked with thin slices of beef, vegetables, and a whispery glaze of what might be garlic.
"How do they make a food with so little flavor?" my quizzical companion wants to know. All he tastes in his "drunken shrimp and chicken and peanuts -- spicy! (China)" is red chile and a hint of sweetness. He's asked for the spice level to be toned down, and it is, but it's still overpowering on a bed of hokkien, meat and vegetables.
Only four dishes stand out enough that I'd consider making sN a regular destination. The "udon noodles stir-fry with shrimp and chicken" is terrific, the slippery soft thick wheat noodles plump with poultry and vegetables. The meager splash of broth has potential, if we could splash in some soy. A bit of soy would send "way of the shrimp won ton egg noodle soup (China)" to the top, too. The broth is robust, bobbing with fresh vegetables and stellar won tons stuffed huge with herbed minced pork and chunked shrimp. The same hand-rolled won tons come as absolutely incredible pot stickers, busting with moist pork and dipped in an outrageous soy-oyster sauce dip. My pal and I make short work, too, of rice paper rolls (Vietnamese summer rolls). The six chilled, plump bundles are gorged with sparkling fresh shrimp, vermicelli fresh mint and lettuce to be dipped in caramel-textured sweet-and-sour fish sauce.
Perhaps sN is too healthful for my taste buds (it's telling that the dishes that turn me on include bits of grease, salt and aggressive sauces). Maybe knowing of the great wealth of Asian noodles out there -- and finding such a small selection here -- has me disappointed. It might be that all sN needs to do to bring me back more than once a month is to add some of the exciting Asian noodle dishes I was hoping for -- like Japan's zaru-soba (cold noodles with seaweed strips dipped in a broth of soy, sake, spring onion, white sesame and wasabi); or my favorite Vietnamese pho.
With a lot more variety on the menu, this might really be Simply Noodles, instead of Simply Alimentary Paste.