International spots offer alternatives to turkey.
The place seemingly materialized overnight on the East Carson strand, and with it a flashing multi-colored sign that announced its presence with an undetermined mix of possible mirth and menace: MAD NOODLES.
Roughly two years in the works (and after gutting the charming but long vacant 1889 Cafe), an extremely brief incarnation as high-end seafood and sushi restaurant M & J Bistro gave way earlier this year to Mad Noodles (ownership stayed the same) and that polychromatic placard.
What is it about these noodles? Why are they so mad? What makes them tick? And just what kind of “mad” are they?
Perhaps they’re simply bitter about their noodle station in life. They aspired to be Soba or Udon and instead they’re stuck in a deadend gig as vermicelli, like that co-worker near your cubicle who’s always miserable. Maybe they’re diabolically mad, twirling their noodle mustaches with an evil muahahaha while a damsel in distress is lashed with lo mein rope to railroad tracks, like in a silent picture. These noodles could be clinically insane mad and have delusions that they are actually snakes. Or, in the parlance of our times, they might just be “mad noodles, bruh” as in there’s a ton of them with every order.
Myriad potential interpretations.
There’s a scene in the Oliver Stone classic “Wall Street” in which Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) moves into a swanky Manhattan apartment. The Talking Heads are playing while the decorators and contractors are outfitting the space with the height of 1980s’ opulence. At the time it was spectacular, but with the passing of 30 years, it’s hilariously gaudy. And that’s kind of what this dining room was like. Bathed in bright neon lights with an inexplicably huge photo of Downtown Pittsburgh, it’s an awesomely campy throwback. If Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs walked in, it’d be about right.
I’m not now, nor ever shall be the type of diner who thinks restaurant staff should be seen and not heard. I like a good give and take with a bartender or server and, besides, this is Pittsburgh — it’s a friendly place and we’re a friendly people. That’s part of our charm.
However, a threshold can be reached and breached when you’re subjected to a barrage of unsolicited opinions — ranging from amusing to grating to toeing the line on offensive — from a server coming at you with the energy of a Weimeraner at the off-leash park, when all you want is a crisp Penn Pilsner draft ($6).
But then there’s the food — a pan-Asian menu of mostly Thai favorites with some Japanese, Vietnamese, that all in all, was pretty good.
An appetizer of Rolled Pancakes with Roast Duck Meat ($8.95) were a perfect appetizer. Crispy and savory, they come six to an order — I’d have eaten a dozen or more. The Pork Soup Dumplings ($8.95) likewise were quite good and served in bamboo steam tray.
Entrees came in copious — mad big, if you will — proportions and were well prepared. Orders of veggie Thai Fried Rice (11.95) and Singapore Noodles ($10.95) were plenty flavorful and full of vegetables. The Lan Zhou Ramen ($10.95) had a pleasing, comforting broth with tasty beef shank and nicely textured noodles that didn’t get soggy.
The problem with all three dishes is that we asked for a top “level 5” spice, and these had virtually no fire. That made sense when we got the receipt and noted that they were rung in as a 3, a 4, and no spice, respectively. But, again the flavor was just fine and the portions large — a good value.
Mad-dening. Turns out that’s what’s Mad about the place. But the food is above board, and ultimately, that’s what counts the most.
Mad Noodles: 2017 E. Carson St., South Side Flats; 412-251-0558; http://madnoodles.net/
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412