Everyday Noodles pushes the boundaries of what and how Pittsburghers eat
April 11, 2013 12:00 PM
Head chef Josh Hu prepares traditional Taiwanese noodles by hand at Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hill.
Pork soup dumplings with milk taro tea made with mango and red bean pudding.
Beef and beef tendon noodle soup.
By Melissa McCart Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hill, meals come with a show.
Tables are positioned so diners can watch the action behind a plate glass window, where a cook transforms a muscle of dough into noodles.
With his hands on thick ends, he kneads by throwing the limb overhead, letting the center bow with its weight. Then he forms a loop, twirling strands together, and stretches the dough again. At the finish, he drops it like a barbell that thwacks against the counter. He repeats the process for a few minutes until dough is soft and pliant.
After he divides this dough into sections, he pulls the ends of a baton past his torso in opposite directions. He finishes the sequence with a fold-twist maneuver at lightning speed, using his fingers to separate, as dough laces into noodles with his rhythm.
These cooks have been brought to Pittsburgh from Taiwan for their expertise through the efforts of Mike Chen, the restaurateur behind China Palace in Wexford and Monroeville as well as Sushi Too in Shadyside.
Mr. Chen and his son Allen, owner of Tamari in Lawrenceville and Warrendale, have carved a niche by opening accessible Asian restaurants with menus that court fusion cuisine and offer lively dining rooms for cocktail drinking and people watching.
Everyday Noodles is different from their other concepts. It was inspired by Mr. Chen's trip to Toronto three years ago, when a dining experience motivated him to bring authentic Chinese cuisine to Pittsburgh.
5875 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill everydaynoodlespgh.com
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4 to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
A spartan dining room offers a wealth of Chinese delicacies such as soup dumplings, consommes, intriguing appetizers and noodle dishes.
Soup dumplings, wood ears and tofu skins, noodle soups, baby bok choy, steamed and mini buns.
Appetizers $4-$8, soup $7-$11, dumplings $9-$12, steamed vegetables $5-$7, dim sum $6-$10, rice $6-$10, dry noodles $6-$7, desserts $4-$6.
Wheelchair accessible, credit cards, BYOB.
Since then, he has worked with the Taiwanese government to bring cooks here to train his employees. Several trips to Taipei led him to cherry-pick the trio he will host for the next six months, after which they will return home to be replaced by three new visitors with different skills.
"We want cooks to teach us something new that allows us to offer something Pittsburgh doesn't have," he said.
By opening this shop on Forbes Avenue -- in what has become the city's Asian corridor -- Mr. Chen acknowledges that Pittsburghers are ready to explore the unfamiliar. With a menu that features skins, bones and exotic ingredients, Everyday Noodles pushes the boundaries of what and how Pittsburghers eat.
He's attracting diners with crowd-pleasing soup dumplings ($9-$12), also known as xiao long bao, which have been difficult to find in these parts before the shop opened.
"Soup dumplings are my selling point," he says.
Urbane travelers who have memories of visiting Joe's Shanghai in New York or some hole in the wall in San Francisco's Chinatown are lining up for seats.
At a table during dinner, a server presents a beaker of soy, another of vinegar and a small plate of julienned ginger, explaining the rituals of eating soup dumplings.
She then displays a bamboo steamer of eight dumpling purses on a sheet of parchment. Each twists like the shell of a periwinkle filled with savory broth and jewels of pork, crab or luffa. A diner guessed there's a hint of chicken schmaltz, too.
Use tongs to pluck a dumpling from paper, dip into the ginger-laced soy, then transport to a plate or a soup spoon.
From here, two types of dumpling eaters emerge: those willing to scald their tongues with broth and those who use a chopstick to poke holes for steam to escape. Seasoned diners are those willing to endure pain for deliciousness without losing a drop of soup.
Plan to eat more than soup dumplings. To order, tick items from a checklist menu stacked on each table (items are listed in English and Chinese; vegetarian, gluten-free and spicy dishes are marked).
Start with a salad. Who would expect a fondness for tofu skins ($5)? Like crinkled paper, the slightly sweet skins layer with the umami of wood ear mushrooms, crisp carrots and scallions. For a savory treat, marinated, thin-sliced beef tendon ($8) fans a plate garnished with green onions.
Less enthralling is the jellyfish salad ($8), shirred into clear noodles, they're bland compared to variations elsewhere. Disappointing are the "crispy" "Taiwanese style" peanuts ($5), minus any seasoning besides salt.
Segue past the appetizers for bold flavors and presentations.
Clear consommes ($9-$11) taste like a deep elixir of showcased meat, whether it's oxtail, short rib, beef tendon or chicken. Fussy eaters, beware: these are not for the squeamish. Chicken comes as poached wings. Oxtails arrive as meaty orbs. Tendons display gelatinous knuckles, tucked beside blanched bok choy, paper-thin radishes and a confetti of scallions. As a diner unravels it, a tangle of noodles grows, absorbing the savory broth.
A diner may crave chili sauce, scallions and other condiments to add flavor and texture to subtle broth. Be sure to ask for them.
Baby bok choy ($7) is a must, dressed in minced pork or silky oyster mushroom sauce. A scallion pancake ($6) presents a thin crust, cut in wedges like a crustless tart. Pass on the dan dan noodles ($7), which taste more like peanut butter than Sichuan peppercorns or chili pepper.
Leave room for dessert, such as creamy, crispy mini buns ($4), fried puffballs as charming as the name. Also consider the sweet egg yolk steamed buns ($6). Don't let the wording divert a table from these hot doughnuts.
Other desserts are less novel. Although five types of bubble tea can be customized with a variety of toppings, the drink is dressed for adults with an herbal grass jelly and a sprinkle of green beans.
Even if it's familiar, the baubles in bubble tea charm an inner child, reviving curiosity and delight, much like the show of pulling noodles from dough.