Here at Short Order, we're huge fans of the noodle bowl. From near-transparent cellophane strands to thick egg noodles, and from a light miso base to a thick shoyu broth, we find it cures the 3 a.m. postclub blues like nothing else. For years, we asked the food gods for cheap noodle shops à la San Francisco and New York City, and the past two years we've come close to a reward via Gigi and American Noodle Bar. Both offer pocket-friendly renditions that don't sacrifice quality ingredients. But does either offer the bowl we've been waiting for?
Pork ramen noodle bowl ($12)
Pros: There's just no denying that the thick, bright-yellow-orange yoke of an
organic egg is especially flavorful. The poached one in this ramen bowl
is fluffy on the outside, gooey on the inside, and a perfect
texture-complement to crisp shallots, snow peas, shredded carrots, and corn. Pork
is evenly split into juicy shreds and thick morsels, parts of it nicely caramelized.
Cons: The broth doesn't really do it for us: meaty but lacking any other
discernible vegetable flavor, watery (the egg, once pierced, gives it a
little more body, but it still remains thin), and overly salty for our
taste. And for $12, we don't expect hand-pulled ramen, but the texture and
uniformity of the noodles in this dish recall the $1 packaged variety.
Authentic-ramen snobs would shudder.
American Noodle Bar
Pork shoulder noodle bowl in a duck broth with snow peas and deep-fried, soft-boiled egg ($9, with add-ons)
Pros: The broth is hearty and flavorful and arrives piping-hot. The
deep-fried, soft-boiled egg is delectable -- crisp batter containing an
oozy yolk that immediately cooks in the broth and gives it even more
bulk. Pork shoulder is juicy and flavorful and melds into tender shreds.
Cons: On one occasion, snow peas were noticeably not fresh, and the lifeless
discs battled the American-Chinese-style wheat flour noodles in a game of
what feels more rubbery and bland? And ANB's bowls are heavier, an oily
sheen (probably deriving from the deep-fried egg) rising to the top.
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Verdict: Neither noodle bowl really stands up to those in cities with larger Asian-American populations. But we happily settle for American Noodle Bar's version. The freshness of
vegetable add-ons might lack at times, but the broth is overwhelmingly
more flavorful and thicker than that of Gigi's ramen rendition.